A very warm welcome to our Spring Series at Birmingham Conservatoire.
Once again we present an array of the world’s finest musicians at some of the world’s cheapest ticket prices! And, as always, there is something for everyone: our groundbreaking Frontiers Festival, our acclaimed jazz series, our Opera Triple Bill and –of course – our regular concerts and public master classes given by some of the greatest international classical musicians performing today.
The piano features particularly strongly this spring with visits from our esteemed Vice President, Peter Donohoe – who took the music world by storm when he won First Prize in the 1982 International Tchaikovsky Competition – closely followed by the American pianist Jeffrey Siegel and the legendary Turkish pianist, Idil Biret, whose
magnificent recordings and performances have garnered a host of awards too
numerous to list here.
The feast of music continues with appearances from violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen, violist Nobuko Imai, baritone Roderick Williams and festivals devoted to the music of Schubert and Brahms. And there are so many more enticing concerts – often performed by our own superlative students.
Do please delve deeply within these pages so that you don’t miss out on some truly special music making.
Ghostpoet – half price tickets available for Conservatoire Students*
We’re pleased to announce that we’re working closely with the Hare & Hounds, KingsHeath to offer Conservatoire students exclusive offers for gigs and shows.
The Hare is widely recognised as one of the finest independent live music venues in the country and has hosted shows with artists such as Alt J, Jungle, Jack Garrat, Wild Beasts, Bonobo, Floating Points, The Hot 8 Brass Band and many more.
Widowspeak- Free ticket for Conservatoire students
To kick things off we’ve got a double ticket offer for two shows this coming week.
On Mon 23 Nov This Is Tmrw host Captured Tracks’Widowspeak, an indie-folk, dream pop duo hailing from Brookyln, New York. Check out the video of them performing their single ‘Girls’ live below;
Entry for this show is completely free and they’ll also throw in a free drink on arrival. All you need to do is show you Conservatoire student ID card on the door.
Those of you who attend will also be able to take advantage of a second ticket offer where you’ll be able to pick up a limited half price ticket for Mercury Music Prize nominated Ghostpoet for just £6. There’s just 10 up for grabs so get down early to avoid missing out.
Mercury prize nominee Ghostpoet, live at The Hare and Hounds
For more information on the Hare & Hounds and all their up-coming shows head over to their website here or give them a like on Facebook.
This week’s Performance Platform provides a rare opportunity to hear the first performance of a new work for two pianos, Wild Man Dances, by Liz Johnson, composition tutor at the Conservatoire, written for Andrew West and Ronald Woodley and completed earlier this year.
The programme also includes the remarkable, earlyFantaisie (Tableaux) of 1893 by Rachmaninov, performed much less often than his later Second Suite, as well as the two-piano version by Gaston Choisnel of the suite from Ravel’s crystalline score for his ballet Mother Goose.
Samantha Carroll spoke with Ronald ahead of the concert to find out more about this special concert for two pianos…
Andrew West and Ronald Woodley
Have you ever worked with Andrew West before?
Andrew and I first worked together as colleagues at Lancaster University in the 1990s, when I was Senior Lecturer in Music and Andrew was Pianist in Residence. We have regularly collaborated since then, both on 2-piano projects and clarinet and piano recitals.
Have you enjoyed working with him on this occasion?
It is always marvellous to work with Andrew — he is such a natural musician with huge experience of chamber music and piano accompaniment, especially with some of the top singers in the country, and always brings terrific ideas to rehearsal, which we enjoy tossing around and discussing at some length.
Do you feel a lot of pressure giving the first performance of the new work for two pianos ‘Wild Man Dances’ by Liz Johnson?
There is certainly a lot of responsibility involved, and this is a pretty tricky piece to fit together, with a lot of the musical material being thrown around between the two players. But I have worked with Liz before, and I know how supportive she is towards her performers, and what they can bring to the piece that she hasn’t necessarily thought of herself — so that makes the working relationship very flexible and flowing in both directions. Liz is also currently writing a new quintet for me, for multiple clarinets and string quartet, which we are performing and recording next year with the Fitzwilliam Quartet.Watch this space.
The Fitzwilliam Quartet
Are there enough 2 piano works out there to perform?
There’s actually a very large repertory of two-piano music, both works written originally for the medium and some really exciting and worthwhile arrangements, often of large-scale orchestral works from the first half of the 20th century, and often made by the composers themselves. When Andrew and I first started playing together, we performed Stravinsky’sRite of Springseveral times, as well as works such as Ravel’s La Valse and Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, which sit beautifully in a programme alongside classics for the medium such as Debussy’s En blanc et noir.
This piece was written for you both. How much input did you have?
Basically my stance when working with a composer is to let her/him write what they want, and then see whether we can find a way to make it work. If there are seriously impracticable details, then these can be ironed out at a second stage in the process. With Liz’s Wild Man Dances, I think that I had a hand in initiating her writing a work that was rhythmically very alive and energetic, to contrast with some really beautiful, texturally intricate pieces for strings and voice that she had previously been working on.
Do you have any advice about how to work efficiently on collaborative projects like this?
When collaborating with other performers, such as a two-piano partnership, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you should link up to someone similar to yourself in character: often more contrasting personalities can come together to create a different kind of unity of approach, provided that there is sufficient understanding and respect of one another’s strengths. When collaborating with a composer, he/she will often already have a view of you as a performer (for better or worse!), and it’s generally better to allow him/her free rein to write exactly what they want to start with, without your interposing too much, except in answering specific technical queries. How much subsequent revision of a first draft is feasible will depend very much on the dynamics of the personalities involved, but I think it’s true to say that these days the compositional process for most composers is much less beholden to precompositional technical systems than, say, a generation or two ago; so creative discussions between composer and performer at draft stage (or even post-first performance stage) are very much the norm rather than the exception.
Andrew West and Ronald Woodley perform Music for Two Pianos at Adrian Boult Hall on Tuesday 27 October at 1pm. Book tickets.
This Sunday (18th October) we’re presenting a group led by a musician everyone on the jazz course will know well, drummer Andrew Bain. This is a brand new project called Player Pianoand for this Andrew has assembled some of the UK’s finest musicians to form a fantastic quintet. There is Gwilym Simocock on piano, Mike Walker on guitar, Steve Watts on bass and Iain Dixon on sax.
This gig is taking place at the CBSO centre, a venue with a great acoustic and they’ll be playing a combination of original music by the band members, and some written by late and greatly missed British jazz composers.
As well as our regular free foyer gigs at Symphony Hall on Fridays at 5pm we also present a monthly free entry gig at The Jamhouse, a popular live music venue in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. This month on Tuesday 20th October the band features a number of recent graduates from the Conservatoire jazz course, led by vocalistLucinda Fosker.
Another regular venue for Jazzlines gigs is the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath, one of Birmingham’s longest standing and best live music venues. It presents a broad programme including alternative rock, jazz, electronica, funk, folk, hip-hop and reggae. We present gigs there usually at least once a month, and on Thursday 22nd October saxophonist and reeds player Shabaka Hutchings returns to the city where he grew up, with his band Sons of Kemet.
A lot of you will already know this band, they’ve been one of the UKs leading live jazz acts for a few years now and won a MOBO award for their debut album Burn. Featuring the double-drum talents of Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner alongside tuba player Theon Cross, they mix rock, dub, Caribbean folk and African rhythms. With strong bass-lines and hypnotic drum grooves they’re a band that really must be experienced live. They’ll be playing tracks from their recently released new albums as well as those from their previous release.
At the end of the month, on Wednesday 28th October we welcome bass legend Marcus Miller to Town Hall, known for his work with both jazz artists Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, as well as range of pop and soul artists such as Aretha Franklin, Chaka Kahn, Billy Idol and Jay-Z.
He’ll be performing material from this his debut Blue Note album, Afrodeezia, the making of which saw him collaborate with musicians from West Africa, South America and the Caribbean.
There’s also going to be a great local support act Neon Villages, led by Conservatoire graduate and prominent local pianist & bandleader David Grey.
We’re keen to ensure that students at Birmingham Conservatoire are able to attend as many of this gigs as possible and benefit from the fact we are able to bring these musicians to the city.
To enable this we offer discount tickets for almost all of our gigs via Town Hall & Symphony Hall’s free Soundbite scheme for young people aged 16-25. Via this scheme we offer half price tickets to most of our events to anyone who has signed up to this scheme and buys their ticket in advance. As well as the Jazzlines programme this also allows you to access discount tickets for a whole range of Town Hall & Symphony Hall events including our Birmingham International Concert Series.
It’s free to join the scheme so it’s a great opportunity
We caught up with Michael on his tour to get an idea of what the concert promises…
How is the Paradigm Shift tour going? In a recent blog post you describe the music as having taken a ‘big step forward’ during the tour. How do see the music as having evolved? What is different now from when you played the first show?
We’re 18 shows into the tour and we’ve had a lot of good times on and off the stage, this just gets the music to a deeper place. The musicians have long since memorised their parts and we’ve gotten beyond the initial settling in period.
We’re interacting on a more subtle level now but also taking more chances in the music, exploring, etc, and letting people have their space, the music just plays itself and we’re just having fun. Also, when you do that many gigs in a row you get gig chops on your instrument which is nice cause you feel very connected with your instrument in a way you can never achieve from just practicing.
What can the Birmingham Conservatoire audience expect to hear? Will you recreate the album faithfully, or do you prefer to improvise with the material?
We’ll play all the songs from the album and the scored parts will be recognisable but we’ve developed everything to a new place and improvisation is always at the forefront.
Paradigm Shift was originally recorded in 2011 with further recording, post-production, mixing and mastering subsequently added throughout 2014 and 15. Was the intention always to work in this way – by recording it live and then finishing it off in the studio?
No, the reason I did this was because after it was recorded I had two other band/album commitments and had to see those projects through. After they ran their course I got back to this music and I knew I wanted my new band to feature an electronic musician, so I thought it would be great to have him add the post production to the album and so that’s what we did over a good 15 sessions.
What was the reason behind you adding further overdubs rather than just releasing a live album?
I wanted to enhance the sonic landscape of the music and now we’re doing that live on the shows.
Robert Levin – 6th Oct at Birmingham Conservatoire
He champions and composes contemporary music, but has also famously reconstructed Mozart choruses from sketches, including the Amen fugue in the Requiem. He has taught at The Curtis Institute, as the Piano Professor in Freiburg 1986-93, as Humanitas Visiting Professor in Cambridge 2012, and is currently Professor of Music Emeritus at Harvard.
The performance is followed by a public masterclass with some of the Conservatoire’s finest young pianists.
Jack Lovell spoke with Robert to find out more ahead of his appearance at the Conservatoire…
You are performing this recital on the fortepiano. Can you tell us a little bit about this instrument? Did you prepare for this performance knowing you will be using the fortepiano, and has that influenced your interpretation?
It is a copy of an instrument made in the workshop of Anton Walter. I did indeed prepare for the recital knowing I would be using a period piano, which decisively influences both technical and artistic approaches to performance and interpretation.
The greater transparency, clearer articulation, equal balance between hands and voices, and the particular colours available on an instrument of Mozart’s time are central to my approach.
You have a long and complex relationship with Mozart, from performing his works to reconstructing choruses and writing about him. What is it about Mozart that excites/interests you so much?
Mozart’s music conveys a sense of perfection and perfect equilibrium between rhetoric, architecture, and expression. He was a master dramatist and his music conveys a vivid sensuality. It is a challenging voyage of discovery to attempt to get inside his thought processes.
How does it feel taking on the responsibility of reconstructing or completing works by Mozart or J.S. Bach for example?
One learns profound humility. To attempt such a completion is to aspire to speak perfectly a foreign language. What is required is both intellect, infinite patience, and a clear sense of the outer limits of one’s abilities.
You are also a conductor. How do you find rehearsing a group of musicians impacts your musical language and approach?
It is a special privilege to convey to the musicians, and through them to the audience, the swirling feelings of joy, terror, and everything in between that the composer’s music expresses.
A hot topic in the UK at the moment is that of music education is schools. How do you feel about the state of music education in the UK, and wider around the world? What do you think we could be doing to improve it?
With the exception of Asia, where the virtues of classical music are part of basic cultural education, we need in the rest of the world to attach greater importance to the teaching of music and the appreciation of its immense expressive power. This power is known by all, but principally through vernacular (popular) music, most of which consists of tunes that are typically 2-5 minutes long. The greater complexity of Western art music is capable of engendering revelatory understanding of human motivations and emotions. Present-day audiences are more likely to gain a sense of these from the cinema than from art music. But surely Beethoven’s masterworks are not less powerful in this regard!
You will be giving a masterclass on Tuesday. What is it about the interaction with younger musicians that you enjoy? Is it just pianists that would benefit from this masterclass?
It is enormously stimulating to encounter younger musicians, responding to their abilities and stimulating them to surpass themselves in their aspirations and achievements—a mixture of the technical, the aesthetic, and the visceral. In master classes I teach not just the musician who is playing, but address myself to all listeners, whether fellow musicians or laypersons.
What was the best masterclass you were ever in as a student? What made it so special?
The master classes of Sir Clifford Curzon at Fontainebleau in 1960 and 1962. They were masterpieces of artistry, pianistic counsel, and wit. Working with Sir Clifford as a 12-year-old was what made me decide to be a pianist.
Robert Levin’s recital programme includes:
Robert Levin fortepiano
Mozart Four Preludes, K.284a Mozart Sonata in B flat, K.333 Mozart Sonata in E flat, K.282 Mozart Sonata in C, K.330
Welcome to another great season of performances at Birmingham Conservatoire!
This is my first term as Principal and I am well aware how good past seasons have been and how many of the world’s greatest musicians have worked and performed here. This autumn’s programme continues that tradition.
Birmingham Conservatoire Principal, Julian Lloyd Webber. Photo credit: John Millar.
Our percussion department also comes to the fore with a lunch-time performance of Steve Reich’s landmark composition, Drumming. There is plenty of jazz, world and contemporary music, of course, our regular series of lunchtime recitals given by our most outstanding students.