The season has seen some varied concerts for the English Piano Trio. We enjoyed travelling to Boston to play for their excellent Concert Club. It was interesting to note that the local music services aim to tie in with visiting performers and arrange concerts for children in some of the local schools before and the day after the main recital. We played for two primary schools and had very enthusiastic responses. The questions asked by children were sometimes entertaining and often enlightening. My favourite was ‘Who is the boss in your group?’ This led to a discussion about how rehearsals work and how an agreement is made if it is necessary to take a decision on tempo etc. Another was ‘Why do you perform?’ That of course was quite a deep question and gave food for thought! It would be so good if more music services became involved with their local music societies. You never know how hearing music live could give a child a nudge to ask for instrumental lessons.
Our Words and Music theme continued recently at Amersham Concert Club with Mozart as our focus. We combined his piano trios and piano quartets with contemporary accounts of the time. It was lovely to be joined by two excellent friends – violist Susie Meszaros and actor Roger Ringrose for the narration. These programmes are popular and we had a really large audience – always important for promoters!
I know we are far from being alone in performing Beethoven this season. His piano trios are such wonderful works that it is always a joy to include one in a concert programme. We look forward to the ‘Archduke’ in a couple of weeks in Norwich!
We are well into the season now. The music societies have made us very welcome and it is lovely to see such loyal listeners. We have great fun after performances chatting to some incredibly knowledgeable audience members. It was good to visit Wales again and enjoy their particularly warm hospitality with an abundance of local food and particularly the welsh cakes! We have been so impressed by the enthusiasm and determination of organisers. I would like to particularly mention the lunchtime concert series that are proving to be so popular. Maybe this is a way forward to cope with dwindling numbers of music societies. Many centre it around a simple lunch followed by the performance. It seems to work, with some capacity audiences. Not everyone can take a lunchbreak these days of course, but it certainly ticks the box for older listeners.
This March we were very privileged to give the premiere performance of a piano trio by the English composer Rutland Boughton (1878-1960). If you do not know of him, he is well worth a google search. He is best known for his opera ‘The Immortal Hour’ which had record breaking performances in London. This trio (1948) is 13 minutes long and in 2 sections. It is very English in character and is well written for all the instruments. It is always stimulating to perform a new work and this did not disappoint. A work like this in between two more standard repertoire pieces makes a satisfying experience for performers and audience.
We are celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth this coming season and we are planning performances of all his wonderful piano trios. We also have a Words and Music programme in which Beethoven’s letters and contemporary accounts are woven around the music.
We are looking forward to a new season. The first two recitals in October are part of the ‘Words and Music’ programmes. At the beginning of the month the historic church of St Alfege in Greenwich hosts a programme of music letters of Mozart. For this the Trio is joined by Rachel Bolt (viola) for the piano quartets, and actor Christopher Ravenscroft narrates from Mozart’s letters to family, friends and colleagues.
Later in the month the Trio’s programme about the Schumanns is performed, with music by both Robert and his wife Clara, Brahms and Mendelssohn. Actors Christopher Ravenscroft and Ann Penfold narrate.
Many performers and audience in the West Country will be aware of the closure in Bristol of the Colston Hall for refurbishment. The English Piano Trio has had a series there for a few years and we have thoroughly enjoyed this experience. There has been a loyal and appreciative audience listening to trios, with a talk beforehand by the music lecturer and BBC Radio3 host Stephen Johnson. We have been asked to cover some fairly unusual repertoire in this series. This has been very welcome as so often it is difficult to programme something less familiar. I am sure the newly refurbished Hall will be a great success and a really vibrant ‘hub’ for music in the area.
Another series that has ended is the full Beethoven piano sonata cycle given by the Trio’s pianist, Timothy Ravenscroft. The series was presented over two years at the amazing ‘GLive’ centre in Guildford. This is a marathon for any pianist and a wonderful experience into the bargain. Timothy introduced and performed these works to an ever increasing and extremely appreciative audience.
We hope you will enjoy the next season of music whether as a performer, promoter or audience member.
Our recent winter recitals have taken us to a variety of venues. Two were in delightful chapel settings, in Norwich and Brighton. So often there is a wonderfully intimate ambience in chapels, and this encourages a definite feeling of audience involvement with the performance.
Early in this month of January we performed in a completely different setting in Southend. An old cinema, now with a different usage, hosts a highly successful concert series. Playing in a large venue requires a different performance technique – it is easy to feel a little lost on a large platform! There is no doubt in my mind that chamber music works better in a smaller hall, but there is a certain thrill in filling a large space with just three instruments.
Particular concerts to look forward to for the trio are a return visit to the wonderful city of Lincoln in February, and also preparing the piano quintet of Shostakovich for performance in Bristol. It is not often that a piano trio augments to a piano quintet – it is usually the domain of a string quartet, so it is a welcome experience.
The Piano Trio Society is presenting the first ever intercollegiate competition this spring for piano trios at both junior and senior levels. The Junior competition is on Sunday February 4th and the Senior competition is on Sunday April 29th. Both are held at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. This is a very exciting time for the Piano Trio Society, and more details can be found on their website:
Happy chamber music this spring!
24th January 2018
I like to look back at the end of a season and think about the most memorable concert. As usual there are the odd incidents one remembers – unusual page turners, particularly responsive audiences, travel disruptions… the list could go on. What stands in my mind though are the recitals given in churches, particularly those on a grand scale, with awe inspiring architecture and a beautiful atmosphere. Chichester Cathedral is a stunning building and our return visit there was definitely a highlight. To perform great music in this venue is certainly a privilege and, considering its centuries old traditions, rather humbling.
It is the time of year when rehearsing for the new season begins, and often new repertoire is to be learned, or old repertoire revisited. It is also time for a mailshot. Maybe most groups do not bother with this antiquated method of publicity, but personally I like to feel a brochure in my hand. What is disturbing is the number of music societies which have folded. If only we could encourage more people to experience live music. When they do they are blown away by it, as we all are. Any blemishes are made up for by the excitement of the concert platform and the communication that is possible between performers and audience. I also run a festival so I know the challenges of producing an audience to make a full house. Pessimism does not help though, and it may be that chamber concerts will evolve into a different setting. Informality is good and accepted everywhere now, and it really can be an all inclusive art form.
There is exciting news from the Piano Trio Society of an intercollegiate piano trio completion is 2018, for both juniors and seniors. More details to follow.
In the meantime, happy music making and listening. We are certainly looking forward to a busy season.
January and February can be are difficult months in which to travel. I think many ensembles would agree with this! A few years ago we were due in South Wales and of course the travel day had to be the day when the Severn Bridge was closed due to strong winds. We had to make a massive detour, arriving just in time for the concert, but no platform rehearsal. Our most recent visit to Wales, although further north, near Wrexham, was just a few days ago, and in good weather. Playing for music societies in these rural areas is a real joy. Very often the audience is culturally sophisticated and extremely welcoming. Performing chamber music in these conditions is really what it is all about. The connection between performers and audience is so strong.
Travelling weather conditions are inevitably unpredictable, as is the piano in an unknown venue. A possibly more important factor though is the acoustic. There is nothing more uplifting at the start of the platform rehearsal than to find that the sound flows in a warm and unforced way, dynamics can be observed and heard, and consequently muscles relax. Equally important, though, is not to be thrown by a dry acoustic, often found in a theatre, where whatever one does the tone seems to be poor. It can be hard to conquer the feel of pessimism in these circumstances. I love performing in a large church where there is an added dimension – well our concert in Chichester cathedral is not far away!
We are looking forward to a number of concerts this spring and hope that the better weather will encourage audiences out. Whether a player or listener, and I am sure we all agree that there is nothing like the experience of a live concert.
Over the next few months the English Piano Trio will be concentrating on the Russian masters. We continue to perform single composer recitals at The Lantern in Colston Hall, Bristol, and these evenings are presented with well known music journalist Stephen Johnson. Stephen has worked extensively with the BBC and is a familiar voice on Radio 3. The Russian composers in this next season at Colston Hall are Tchaikovsky, Rimsky Korsakov, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov. At concerts around the UK these works will be juxtaposed with masterpieces from the Viennese era. It is challenging to perform the big romantic pieces, and yet wonderful to put them alongside the earlier Viennese composers.
We are often asked what we all do when we are not playing trios! I expect most musicians have a varied life. Currently the trio’s pianist, Tim Ravenscroft is enveloped by Beethoven as he presents the full cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas over a two year period in Guildford at the new concert hall – ‘G live’. This is of course a huge project but incredibly rewarding. Cellist Pal Banda, amongst many things, is also involved with a project, and his is Bach. He will be recording the solo Bach Suites next year, and in preparation for this he is giving solo Bach recitals at churches around the country. I, the violinist, am in the middle of a string trio and piano quartet month, as well as some piano and violin duo recitals. I find it extraordinary how the piano trio and string trio ensemble differs. It is just a different world, and I love them both. Our five recitals range from arts centres and churches through to the wonderful Chapel in Park Lane, Norwich. This latter venue is well known to musicians internationally – it has a wonderful atmosphere and the names of individuals and groups who have performed there are legendary.
The autumn months are always busy but very rewarding for both performers and audiences. Let’s enjoy them!
November 27th 2018 Chapel Royal Brighton 1.10 pm
November 23rd 2018 St John’s ARC, Old Harlow. 1.30pm
Friday 12th October
West Lodge Park, Hadley Wood 7.30 pm
‘The Schumanns – turbulence and friendships’
With narrators Christopher Ravenscroft and Ann Penfold