Ola Gjeilo: Dawn

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Ola Gjeilo’s Night was not just one of the most comforting CD releases of 2020, but in its sheet music form (reviewed here) became one to the most poplar contemporary piano collections that I have taught to my students, rivalling and generally besting the music of Einaudi and the other best-selling artists dominating the new classical space.

Now, Norwegian composer Gjeilo is back with an equally superb sequel, and it is appropriately titled Dawn. The CD version appeared back in the autumn. The sheet music publication arrived today, and having played through the pieces I want to waste no time before bringing you my recommendation…

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Einaudi: Underwater Extra

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Ludovico Einaudi’s Underwater proved one of the musical successes of 2022, and my review here equally proved to be one of Pianodao’s most widely read of the last year.

The immensely popular Italian composer’s first solo piano release for several years, Underwater showcased an evolution in his style, the pieces not only exploring the ‘felt piano’ sound but having a more concise compositional structure, less repetition, and a melodic intimacy that added to their wide appeal. I certainly found this music more satisfying to play than Einaudi’s earlier work, and I found that many who hadn’t enjoyed his previous work found these newer miniatures genuinely appealing.

Now, Chester Music bring us Underwater extra edition, a slim folio of three additional pieces, bonus tracks from the album that were previously unavailable.

The unexpected arrival of the publication coincided with my convalescence from eye surgery; having been confined to my bed for more than a week, they were the first three pieces I played once I was finally able to sit at the piano. Did I enjoy them?

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Ludovico Einaudi: Cinema

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Ludovico Einaudi’s music continues to divide opinion, often derided by those whose preferred music is less accessible, while fêted by fans and adored by enthusiastic pianists, students and audiences around the world. And along the way, his music has perhaps nowhere found a wider (or more lucrative) embrace that in the movie theatre…

Cinema appeared as a CD album about a year ago, and features 28 of Einaudi’s memorable works from film and television, including tracks from the Oscar-winning ‘Nomadland’ and ‘The Father’. The sheet music folio from publishers Chester Music is now with us, the subject of this review, in which I will also consider a separate publication of the music from the Nomadland soundtrack…

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Ludovico Einaudi: Underwater

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Ludovico Einaudi’s early solo piano albums, which included Le Onde (1996), I Giorni (2001) and Una Matina (2004) established him as the most well-known contemporary piano composer, his most classic pieces ubiquitously appearing in soundtracks and school concerts alike.

Over the years, Einaudi has consolidated his phenomenal success with a string of albums that have expanded his sound. Eden Rock (1999) introduced a wider instrumentation, and string parts have continued to take a particularly important role on albums such as In a Time Lapse (2013) and Elements (2015). Electronic elements and treatments have featured too, notably on Divenire (2006) and Nightbook (2009).

Underwater is Einaudi’s first full album of new solo piano music for two decades. The music was composed while the composer was isolated at his home in Italy. Working without any distractions or the usual commitments that come with his busy schedule, we are told that it is his manifesto for life, and a statement on a period during which the world around him was quiet and silent.

“I felt a sense of freedom to abandon myself and to let the music flow in a different way. I didn’t have a filter between me and what came out of the piano, it felt very pure.”

As a sometime fan of Einaudi’s work, I found Underwater strikingly different to listen to (as have others), and have been looking forward to considering the sheet music folio, which has recently been published by Chester Music / Hal Leonard, and is the subject of this review…

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Rachel Portman: Ask the River

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English composer Rachel Portman is best known for her many gorgeous film scores, including the music for such blockbusters as Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, The Duchess and The Lake House.

Portman’s latest musical project is Ask the River, a self-contained CD of piano-led instrumental reflections on the natural world, with an accompanying book from Chester Music delivering solo piano versions of all 13 tracks, the subject of this review.

According to the composer,

“I wrote this collection of pieces throughout 2019. They are the fruit of many years spent being immersed in nature. What can be more inspiring than the green shoots of new beech leaves appearing in the woods with the dappling light reflected in the spring breeze?
These pieces are a personal reflection on the beauty of the earth around us – the trees, flora, rivers, birds, animals and all her gifts to us. I hope you enjoy exploring them as much as I loved being inspired by the natural world.”

Explore them we shall…

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Ola Gjeilo: Night

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“I love nighttime. I love the mood of night, and feeling all of New York City light up from endless skyscrapers. There’s something very inspiring and even reassuring and calming about that to me. New York at night is very romantic, I think”

So writes Ola Gjeilo in the introduction to his new album Night, available on CD from Decca (purchase from Amazon UK here) and sheet music from Chester Music/Hal Leonard (the subject of this review).

Those who’ve not yet had the joy of discovering Gjeilo’s music are in for a treat with this album and will hopefully also explore his previous work, including the earlier piano albums Stone Rose (2007), Piano Improvisations (2012) and his immensely popular choral music.

So let’s take our time and journey towards the dizzying and inviting lights of Gjeilo’s Night

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How to Blitz ABRSM Theory

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I’ve seen a number of good music teachers recommending Samantha Coates’ How to Blitz ABRSM Theory book on forums, and having obtained a set to take a closer look myself, I can see what all the fuss is about.

I met and interviewed Samantha Coates at this year’s Music Education Expo show in London, and she explained that in Australia, her homeland, the incumbent theory books she grew up with were (ahem!) rather dry.

Her criticisms surely apply equally here in the UK, where the official exam-board workbooks can similarly suck the joy out of a lesson, and have a surprising ability to make a bus timetable from 1976 look like a relatively exciting proposition.

Coates found a solution by producing her own course:

“What I wanted was an alternative, a theory book that essentially had the same content as this other boring book that I grew up on, because it was written for the same syllabus. So I just thought, there’s got to be a more hip and groovy alternative. 
I wanted a text that was conversational and user-friendly, and light-hearted, and in language that is not formal…
“I think the word “somewhat” should never appear in any child’s tutor book! I just wanted it to be much more casual.”


Happily, with publisher Chester Music on board, she has brought out adapted versions for the UK market, tailoring the content to match the requirements of our leading exam board.

So let’s find out just how different the How to Blitz ABRSM Theory books are. What distinguishes them from the official alternatives, and what are their advantages? Importantly, have they succeeded in making music theory more relevant and interesting for piano players?

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