Over the years, Iles has also contributed to the ABRSM Jazz Piano Syllabus and composed several memorable pieces for the board’s standard piano grades, which are always popular choices. And now she’s back with two new books of jazz pieces for ABRSM, between them bringing 29 new piano solos to the intermediate and advanced repertoire, composed and arranged by Iles and a stellar array of luminaries of the contemporary jazz world.
With the drawing power of Iles and friends, and the marketing clout of ABRSM, these two books are sure to fly off the shelves, so let’s take a closer look while we can!
Few professional musicians would question the value and usefulness of sight reading, meaning that skill which allows us to play music that we’ve never heard, just from the notation, and without preparation.
As a teacher who allows my students considerable freedom to choose the music they want to learn and bring along to the lesson, I find myself relying on this skill very regularly.
And yet some teachers and students treat the development of sight reading as an afterthought, and a rather dull one at that. Compounding the problem, while sight reading has traditionally been an element of public grade exams, it is decreasingly so.
Trinity College London include sight reading as an optional test in their piano grade exams, but some teachers choose only to introduce it with “serious students” after intermediate level, and on the basis that players will at that point miraculously “get it”.
Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm will change with the launch of Trinity’s excellent new series, Sight Reading: A Progressive Method, a suite of three books offering a clear route for teaching sight reading skills from the get-go.
In common with most sight reading resources the series is linked to the grade exams, but happily it goes far beyond specimen tests and basic exam cramming, and can be used as a powerful resource to actually teach and develop sight reading ability.
As Trinity explain,
“The study of sight reading is valuable because it enables musicians to enjoy music that is new to them, either on their own or in a group. As with any other skill, confidence in sight reading comes with training and regular practice.”
So let’s take a look and see how the series can support teachers and students in those aims…
Born in Cologne in 1957, Martin Doepke has made a big name for himself in Germany as a collaborative keyboard player, recording musician and, since the late 1980’s, composing for theatre and TV productions. He has also taught popular music at the Rheinische Musikschule in Cologne since 1990.
Piano Tales is Doepke’s first published collection of solo piano music from Universal Edition. The book includes three pieces adapted from his hit German musical version of Beauty and the Beast (not to be confused with the Disney one!) as well as ten other original pieces about which the composer writes,
“The pieces in the present volume were written at different times over the years and in various places. They reflect my love of classical music and my passion for film music and musicals. Apart from the three taken from my musical Beauty and the Beast the pieces are not connected. Each tells a short story. Some are playfully romantic, others are rather mystically melancholic or have a pulsing rhythm. Their styles span today’s music genres and call for a love of musical variety and diversity.”
This is certainly a good summary, but let’s take a closer look and listen…
Once in every while a music book arrives on my review desk which is simply too wonderful for words, and yes! this is one of those!
Surprisingly so, perhaps, given that on paper this looks like a rather plain anthology of well-worn diploma repertoire. According to the blurb,
“This unique collection contains 21 pieces from the ATCL repertoire list for Music Performance Diplomas in Piano from 2019. The most popular recital choices join lesser-known treasures, allowing performers to create diverse and compelling programmes, whether preparing for a Trinity diploma or not.”
So you’re possibly wondering what lifts it above the exam jargon and makes it truly special. Let’s find out…
Based on her SONY Classical recording of the same name, From My Book of Melodies brings together the original compositions of Alma Deutscher, and includes 11 pieces based on melodies that she composed from the age of four to fourteen, one for each of those years.
The music book is published by G.Schirmer / Hal Leonard, and the pieces would suit advanced players (UK Grade 6-8).
In case your initial thought is to wonder why you would purchase a collection of compositions written by so young a child, it is worth knowing that the great conductor Zubin Mehta has called Deutscher “one of the greatest musical talents today”, while Sir Simon Rattle has declared that “Alma is a force of nature”.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Deutscher’s YouTube channel has approaching 14 million views, while her 2019 Carnegie Hall debut, performing her own music, was a sell-out.
The name Eusebius Mandyczewski may be new to you, so let me start this review by telling you a little bit about him…
Mandyczewski (1857-1929) was a Romanian musicologist, composer and conductor. From 1887 to 1929, he was the archivist and librarian of Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. He concurrently taught music history and counterpoint at the Conservatory of the Musikfreunde, where his students included Hans Gál, Gerge Szell and Karl Böhm.
As a composer, Mandyczewski fell into oblivion, having never quite achieved a decisive breakthrough despite writing several choral works, as well as two sets of piano variations, several song cycles and other vocal works published in his lifetime.
As a music editor he achieved enduring longevity however, producing a complete Schubert Edition and (with Gál) a complete edition of the works of Brahms, with whom he had enjoyed a close friendship over many years.
I have previously reviewed Mandyczewski’s benchmark edition of Brahms Complete Piano Works, and the same publisher now brings us the First Edition of his newly resurrected Little Cadences, Canons and Preludes for Pianoforte, dating from 1916, and first performed in public on September 2nd, 2018.
Since the late 1960’s, when he become the doyen of the experimental music scene, Howard Skempton has carved a unique place for himself in British musical life.
Skempton’s influences include Eric Satie, Morton Feldman, John Cage and La Monte Young. His own music resists lazy categorisation, but is characterised by pared-back textures, focused economy of expression, clarity of melodic line, and the avoidance of dissonance even when most determinedly resisting the pull of tonality.
These qualities remain an integral hallmark of the latest entry in his significant solo piano catalogue, the 24 Preludes and Fugues recently published by OUP.
While there’s a growing number of good published resources for the keen jazz student these days, most are aimed at the serious adult player, and in many cases too-quickly get embroiled in complicated jazz theory. Meanwhile, for young players who enjoy “jazzy pieces” and want to explore the style, there’s long been a gap in the market.
Jazz Piano for Kids, new from ace jazz educator Richard Michael and published by Hal Leonard, aims to fill that gap.
Introducing the book, Michael writes,
“Welcome to Jazz Piano for Kids and your very first steps in making up your own solos. What do you need? Apart from a piano or keyboard, just two hands, two wide-open ears, and the ability to have a go without fear of making mistakes. This beginner’s course will give you the building blocks of playing jazz on the piano… Before you know it, you will be improvising your own solos and starting a lifetime’s discovery in the wonderful world of jazz.”
Ji Liu is one of the young upcoming generation of Chinese pianists to find global success in the wake of Yundi and Lang Lang.
Following studies at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and London’s Royal Academy of Music, Liu has had significant success as a Global Classic fm recording artist, topping the UK Classical Charts, and as a concert artist who has performed around the world, appearing in such distinguished venues as the Royal Albert Hall in London and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Liu’s 2018 album Fire & Water took as its inspiration the Chinese five-element theory Wu-Xing, which is at the heart of Daoist philosophy, qigong practice and traditional acupuncture. Of the five (Wood, Earth, Metal, Fire, Water) Liu selected the pairing of fire and water as a basis for programming contrasting pieces by Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Einaudi, de Falla, Scriabin, Ravel, Xian Xinghai, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky.
Fire & Water delivers an intoxicating blend of virtuosity and appealing melody that has proved immensely popular. Several of the pieces are Liu’s own arrangements, fuelling demand for the sheet music to be made available.
For the Fire & Water publication, recently brought to us by newcomer Master Music Publications, Liu has obliged with his transcriptions, together with his annotated editions of some (but not all) of the album’s other pieces, and a brand new composition Tragicomic Trilogy.