Discovering MTB Exams (part 1)

An Interview with MTB Chief Examiner Mark Kesel

For music teachers and students struggling through the last five months, with the UK in lockdown, there has been a significant preoccupation with the problem that music examining boards have been struggling to adapt to the situation.

On the social media platforms and forums where I am active, I have seen regular and very significant complaints about all three of the traditional boards here in the UK. But throughout these challenges, one fully accredited music exam board has stood out from the crowd by a country mile.

Many teachers hadn’t even heard of the Music Teachers’ Board at the start of the year. But this changed overnight with the appearance of effective targeted advertisements online trumpeting a bold claim:

“MTB’s Grade 1-8 exams are to continue without disruption during this difficult period.”

The progression from intrigue to full commitment has been startling, many teachers who were formally loyal to ABRSM or one of the other boards posting online to praise the MTB Exams having tried them out and had hugely positive experiences.

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I tracked down MTB’s Chief Examiner Mark Kesel for this remote interview. And in a second feature I talk to some of those teachers who have tried out these exams with their students, asking them about their experiences.

So buckle up and enjoy the ride…

Continue reading Discovering MTB Exams (part 1)

Iyad Sughayer in Conversation

Iyad Sughayer has been quietly establishing a reputation as one of our brightest upcoming pianists, appearing as soloist with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, European Union Chamber Orchestra and the Cairo and Amman Symphony Orchestras, as well as giving solo performances in such prestigious venues as London’s Wigmore Hall and King’s Place, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and the Steinway-Haus in Hamburg.

Now he has released his debut recording on the BIS label. A brilliantly conceived and executed disc of solo piano works by Aram Khachaturian (1903-78), the recording is certainly a stunning showcase for the brilliant talents of this young player, who delivers performances of the utmost musical conviction and power.

Sughayer wrote a short piece touching on the nature of musical engagement for Pianodao a couple of years ago, and I was delighted to more recently catch up with him at the Chetham’s Summer School for Pianists, since which I have now had a chance to interview him in more depth for the site…

Continue reading Iyad Sughayer in Conversation

A Composer in Conversation

Rami Bar-Niv will be known to some readers as an acclaimed concert pianist, recording artist, renowned pedagogue and author of the outstanding book, The Art of Piano Fingering (which I have reviewed here).

Before discovering any of this, I first encountered the genial musician when running an online group for composers; Rami became an active contributor, and I was immediately struck by the quality of his original music in an engaging contemporary classical style.

It is a privilege to have this opportunity to chat with Rami about his composing career, and there are many insights here which Pianodao readers will undoubtedly find interesting and helpful…

Continue reading A Composer in Conversation

Eva Gevorgyan: The Makings of a Superstar

An interview with teenage piano sensation Eva Gevorgyan.

At the tender age of just 14, Russian pianist Eva Gevorgyan has astonished audiences across Europe, Israel and the USA with her deeply felt musicality, dazzling technique and mature musical intelligence.

A student at the prestigious Central Music School for Gifted Children at the Moscow Conservatory since she was six years old (where she studies with Natalia Trull), Eva is gaining recognition as one of the brightest stars to emerge from Russia in recent years.

In 2019, Eva became the Discovery Winner at the ICMA (International Classical Music Awards). She is among 24 pianists who went through to the 1st round of The Cliburn Competition, and was named a piano student-in-residence at the Verbier Festival this year.

Here she is performing Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254:

Eva has performed for the Italian President, and recently quizzed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a live TV debate about possible reforms for the Specialist Music education in her homeland.

It was a privilege to witness her first UK performance, recently held in the Elgar Room at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, and one of the highlights of this year’s Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival.

Afterwards, with Elena’s support as a translator, I was able to chat with Eva backstage…

Continue reading Eva Gevorgyan: The Makings of a Superstar

Samantha Coates in Conversation

Exclusive interview with best-selling author Samantha Coates

Sydney-based music teacher and author Samantha Coates dazzled at this year’s Music Education Expo event, with a presentation brimming with energy and enthusiasm.

It was a pleasure to catch up with her afterwards to talk about her publications. In a warm, wide-ranging conversation, we discussed the importance of literacy, music theory and sight-reading, as well as Samantha’s recently developed passion for rote teaching.

But first I wanted to know more about Samantha’s back story …

Continue reading Samantha Coates in Conversation

Martin Roscoe’s Dohnányi Odyssey

photo: Eric Richmond

Exclusive Interview with concert pianist Martin Roscoe

As Hyperion Records release the fourth and final disc in Martin Roscoe’s survey of the solo piano music of Ernő Dohnányi it was a delight to have the chance to ask Martin about his Dohnányi odyssey, which has taken so much of his time over recent years.


I was keen to know more about how this extraordinary project came about, and the impact it has made on pianist and audiences alike …

Continue reading Martin Roscoe’s Dohnányi Odyssey

Marcel Zidani: Hey Presto!

Interview with Marcel Zidani

Marcel Zidani’s Hey Presto! is billed as a “first piano lessons” book for older beginners aged 11 and upwards.

The subtitle – pedal your way to piano perfection– reveals something of the book’s unique approach, and like many I was intrigued when it first appeared a couple of summers ago.

Reviewing Hey Presto! at the time, I found much to love about Marcel’s method and music, while noting a few minor concerns. Since then, Marcel has responded to the feedback received from teachers and is now back with a thorough reworking of the concept and a brand-new edition of Hey Presto!

So what better time to catch up with Marcel for a chat, find out what motivates Hey Presto! and ask how he has improved on the original publication…

Continue reading Marcel Zidani: Hey Presto!

Barbara Arens in Conversation

Barbara Arens will be known to most Pianodao readers as an excellent and prolific educational composer – I have previously reviewed several collections of her music, and most recently the Piano Exotico and Piano Tranquillo/Vivace collections published by Breitkopf & Härtel.

Around the time I was writing that review, I heard from Barbara that she was publishing a further five books via her own Editions Rensakov publishing on Amazon.

I decided it was about time I caught up with Barbara for a chat about all this fresh activity!…

Continue reading Barbara Arens in Conversation

Exploring “Mosaic” with Nikolas Sideris

Editions Musica Ferrum have recently brought out two volumes of pieces in a new series called Mosaic, featuring original music by a dozen or so composers, organised by difficulty level and suitable for beginner to early intermediate players.

I have enjoyed the privilege of contributing to the project, with two of my own compositions included in each book so far, and more to come!

I decided to catch up with Editions Musica Ferrum founder Nikolas Sideris and ask him more about the project…

Continue reading Exploring “Mosaic” with Nikolas Sideris

The Rise of Dorico

Interview with Daniel Spreadbury

Until fairly recently, two big names dominated the world of music notation software: Make Music’s Finale and Avid’s Sibelius.

Other software – such as Presonus’ Notion and the free-to-use MuseScore have continued to challenge their supremacy, but with the October 2016 release of Dorico it was clear that a significant professional alternative had arrived on the scene, causing quite a stir.

The backstory has been repeated many times elsewhere – how Avid decided to close their London office in 2012, leaving their existing Sibelius development team – headed by Daniel Spreadbury – without their jobs.

By the start of 2013, music software giants Steinberg Media Technologies – a wholly owned subsidiary of Yamaha, and the creators of the VST standard, Cubase, Nuendo and Wavelab – had snapped up the team and tasted them with creating a brand new notation package from the ground up. Enter Dorico 

In this interview, I will be chatting with Daniel about his career in the music software world, the development of Dorico, and the birth of version 2.0.

But first … 

Continue reading The Rise of Dorico

Garreth Brooke’s “Upright” Project

“Upright” is a piano project with a difference …

I spoke to project coordinator, Garreth Brooke to find out more…

Continue reading Garreth Brooke’s “Upright” Project

Another 20 Great Jazz Pianists

When I published a blog post sharing clips of 20 Great Jazz Pianists – with the disclaimer that, “these aren’t necessarily the 20 greatest jazz pianists of all time” – I was hopeful that by exploring the included clips readers would get a glimpse of the length and breadth of the wonderful world of jazz piano.

But no sooner had I posted than I began musing over those many brilliant pianists who I hadn’t included, and in a jiffy the idea came to me – publish a follow-up post with another 20 pianists!

In the event this list was far more difficult to collate – and here I must thank my good friend Mark Polishook for pointing me in the direction of a few players I might otherwise have overlooked. And having covered some of the most obvious seminal players in my first list of 20 great jazz players, this post has offered a chance to explore some less predictable paths!

In the event, including everyone we both thought deserved a moment in the spotlight wasn’t possible. On the plus side the 20 I have selected include something for everyone, and once again show how immersive and varied the world of jazz playing is, from the stride of James P. Johnson to the beautiful and experimental introspection of Tord Gustavsen, and from the sophistication of George Shearing to the explosive force of nature that is Hiromi Uehara – it’s all here.

Or at least some if it is! Because there’s a whole world of amazing music out there waiting to explored.

So without further ado or comment, Welcome back to the world of the jazz pianist. Here are the clips – I hope that you enjoy them!

Continue reading Another 20 Great Jazz Pianists

20 Great Jazz Pianists

Jazz is caught, not taught!

So goes the cliché (although I believe this also applies to classical and other styles too). So much of the nuance, the energy, the essence and the inflection of piano music cannot be expressed away from the instrument, whether in words or using notation.

As I write this I am about to deliver a workshop entitled Introducing Jazz Piano for the Piano Teachers’ Course UK, where I am a guest tutor. And as I consider the point that listening to jazz piano playing must be our starting point, this raises the question, “where do we start?” 

So to that end I’ve compiled this list of 20 seminal jazz pianists, with clips of their playing and a suggestion that you go on to more fully explore their recorded legacy.

Understand, these aren’t necessarily the 20 greatest jazz pianists of all time (and it isn’t, in any case, a competition!). However, they are all genuine greats, and between them they represent a wide range of styles and approaches within the very broad world of jazz music.

Dip in now, and keep coming back, because ongoing exposure to the genius of these players is the key to developing as a player and teacher of jazz music…

Continue reading 20 Great Jazz Pianists

Lipatti: Remembering a Legend

Building a Library

“Music is a serious matter”
Dinu Lipatti (1917-1950)

Dinu Lipatti was born in Bucharest on 19th March 1917. His life and career shone with a brightness that helped illuminate the piano’s “golden age”, leaving an indelible hue on our cultural heritage. That blazing light was tragically extinguished on 2nd December 1950, when Lipatti died of Hodgkin’s Disease.

But Lipatti’s legacy lives on, and such was the precision, luminosity and spirituality of his playing that, these many decades later, many of his recordings (mostly from the 1940s) are still regarded as milestones in the history of music…

Continue reading Lipatti: Remembering a Legend

Emanuel Rimoldi on Qigong

World Exclusive Interview

Born in Milan, pianist Emanuel Rimoldi first studied in the Conservatory of his home city with Vincenzo Balzani , and then studied at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow with Elissò Virsaladze from 2009-2015. He is presently continuing his doctorate specialisation at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien in Hannover with Arie Vardi. In addition to his official studies, he has completed a series of master- classes with famous pianists such as Dina Yoffe, Boris Petrushansky and Vladimir Askenazy.

Emanuel has won several international competitions in Italy including the ‘Ettore Pozzoli’ in Seregno and the ‘Città di Cantù’. In 2013, he won the 1st prize at the “Top of the World” international piano competition held in Tromso (Norway), and in 2016 he won the Grand Prix and the ‘Ivo Pogorelich Prize’ at the first Manhattan International Music Competition.

Emanuel’s performances have lit up stages from the Carnegie Hall in New York to London’s Wigmore Hall, and from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in Moscow.

Emanuel Rimoldi 8

Prior to his last performing trip to the UK, Emanuel very kindly wrote an insightful guest post for Pianodao, following on from which we got chatting and I found that he is a keen practitioner of taichi, an interest which coincides with my own interest in ‘piano qigong’.

I am delighted that Emanuel agreed to talk about the impact his taichi practice has had on his development as a pianist in this world exclusive interview for Pianodao.

Continue reading Emanuel Rimoldi on Qigong

Andrew Eales: an interview

Interview by Frances Wilson

This interview includes material that originally appeared on Frances Wilson’s site The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and is reproduced here with her kind permission.

Continue reading Andrew Eales: an interview

An Interview with Koen Janssen

Regular readers will know that for several years I have been sharing my recordings on the SoundCloud website, as well as enjoying the music that others share there. One musician whose tracks have regularly impressed me is young Belgian composer Koen Janssen.

Like many whose music I admire on SoundCloud, Koen does not come from a traditional background in music education – following piano lessons as a child he has largely taught himself, and his musical adventures have included stints as a DJ and playing in bands.


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Having returned to more classical roots, his first EP of epic soundtrack and piano music is now available on iTunes. I was delighted to have a chance to discuss his musical journey with him …

As you read on, enjoy listening to this example of Koen’s music, ’Touch’:

Continue reading An Interview with Koen Janssen

Tobin Mueller and the Influence of Illness on his Music

Guest Author Frances Wilson interviews pianist Tobin Mueller

Composer and pianist Tobin Mueller has recently completed a trilogy of recordings in which he explored three eras of Western music through adaptive arrangements, reinvention and original composition.

Each album took one year to develop. The Masterworks Trilogy included jazz interpretations and new works based on:

  1. the Impressionists (Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Fauré, Carpenter)
  2. the Baroque period (J.S. Bach), and most recently
  3. the Romantic movement (Frederic Chopin).

The albums by title are :

  1. Impressions of Water and Light
  2. Flow: The Music of J.S. Bach and Tobin Mueller”, and
  3. Of Two Minds: The Music of Frederic Chopin and Tobin Mueller”.)

Not only have these double-CD albums highlighted the elements of modernity found in these forebears, they have allowed Mueller to discover a personal kinship with each composer.

Tobin’s personal journey has also been colored by the challenges of dealing with a compromising illness. This relationship between the composer and his illness is what we wanted to discuss…

Continue reading Tobin Mueller and the Influence of Illness on his Music

The “8 Pianos” Project

Interview with pianist and composer Dirk Maassen

With a huge following on sites including SoundCloud, Spotify and YouTube, Dirk Maassen is surely one of Germany’s most listened-to contemporary piano composers.

Continue reading The “8 Pianos” Project

Recovery from Injury: Alicja Fiderkiewicz

Following on from the recent interview with Evelina de Lain in which she talked about her recovery from a serious piano playing injury, I am delighted to talk to Alicja Fiderkiewicz, an internationally renowned  classical concert pianist who has experienced her own trauma with injury, which you can read about in this article from The Telegraph.

To provide more background before exploring Alicja’s recovery from injury, I wanted to find out more about her piano journey, starting with her lessons as a child growing up in Poland and Soviet Russia…

Continue reading Recovery from Injury: Alicja Fiderkiewicz