Relax with Meditative Piano

Sheet Music Review

When Schott Music delivered their gorgeously presented Relax with Beautiful Piano Music series of five books back in 2016, I concluded my review:

“What excites me is that these books so brilliantly meet the demand expressed by so many of my teenage and adult students for beautiful music that can be enjoyed for enjoyment’s sake.”

Is it really four years? Well, I am happy to report that during that time several of my adult students have been using these marvellous collections, and without exception absolutely loving the selections of music they contain.

In most cases, having bought one book they have rushed to buy others in the series without prompting, an obvious indication of enthusiasm, and interestingly the Baroque and Classical books have proven particularly popular.

Happily for all, Schott Music are back with an encore, a sixth book again selected by British concert pianist Samantha Ward. With the title Relax with Meditative Piano, it promises to be another winning selection of great music. So come on, let’s see what’s in it…

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Evgeny Kissin: Four Pieces Op.1

photo: G. Henle Verlag

Sheet Music Review

Evgeny Kissin hardly needs any introduction to readers of Pianodao: one of the leading pianists of his generation, Kissin’s stunning performances and recordings have wowed audiences worldwide.

Now he joins that highest echelon of the great pianist-composers by bringing the world his first solo piano compositions.

Kissin’s Four Piano Pieces Opus 1 were published by G. Henle Verlag late last year, joined by his Cello Sonata Op.2 and String Quartet Op.3.

And yes, this is the first time that Henle have committed to publishing the work of a living composer. Picking our jaws up from the floor, let’s find out more…

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Adapting to Change

Change sometimes takes us by surprise, a bolt from the blue, and in the early months of 2020 we have all experienced a jolt to our way of life as countries around the world quickly followed each other into lockdown.

As the dust settles and we try to adapt to “the new normal”, many are now wondering how these changes will continue to affect us, and what they mean. We are feeling uneasy about the future, and unsure of our footing.

Here in the West, we sometimes assume change is a linear process, an ongoing narrative in which we continually face the unknown, but with no going back. We measure our success in terms of our annual growth targets, believing that unless we progress “onwards and upwards” we will fail.

For the Daoists however, change is cyclical, often understood in the natural context of the turning seasons and the rotation of day and night. There is similarly a natural expansion and contraction of all things, seen for example in the ebbing of the tides, the wax and waning of the moon.

I believe that these metaphors are really helpful; they can give us hope. They encourage us to accept life’s “ups and downs”, pliably and positively adapting to them. In contrast to western materialism, Daoism teaches that there is a rightful time to contract, consolidate, and rest: all of which are necessary for our well-being.

In this context, there really is no “new normal” because we are all on a continuing journey. Nothing in the universe stands still. But at the same time, it certainly seems that history has a peculiar habit of repeating itself. Fixed plans and linear growth targets only succeed when all else is essentially in a state of entropy, but this is historically rare and actually a bit weird.

The upheaval of 2020 presents us with a unique opportunity to reflect on this. How then can we “go with the flow”, “roll with the punches”, and adapt to change?

In this article I will consider this question primarily from the point of view of a pianist and teacher, but beyond my thoughts on how to adapt our playing and teaching, there is much here that equally pertains to our living.

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Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: Wiener Urtext

Sheet Music Review

In the conclusion to my recent review of Bärenreiter’s recently published Jonathan Del Mar edition of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, I noted,

“With the appearance of Jonathan Del Mar’s new benchmark edition for Bärenreiter, we have less of an excuse than ever when it comes to understanding and interpreting the master’s intentions… This magnificent resource is surely not only a new landmark in Beethoven scholarship, but for pianists its issue is the publishing event of the decade.”

In the light of such high praise, eyebrows might be raised at the spectacle of me now reviewing an alternative edition. However, it’s only fair to admit that however definitive an edition is (and the Del Mar edition is as definitive as they come), there is still space for more than one edition of these masterpieces on our shelves.

Given the complexity of establishing an exact text of these core works, and the performance considerations they raise, I certainly welcome the option of having a couple of editions to consult, especially if they offer complementary strengths and insights.

Also last year, and with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth clearly in sight, Wiener Urtext released their own fully updated and revised urtext edition of the Sonatas in three volumes, UT 50427/8/9.

Without detracting from my enthusiasm for the Del Mar edition in any way at all, there are good reasons why some players might welcome the strengths offered by the Wiener Urtext editions, or even prefer them; this review will focus on explaining what I think those are…

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Phillip Keveren’s Circles

Sheet Music Review

American composer and arranger Phillip Keveren’s books have become increasingly popular staples in my studio, his recent collection Piano Calm (reviewed here) establishing itself as a particular favourite.

Keveren’s latest publication, brought to us as ever by Hal Leonard, is Circles: Character Etudes in 24 Keys, once again a collection of brand new original pieces aimed at intermediate pianists.

And it’s another triumph…

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Andrew Higgins: Seasons

Sheet Music Review

From time to time I review a music book here which subsequently establishes itself as a favourite with my students; such a book was the brilliant Birds: Études-Tableaux composed by Andrew Higgins, which I reviewed here.

I was therefore naturally pleased to receive Higgins’ latest collection, Seasons, which is again published by the forward-looking publisher EVC Music, whose many recent useful and eye-catching publications have made such a positive mark on the pedagogic repertoire in recent years.

Rather than lazily giving us more of the same, Seasons is quite a different proposition from Higgins’ last book, so let’s take a closer look…

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Víkingur Ólafsson: Debussy meets Rameau

photography: Ari Magg

Recording of the Month

For a second month in a row, my piano recording of the month choice comes from the fingers of a young player whose playing I did not immediately warm to, but who has more recently completely won me over.

Víkingur Ólafsson’s DG debut recording focused on the music of Philip Glass, while for his award-winning follow-up he turned to Bach, mixing the composer’s originals with transcriptions and various reworkings. The Icelandic pianist proved his mettle with an ultra-crystalline approach and technique that dazzled critics and music-lovers alike; but it left me just a little cold.

Ólafsson’s latest offering, bringing together a joyous collection of pieces by the French baroque master Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) interspersed and offset with an eclectic set of beloved and lesser-known pieces by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), is the clincher.

A disc replete with musical marvels, Ólafsson’s album of French keyboard wizardry is revelatory in its insights and deserves the highest plaudits…

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Gradebusters: 15 Awesome Solos

Sheet Music Review

Grade exams getting you down?
Who are you going to call?…

GRADEBUSTERS!!

Gradebusters is the cheekily-titled new series from Hal Leonard. Serving up a rich feast of universally popular music that players everywhere will be hungry to play each book is packed with instantly recognisable hits and infectious tunes. The series so far includes books for piano, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, alto and tenor sax, nominally ‘Grade 1’ level.

The Gradebusters grade 1 piano book includes “15 awesome solos from ABBA to Aladdin”, and is available now. Grades 2 and 3 follow over the next few months.

Here’s a quick rundown of the resource, the music included, and some ideas about who this book would suit…

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The Pianist’s Self-Care

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

At the time of writing, most of us are feeling uneasy. We are, after all, in the midst of a global pandemic, concerned for ourselves, our loved ones, our finances, and fearful of what our world might be like in a few months time.

But as we spend more time away from our usual routines, we might also discover a deeper unease. A rock has plunged into the pool of our lives. The ripples are still clearing, and a lot of mud has been churned up. As the waters settle again, we are coming to see things that were perhaps unclear to us before.

As pianists we might hope to see glimpses of answers to life’s most profound questions sat before our piano, absorbed in our playing. And certainly, as I’ve written here before, piano playing can provide a sanctuary from all else that is unfolding around us.

But while some presently find they can use their piano playing as an escape from grim news, many others are experiencing frustration at their lack of motivation, focus and inspiration.

In this entry to The Pianist’s Reflections Series I will consider some basic elements of self-care from a Daoist (Taoist) perspective in the hope that readers will find some helpful suggestions, and that each of us can enjoy a piano journey that reflects an easier, more connected and settled experience of life.

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Penelope Roskell’s ‘Complete Pianist’

Building a Library

Without question, Penelope Roskell’s The Complete Pianist is the most monumental publication yet to arrive for review, and with 560 large format pages, 250 newly-devised exercises and more than 300 supporting online videos, I can well believe that it’s the most comprehensive book ever written on piano playing, as well as the most superbly presented.


Striking among the claims made for the book, we are told that Roskell’s approach is based not only on a lifetime’s experience of teaching and performing, but also on “ground-breaking research into healthy piano playing”

The Complete Pianist thus offers the reader an…

“… innovative approach to piano technique based on the use of natural, ergonomic movement which achieves a rich range of sounds, allows greater artistic freedom, and helps to prevent injury.”

Intrigued? I bet! So let’s take a closer look…

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