Meet the Artist……Peter Basil Murdock Saint, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music? 

During a family holiday in Jersey in 1988, I heard a cocktail pianist at the Hotel de France.  I became transfixed with the piano sound, and each evening at the hotel restaurant would stand next to the artist and gaze (realising now how irritating it would have been for an eight year old in chinos and a gaudy shirt, to be peering and examining the artist’s fingers).  I also remember eating each course terribly slowly to maximise on the listening potential!

After much nagging (persistence usually pays off!), and against my late father’s intentions (S.A.S. fighting machine), Ma bought me my first piano for £50.00.  It was an Erard, and I adored it until I wore it out.  My world gradually became totally music and arts orientated, and I felt it was the only thing I excelled in; there was no option other than to forge a musical path.  Looking back, I had no idea what colourful and wonderful opportunities it would hand to me.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

This is the easiest of the questions to answer.  Margaret Fingerhut, who believed in me at a time when I was having quite a major confidence wobble in my life, taught me at the RNCM, and on occasion privately afterwards.  I learned more in the short time I had with Margaret, than I did from any other principal study tutor I studied with during my degree course.

Before this, Arthur Williams taught me organ (I ended up covering five different church organist posts at the same time!), and piano encompassing everything I needed to know to set me up in moving forward with my career.  He took me on many trips to concerts and hands on playing events across the country, and in his will left me his entire sheet music and recordings collection.  It was one of the most harrowing days of my life having to play for his funeral, and listening to Elgar’s ‘Dream of Gerontius’ in its entirety looking at the 7 foot gentle giant lay in his coffin!  On a lighter note, I amusingly curse the huge collection Arthur left me, each time I have to move house, as do the friends that help me pack it up each time.

After Arthur had sadly passed away, Doctor Stephen Collisson took on the challenge of preparing me for conservatoire entry auditions, and had playing Bach English Suites, Brahms Ballades, Mozart Sonatas and Rachmaninoff Preludes in the short space between A levels and conservatoire entry.  He had time and patience and gave me extra time whenever I needed, or was having a mini-meltdown, and probably understood me more than I did at the time!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

This has to be when I went across to the dark side, and organ was my principal study.  I was fortunate enough to land a position as Organ Scholar at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal Hampton Court Palace when I was 17.  This involved learning up to an hour’s worth of new choral accompaniments per week, plus some taxing voluntaries.  My first service there, the setting for Evensong was Stanford in A (orchestral reduction); alone in the organ loft in such an auspicious setting, my heart was in my mouth, all trussed up in the royal livery.  That place was magical, most notably at Midnight Mass.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I have one recording available which was awarded a five star review, and demanded a second album.  Also a telling off from the reviewer who had never heard of me, and that my modesty and lack of online presence is holding me back.  The recording was done in whole takes only, and I insisted that the ‘inaccuracies’ were kept in as part of the performance.  Hidden on the album cover is my insignia “there are no mistakes, just happy accidents”, I also have this on a plaque next to my piano at home, as I feel it is vital for students to be aware of this, as well as me.  The recording is very special in another way I have never revealed until now, in that I was head-over-heels for the page-turner.  Shortly after he moved to the other side of the world.

In terms of performances, it has to be 2012 Manchester Pride Concert Series, promoting LGBT composers.  I was due to accompany the Poulenc Trio for piano, oboe and bassoon amongst other chamber works.  Sadly the oboist got stuck in another country the day before, and I had twelve hours to pull together a solo recital to be recorded live and aired on BBC Radio 3, BBC Manchester and Gaydio!  After dealing with a stroppy audience lady who screamed “WHAT, no oboe….I’m off” … Chaminade, Debussy, Hahn, d’Indy, Dukas, Ravel, Saint-Saens and Widor were played, and this recording kick-started my YouTube channel in an attempt to embrace technology and my reviewer’s advice!

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

The pinnacle two works in my repertoire are unusual French sonatas.  Chaminade and Dukas!  The Chaminade I learned back in 1996, and the Dukas in 2003.  The Chaminade I use as a cornerstone in recitals a lot as it covers many forms; Fantasia, Fughetta, Nocturne, Toccata.

The Dukas has been allowed by programmers twice due to its need to be served with a good dose of happy pills and a course of counselling afterwards.  I also find it is quite an aerobic challenge, and gave it the nickname “French Hammerklavier”.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I am constantly on the discovery path, delving far too deep into the byways of the gargantuan repertoire available to us, sadly a vast amount now out of print I uncover from what seems another world.  Often, after playing through the unknown, one can see why it never caught on.  Other times, it makes no sense why it never made it past a first edition.

I leave the core repertoire to the high-masters.  I have far too much fun in the unknown, and tracing ancient scores whose printing plates were destroyed in the wars.  My most recent example of this is the Scharwenka Piano Sonata No. 1 in C sharp minor (first version), and works by Granville Bantock.  The piano works of the great French organists such as Dubois, Tournemire, Vierne and Widor are also an interesting route to follow.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

I found myself puzzling over this question, then my answer came to me in my own living room.  The recital work I have enjoyed the most is in the salon setting, where people can discuss music, enjoy food, cake and wine, and follow a less formal protocol such as the concert halls.  I always enjoy socialising with people who have come to share the music.  To perform, hide in a dressing room, then retire to a hotel room would not make me happy at all.  Excitement is to be shared.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Although I have what I call phases of favourite pieces, I always end up hurtling back to Chaminade for her simple yet effective turn of melody and exotic harmonies, and of course her largest form of writing, her Piano Sonata, which even then, is totally accessible to anyone.  Many links, (albeit tenuous), can be made to other wonderful works as Chaminade’s brother-in-law and eminent pianist Moszkowski.  Even Stokowski wrote his first opus for Chaminade’s sister, Henriette Moszkowski née Chaminade!

In terms of listening, I adore the freshness of Rameau and the Couperins.  I have also recently discovered Lebegue thanks to a recent trip to Vienna with friends, and some harpsichordal geekyness.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have found over recent years, my personal preferences lie in the hands of lady pianists and accompanists, too many to mention by name here; but, I am pleased to see this fairly recent surge after a male-saturated scene.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

This was actually a ballet performance at a very young age, when Ma sneaked me to see Tchaikowsky’s Nutcracker and parked her car outside her place of work in case my father was checking up.  From there Ma’s boss at work drove us to the ballet.  I found the whole evening spell-binding and magical, although still confused as to the travel arrangements!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

The most important thing I learned at conservatoire was how not to treat people and students.  The favouritism and bullying I witnessed and experienced shocked me to the core.  My impossible situation was such that had I made any more fuss, I’m pretty sure it would have ended my study and career.  I stood my ground, and tunnelled, surfacing into the light at the end with some scratches and bruises, but to the annoyance of some hierarchy, unscathed.

I tell students I work with about my experience, and that there are many wonderful people in the field, and as a minority career group, we should all support each other.  Sadly this is not the case, and I feel duty bound to give warning about the blockades and barriers (aka unpleasant people in powerful positions), students may face.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

This is a taxing question at present, as I am currently caring full time for Ma.  I would like to say, “exactly what I am doing now”, but when the new start comes, my secret intention is to start again somewhere exiting and new, surrounded by my close network of wonderful friends, and lots of exposure to the arts.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Perfect happiness for me, is spending time with friends, being creative, whether it be baking or what we call “danger concerts” …. all this without having to clock-watch.

What is your most treasured possession?

This has to be the autographed manuscript I am lucky enough to possess of Chaminade’s Piano Sonata.  When my number gets called in, my vast Chaminade collection will be available for borrowing, and viewing via the Cornulier family in France (Chaminade descendants).

What do you enjoy doing most? 

When I’m not working on a musical project, hunting library archives, or catching up with social networking gossip, I enjoy exploring all things Art Nouveau and French cinema.  Period dramas are a big favourite and practising concert harp.

Peter performs Paul Dukas’s Piano Sonata in E-flat minor in a special concert at the 1901 Arts Club, Waterloo, London on 4 December 2015. Further details and tickets here

Born in 1980, Peter embarked upon piano tuition aged 8 after hearing a cocktail pianist perform in the Hotel de France, Jersey and after much persistence was bought an Erard as his first instrument. Three years later he took up the church organ too, studying with Arthur Williams, Paul Hale and David Briggs. After numerous parish church organ scholarships in Birmingham, Olton, Solihull and Bickenhill, (including work on the famous Handel organ for Lord and Lady Guernsey and The Earl of Aylesford in their private estate chapel), he undertook organ scholarships at Solihull School for Boys and at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace.

Having received a bursary from his L.E.A. Special Awards Committee, Peter entered the Birmingham Conservatoire Junior School where he performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto. He has also performed the piano concerti of Chaminade, Pierné, Boieldieu, Lalo, Massenet, Saint-Saens, Widor, Vierne, and Rubinstein. In 2004 he graduated with a BMus(Hons) from the Royal Northern College of Music after studying with Margaret Fingerhut. Since then he has established a busy career having taught for Manchester High School for Girls and Ashton-under-Lyne Sixth Form College, has a busy private practice, is an instrumental accompanist, and has a full time post specialising in French music at Forsyth Brothers Limited, Manchester.

Now specialising in only piano, Peter continues to seek professional coaching from Margaret Fingerhut (recording artist), and has had duo performance coaching with Peter Dixon (BBC Philharmonic). He is especially keen to champion unjustly neglected solo and chamber repertoire, particularly that of the French Romantic School, Dukas’ piano oeuvre and Cécile Chaminade for whom he gave a BBC Radio 3 interview in 2013. Peter has broadcast on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio Manchester and Gaydio taking part in the Manchester Pride Chamber Concert Series performing Saint-Saens, Chaminade, Dukas, Ravel and Hahn. In March 2005 Peter recorded ‘A Gallery of Miniatures for Piano’, a full length disc of piano byways that received an acclaimed 4.5 star review.

Review: Frances Wilson & Friends at Brunswick House

by Lucy Butler Gillick

Brunswick House
Brunswick House

The last time I visited LASSCO Brunswick House, my husband and I were looking at furniture for our house in Clapham. Back then it was the place to go for interesting bits and pieces at prices that wouldn’t break the bank. It still is. But in those days the area was very far from a prime location. In the 10 or more years since, I have occasionally looked across from a car or bus as I pass through Vauxhall Cross and noticed the isolated Georgian house, standing in defiantly Dickensian splendour, on an island surrounded by sleek riverside architecture and brutally thundering roads.

Without the encouragement of my dear friend Fran [Frances] Wilson – the energetic co-founder and Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series – I would probably never have bothered to park the car or get off the bus or tube to explore any further. But her invitation to come along to an evening of intimate piano music was far too appealing to refuse. And the venue is practically on my doorstep…

Now, apart from the occasional school event, endured for the sake of my children, or dinner at Fran’s where the piano would inevitably form part of the programme (and a welcome one at that), I have never really experienced such a concert. So it was as a complete outsider to this exclusive piano playing world that I arrived last Thursday evening and finally re-entered the pillared portals of LASSCO Brunswick House. To be frank, I was slightly fearful that my bottom would end the evening sore from a long and laborious sit, after having my eardrums assailed by music that could potentially mean nothing to me at all.

ChandelierBut what an appealing setting and pleasurable event it turned out to be. Downstairs is a cosy bar and lively restaurant, lit and furnished with scene-setting antiques that are – so far as I could tell from the tags – all for sale. For your starter you could order Mussels, Kale & Parsnip plus a Venetian chandelier; with perhaps Roast Lamb Leg and a sideboard to follow. Not bad going for the time-poor, multi-tasking city worker, en route home.

DSC_4092But it was upstairs that the salon vibe really took hold. The private concert room, the opulent Saloon with its belle epoque Bechstein grand piano, heavily swagged stained glass windows, old-fashioned school room-style chairs set in neat rows, lamps, lanterns, chandeliers and ephemera, was a genuinely atmospheric space. The very height of old-world decorous gentility, slap bang in the middle of one of London’s busiest junctions (better known for its gay clubs and pubs). Who’d have thought? It even smelt old-fashioned – a sort of pleasantly musty, sandalwood tang.

Once the concert kicked off, after a short introduction from Fran – dressed to the nines in a floor-length slinky red and mauve gown – the evening progressed apace. The concert included the ‘world premiere’ of a new piece by composer and guitarist Matthew Sear, as well as preludes, fugues, sonatas and impromptus from the likes of Debussy, Shostakovich, Menotti, Rachmaninoff, Scarlatti, Schubert and Satie – all favourite pieces of the artists performing that night. There was even a piece by the incongruously named Bryan Kelly (who sounds more like an Irish builder than an Australian composer to me), and a somewhat ‘difficult’ discordant work by Olivier Messiaen – apparently taken from ‘one of the greatest works for piano of the 20th century’ (the Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus) expertly played by Fran, who I think fancied challenging her audience into hearing something unusual at the end of the night.

The South London Concert series typically combines performances by talented amateur musicians with a special “guest spot” featuring professional and semi-professional players. On the evening I attended we enjoyed performances by José Luis Gutiérrez Sacristán, Petra Chong, Lorraine Womack-Banning, Rob Foster and of course our genial hostess Frances Wilson herself. They all looked and sounded amazing to my untutored ears and I would heartily recommend the South London Concert Series to anyone who fancies a very reasonably-priced introduction to the world of glorious piano music in an intimate setting, followed by an opportunity to meet and talk to musicians who are as passionate about their piano music as you probably are about your food, wine and chandeliers. What’s not to love about such civilisation? The only jarring note was re-entering the real world and wintry fug of Vauxhall Cross when it was finally time to head home…

Lucy Butler Gillick is ex-chief sub editor of The Sunday Telegraph Magazine and Harpers & Queen. She has written for many magazines and supplements over the years, on a variety of topics, but mostly on issues related to parenting. She now works in education. 

The South London Concert Series returns to LASSCO Brunswick House on 21st May for a concert by Australian counter-tenor Glenn Kesby. Full details here www.slconcerts.co.uk

Meet the Artist (& Artistic Director)……Frances Wilson, pianist, teacher & writer

(photo: James Eppy_
(photo: James Eppy_

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

My grandfather had an upright piano in the front room of his house in Ipswich. This room was kept for special occasions and Sundays. He liked to play Methodist hymns, excerpts from Haydn and Beethoven, and old music hall songs. I loved to sit next to him as he played, or rifle through the music in the piano stool, with its special antique smell and friable, crumbly pages.

There was lots of music at home when I was growing up: on the radio, LPs and from my father, who was a fine amateur clarinettist. When I was in bed, I used to hear him practising Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto to Music Minus One: for a while I believed he had a whole orchestra in the sitting room with him!

I think I was about 5 or 6 when I started piano lessons with Mrs Scott in Sutton Coldfield. My piano was an early 20th century Challen upright. It had lived in a conservatory for two years before it came to us and it needed quite a lot of restoration, but once overhauled it was a really nice instrument, of which I was very fond.

My parents were keen concert goers and my love of live music developed in childhood. We used to go to many concerts at Birmingham Old Town Hall where a young conductor with wild curly hair conducted the CBSO (this was Sir Simon Rattle). Once a year, as a treat, I would be taken to London on the coach to go to the Proms, and we also went to the opera and ballet regularly. I was lucky enough to see/hear some of the “greats”: Ashkenazy, Brendel, Lupu, du Pre, Barenboim, Lill.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My parents nurtured and encouraged a love of classical music. This was enhanced by my music teacher at secondary school and my then piano teacher Mrs Murdoch. Since I started my blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist in 2010, encounters with other pianists and musicians all feed into my musical life and inform my teaching and performing. My study with Penelope Roskell (since November 2008), and other master teachers and concert pianists, has had a huge impact on my confidence and skill as a pianist and knowledge and experience as a teacher

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Convincing people that piano teaching is not a “hobby job” but a professional role which I take very seriously.

Fitting in practising, teaching, writing and other musical activities with family life, and making sure everything, and everyone, gets the right amount of attention from me.

Which performances are you most proud of?

I played Messiaen’s Regard de la Vierge from the ‘Vingt Regards’ at an EPTA event hosted by Murray McLachlan at Steinway Hall in 2011 as part of the preparations for my ATCL recital diploma. It was the first time I had played a Steinway D piano and the first time I’d played the Messiaen in public. The feedback from Murray and the response from the audience was wonderful and an incredible boost to my diploma preparations and confidence.

I always enjoy playing for my local musical society at Teddington’s National Physical Laboratory. The audience is very engaged, supportive and warm. The Society has a very nice 1901 Steinway B.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

In my head I think I can play Debussy, but in reality, I find his piano music very difficult, with its many subtleties of shading, touch, pedal, and more. I’d like to think I have a particular affinity with the music of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, and Messiaen. In recent years, I have become more and more interested in contemporary piano music.

How do you make your repertoire choices?

I play whatever music interests me, and my tastes change constantly. At the moment I am working on a eclectic mix of John Cage, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, Messiaen, and Schubert. Mostly Schubert, it must be said, as I am working on the big A Major Sonata (D959).

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing Bach – his music can have a very steadying effect on the audience and is always a good concert opener. I also love playing Liszt.

Listening to at the moment – Scriabin Preludes, Morton Feldman, John Cage, late Schubert chamber music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Richter, Gould, Tortelier, De Peyer, Perahia, Lupu, Pires, Hamelin, Anderszewski, Uchida, Alison Goldfrapp, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell.

Most memorable concert experience?

It has to be Steven Osborne’s performance of the complete Vingt Regards of Olivier Messiaen at the Queen Elizabeth Hall earlier this year. Not only for the feat of stamina required to play the entire work without an interval, but the extreme concentration and intense focus which Osborne maintained throughout the performance. It was beautiful, moving, and incredibly profound.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be true to your musical self and try not to be distracted or downhearted by what others in your profession are doing. Don’t endlessly compare yourself to your peers or to others in your profession. Navigate your own course and true to find your own musical identity and voice.

Live and love life fully: go to concerts, exhibitions, films, read, eat, socialise, enjoy. Everything feeds the artistic temperament!

What are you working on at the moment?

Schubert – Piano Sonata D959, Impromptu in A-flat D935/1, Beethoven Piano Sonata Op 26, Liszt Paysage (from Transcendental Etudes), various shorter works by a variety of composers including John Cage, Scriabin and Messiaen

How did the South London Concert Series come about?

In Spring 2013 my teaching colleague and friend Lorraine Liyanage and I took over running the London Piano Meetup Group, a “club” for pianists in and around London which is organised via the social media platform Meetup. After a few meetings where members performed and really seemed to relish the performing experience, it became apparent that amongst our membership we had some very fine players, and also people who were keen to perform in a more formal concert setting. Amateur pianists don’t always get many performance opportunities and we decided to change that. We also know some young professional musicians and we thought it would be interesting to combine pros and amateurs in a single concert. The format is simple: a guest performer (usually a professional or semi-professional young or emerging artist) plays for c35 minutes and 4 or 5 “supporting artists” (we prefer not to call them “amateurs”) play for around 6 minutes. Most of our concerts are held at the beautiful and intimate 1901 Arts Club near Waterloo station, though we also use LASSCo Brunswick House, a magnificent Georgian mansion near Vauxhall station which is home to an eclectic collection of antiques and salvaged curiosities. The concert usually lasts around an hour and then everyone gathers for drinks and socialising. This gives audience members the chance to meet the artists, and the atmosphere at these “after parties” is always very convivial and friendly. In a way, the series harks back to the ethos and atmosphere of the 19th-century cultural salon, where people gathered to enjoy music and socialise. The intimacy of the venue makes the musical experience much more accessible and immediate for the audience too.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Seated at my beloved 1913 Bechstein Model A grand piano!

What is your most treasured possession?

I’d like to say my piano, but that would upset my family! So, my family. And good health.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited.

Frances Wilson performs at LASSCO Brunswick House on 22nd January 2015 as part of the South London Concert Series. The programme includes works by Debussy, Schubert and Messiaen, together with the world premiere of ‘Preludes for Piano’ by Matthew Sear, dedicated to Frances Wilson. Buy tickets

Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, teacher, blogger and music and art reviewer. In recent years she has made a name for herself in the classical music community in the UK and beyond via her blog ‘The Cross-Eyed Pianist’, which features articles on classical music and pianism, concert reviews, guest articles and a popular weekly interview series ‘Meet the Artist’ in which musicians, composers and conductors discuss various aspects of their creative lives. Frances is also a regular contributor to Pianist magazine’s online content, and has written guest articles for a number of classical music and music education websites including Clavier Companion and SoundandMusic.org. A passionate advocate of amateur pianism, Frances is co-host, with Lorraine Liyanage, of the London Piano Meetup Group, which organises performance and social events for adult amateur pianists in and around London. She is Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series.

Frances holds Associate (2011) and Licentiate (2013) Diplomas in Piano Performance (both with Distinction) from Trinity College of Music, London, and for the past five years studied with Penelope Roskell, Professor of Piano & Piano Pedagogy at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance. She has also participated in masterclasses with Murray McLachlan, Carlo Grante and Norma Fisher, and taken private tuition with Alan Fraser, Graham Fitch and James Lisney.

www.franceswilson.co.uk

 

 

Harking back to a bygone age….

Our 2014 finale was a concert with a special accent on late nineteenth-century Russian romantic music. Guest artist Ernest So performed a selection of songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff, together with his poignant Vocalise, followed by a handful of Preludes by Reinhold Gliere. Ernest was joined by supporting artists Petra Chong, Claire Hansell, Clio Chu and Mark Heller who performed works by Medtner, Ireland, Rachmaninoff and Mompou. Here Ernest reviews the event on his blog…..
Music had, for centuries, played an important role in our society.  Paintings and documents have long afforded us a glimpse into the vibrant musical life of generations past, particularly the music salons of 19th century.  These salons were meeting places for music lovers, performers, composers,  instrument makers, and the curious minded public of every walk of life – a cocktail of interesting characters unlikely to come together if not for the occasion.  Several performers would take to the stage, with slightly less fanfare than at a concert hall proper but every bit as compelling and captivating, and there is always this magical feeling between artists who share a stage, as though they have been let in on a secret and have instantly bonded by this shared experience.
Read the rest of Ernest’s article and see more pictures from the concert here
Petra Chong, Claire Hansell, Mark Heller, Clio Chu and Ernest So
Petra Chong, Claire Hansell, Mark Heller, Clio Chu and Ernest So