For the latest amateur classical music listings in and around Portsmouth, including Fareham, Petersfield, Chichester, Havant and Hayling Island

Profile: Catherine Lawlor, violinist

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

I come from a musical family – my father Michael is quite well known in the area as a composer and performer on cornett, shawm, recorder, modern oboe) as well as a woodwind and brass music teacher. My mother Sandra is an amateur flautist and pianist – there was always music on in the house. Originally, I wanted a double bass but was persuaded to settle for a violin instead.

I was fortunate to benefit from the excellent teachers in the music department at Peter Symonds College. Before then, I owe a special debt to Janis Moore, who taught me from the age of 7, and Adrian Adlam. I still meet up with my teachers and sometimes have the pleasure of playing along with them.

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

What is positive about getting involved with music is that on one level it is always a challenge: there’s always something more to learn. Sometimes one’s opinions are challenged: prior to going to music college, I thought I understood technique, but soon realised that there is so much to learn and I am still learning. Pablo Casals was asked, at age 83, why he still practised. He responded: “Because I think I am making progress”.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I switch between performing chamber music, orchestral music, doing solos and recitals. It can be a challenge to find the right sound for all the various kinds of performances. With orchestral music, you need to blend, to contribute but not to dominate; with solos, you definitely need to project, but as a leader it’s a question of achieving something in between. With recitals, you have to match your timbre to that of the piano, and with chamber music you need to find the right timbre, to have your own voice whilst blending at the same time. I can always tell if a quartet has been used to playing together for some time by the extent to which they blend and interact.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have a special love for the French “impressionists” – Debussy, Ravel and Boulanger, and Franck too, and I feel I can perform their works better than those of other composers as a result. They create wonderful “sound worlds” – take the Debussy sonata for piano and violin, for example. Their works also allow for experimentation and innovation.

Other works that I have a particular affinity for include Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel, Ravel’s Mother Goose with its emotional journey, Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead, the Brahms and Beethoven Violin Concertos and quite by contrast Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (which I performed in my singing days).

I think the common feature they all share is their emotional journey and underlying narrative, and I think this is why I enjoy both playing and listening to these pieces so much.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

As a student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I felt that I played Franck’s Violin Sonata really well in my final concert. It was a piece that I had revisited a number of times already and one that I always found challenging. It was a brilliant feeling to know that I had played it well and excellent timing that it was during my final recital for my degree!

I had to step in at the last moment to perform Vaughan-Williams’ The Lark Ascending having never learnt it before. I discovered some wonderful new things about it which weren’t obvious from listening to a recording of it. I find there are some pieces that are always so much better experienced live with their complex textures and I think this is one of them.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Not everyone will like how you play, so take criticism on the chin, if it is legitimate, use it to learn and improve. Remember that you always have fans, it’s just that if they like what you are doing they don’t always say so!

Don’t be afraid to put your mark on a piece, to seek a new interpretation.

Arthur Rubinstein’s dictum was to limit practice to 4 hours per day, and I think this works well for me. You need to take breaks and seek inspiration away from rehearsing.

Slowly the curriculum is coming to recognise the value in music in schools for general self-development as well as many other things, and the Hampshire Music Service is doing a fine job in the circumstances. I’m finding that if the head teacher is keen on music in a school, then it tends to flourish. I am always encouraging younger students to play and enjoy playing.

How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

I’ve been busy working towards producing a CD entitled Myths and Legends along with the pianist Valentina Seferinova. It’s been fun exploring a theme through music. It will feature a wide selection of works such as Szymanowski’s Mythes, works by Delius, Korngold, Malling and Bridge. Valentina and I have tried to choose works that have a strong narrative and it has been really interesting to discover lots of works that have yet to be recorded and tell a story.

I hope that live performances will be possible again soon and that audiences will be happy to return: we need to demonstrate to the government that our profession is worth supporting.

My next concert will be on Saturday 24 October in Beaulieu Abbey Church where I will be playing as a member of the Nova Foresta Classical Players. It will be a nice varied programme.

About Catherine

Catherine Lawlor began studying the violin at the age of seven with Janis Moore and subsequently with Adrian Adlam. In 2009, she won a full scholarship to study with Marius Bedeschi at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and graduated with first-class honours in 2013. She continued her studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music, New York, under Daniel Phillips and completed her masters in 2015. During her undergraduate and master’s degrees she was awarded many prizes for both performance and academic achievement including the Balsam Scholarship for Chamber Music and the Graduating Masters Award.

Catherine is now a freelance musician who has performed as soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player in the UK, Europe, Asia and the USA. She has recorded for film, television and radio for Amazon Prime, the BBC and Avanti. In our area she is most closely associated with the Chichester Symphony Orchestra (she is its Leader) and the Solent Symphony Orchestra.


Live music returns to West Meon

While the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has forced the Primrose Piano Quartet to scale back on its plans for the 10th Anniversary West Meon Music Festival in September, the quartet is now going ahead with its alternative “mini-festival”.

West Meon Church is happy to host a socially-distanced audience of up to 65 for three concerts on 11th and 12th September, and with Government confirmation that indoor concerts can take place from 15 August, this means that – barring a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases and an ad hoc lockdown – live chamber music will be heard again in the district.

“Like all self-employed musicians we have seen every one of our scheduled concerts cancelled since lockdown began in March,” says Andrew Fuller, the quartet’s cellist and festival musical director. “We’ve missed performing just as much as our audiences have missed listening to live music.”

The three short concerts (no intervals to avoid unnecessary social contact among the audience) on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening will include such favourites as Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-flat and Beethoven’s String Trio in G major. Saturday afternoon’s concert is a tribute to the plight of the musician in lockdown with each member of the quartet performing their favourite solo works – including a Bach cello suite and chaconne for violin, one of Brahms’ piano intermezzo and Stravinsky’s Elegy for Viola. There will also be a distinct French flavour to the programmes with works by Fauré and Chausson reflecting the quartet’s next planned CD to be released in 2021.

Full details of the concert programmes can be found on the festival website (click the link below) with online booking now available for tickets at £15 for main aisle seats and £12 for side aisles. Given the limited number of seats available, early booking is recommended and concert-goers will need to indicate whether they are booking tickets for a single household or bubble to meet track and trace guidelines and allow seats to be pre-allocated. If you are unable to book online then please contact the box office on 01489 891055 for alternative options.

For those looking further ahead the planned “10th-anniversary” festival will now be held from 9-12 September 2021 when guests will include clarinettist Michael Collins, guitarist Laura Snowden and BBC Young Musician Strings winner 2018, cellist Maxim Calver.

The Primrose Piano Quartet is one the country’s leading ensembles and its acclaimed discography includes classical favourites as well as many unjustly neglected works by early 20th century British composers such as Dunhill, Quilter, Bax and Frank Bridge. Their major commissions include piano quartets written for them by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Anthony Payne. The quartet appears regularly in London at King’s Place and the Conway Hall and has recently toured Denmark, Germany and Bulgaria.

Named after the great Scottish violist William Primrose, who himself played in the Festival Piano Quartet, the Primrose has been selected for the Making Music Concert Promoters’ Network in 2004/5, 2011/2012, 2014/2015 and 2017/18. Its latest recording of the complete Brahms piano quartets, made in Vienna on authentic pianos of the period, has been highly recommended on Radio 3’s “Record Review”.

Susanne Stanzeleit – Violin
Dorothea Vogel – Viola
Andrew Fuller – Cello
John Thwaites – Piano

www.primrosepianoquartet.org.uk


A seminar on Vivaldi held by Julia Bishop

Julia Bishop is holding another one of her popular Zoom seminars on Wednesday 9 September from 11.00 am to 12.00 noon.

This time she will take us on a trip to the Venice of Vivaldi’s day, to explore the places where the legendary and prolific composer wrote so many of his great works. We’ll hear of the female foundlings whom he taught to play and nurtured to perform his exciting pieces. Born in 1678 in Italy, Antonio Vivaldi was a virtuoso of the violin but composed brilliant Baroque music for other instruments including the mandolin, bassoon, oboe and flute, to name but a few.

Julia is a fountain of knowledge about the life and works of the ginger-haired cleric. A fine soloist and orchestral violinist, Julia Bishop was the co-founder of Red Priest, a band which took Vivaldi’s music to the outer limits and back again. She will outline his successes and low points of his career. She will explain why he died in penury in Vienna in 1741. Her talk will be of acute interest to all musicians, not only for string players.

It costs a mere £8 to take part in this forthcoming seminar. Contact Julia via julia@redpriest.com or by texting 07521 897422. Nearer the time she will send you an invitation and give details of how to pay by bank transfer or cheque.


Chichester Chamber Concerts series update

We are delighted to announce that our new season of concerts will take place in the Assembly Room starting on 1st October. The concerts will also be live-streamed by MD Music Production, directors David Greenlees and Mark Mawson.

Seats in the Assembly Room will be limited to approx. 40, so hurry to get one from Chichester Festival Theatre via https://www.cft.org.uk/chichester-chamber-concerts – tickets can be ordered online or by post (Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, PO19 6AP); no telephone or in-person bookings at the moment.

We will be live-streaming a rescheduled concert on 10th September by the Trinity Ensemble (seats in the hall sold out) – see CCC website for programme details – live stream tickets £9: https://www.chichesterchamberconcerts.com/trinity-10thseptember2020.

We are thrilled to be welcoming our audience back to hear wonderful musicians live in the Assembly Room, and to welcome the musicians themselves who have been deprived of their livelihood and the joy of sharing great music with their audience.

We look forward to the day when restrictions will be lifted and we can welcome everyone back to the Assembly Room.

 


Profile: Vincent Iyengar, conductor, viola player and pianist

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

I certainly started early – I loved to sing as a baby, and used to tinker about on my grandmother’s piano, starting with lessons at the age of 5 on “the perfect instrument”.

I was told to take up the viola by my secondary school. Its unpredictable gut strings and the consequent difficulty of keeping it in tune, and the aches and pains that it induced made it hard work at the beginning. But playing it on a youth orchestra holiday course with Arthur Davison turned everything about it to a positive.

My father wanted me to be an engineer, but I studied music and maths at Royal Holloway, followed by a PGCE, with an additional Licentiate Diploma from Trinity College, London. There was a big demand for maths teachers at the time, but after 8 years of doing that I decided to throw myself into a musical career and became Director of Music at St Catherine’s (British Embassy) School in Athens. This gave me great scope to arrange ensembles and concerts.

Returning to England six years later, I went on to obtain a Masters’ degree with distinction from Southampton University in philosophy of mind. I subsequently furthered my interest in the Kodály and Dalcroze principles as effective approaches to musical understanding. Dalcroze is a holistic, kinaesthetic and multisensory method which emphasises feeling the music (rhythm, pitch, structure, phrasing, etc.) in both mind and body using movement as well as improvisation and solfege. I took a certificate level qualification, permitting me to teach it. Concurrent with this I deepened my understanding of the Kodály approach to music learning, obtaining Advanced Kodály Musicianship with distinction.

Both of these methods help with playing, performance, sight-singing, how to convey expression and so on. Read more about the principles of these philosophies.

I also improved my choral and orchestral conducting with the help of Sing for Pleasure, the Association of British Choral Directors and Peter Stark, Professor of Conducting at the Royal College of Music and later became music director of the Solent City Chorus from 2014-17.

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

Overcoming performance nerves.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Achieving an integrated sound, being part of a whole, not being in the spotlight, yet being essential to the overall output.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

Building up the orchestras in Greece, enabling children of expatriates to play music to a high standard, giving public performances at the British Council and other cultural venues. Also conducting Solent City Chorus at the Gosport Festival and at the annual Barbershop conventions in Harrogate, Llandudno and Bournemouth. Directing various school musicals, such as an unabridged Oliver, which, though performed by 9-12 year-olds, was considered by audience members to be of a higher standard than the local operatic society.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Brahms has both an intellectual and an emotional appeal. For the same reason I also love Bach. In addition I find Debussy’s music highly original. Rebecca Clarke stands out for me among women composers for her deep romanticism and being a viola player too and Chevalier de St Georges amongst black composers as rivalling Mozart.

Which works do you think you perform best?

I think I can put on a good performance of Brahms’ Intermezzo 118, no. 2 on the piano. On viola, I enjoy playing works by Vaughan-Williams. Like many people I tend to practise works I enjoy.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

As a listener, I cannot forget attending the Banff Festival in Canada, where Mendelssohn’s Piano trio in D minor was being played by two well-known musicians, Menahem Pressler, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi and a hitherto unheard of brilliant 20-year-old: every phrase was interesting and the whole audience rose to its feet and cheered for five minutes at its conclusion!

As a performer, one of my more memorable concert experience was being asked to lead the violas at the at the last minute at the Northcott theatre in Exeter in a concert in which John Lill played Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto to a packed audience, followed by a performance of Vaughan Williams 5th Symphony with its lovely viola solo. Other performances that stick in my mind was playing the theme from Love Story on solo viola as part of the Asian Development Bank’s 40th anniversary celebrations in Manila and also conducting my own composition, The St Catherine’s Variations, with my orchestra in Greece.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Be eclectic in your tastes, don’t narrow down your interests or skills. And develop your business acumen: you’ll need to be able to make connections and market yourself. All that’s anyway going to be pretty useful if you find you need to alter your career away from music.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?

I’ve been able to make use of lockdown to do some more practising, besides, I’ve been able to develop my online teaching offering. Away from music, I’ve done much more walking and reading than I would have done. So I have not been at all unhappy.

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

I would like to have rolled out my classes to more lower-income families. I am becoming increasingly interested in effective altruism and am conscious that I am probably in the luckiest 1-2% of humanity. Almost all people can learn and progress musically, yet our musical culture and skills are often passed around between middle-class communities. It would be better to use whatever abilities I have to improve the outlook of those less fortunate than myself. I shall investigate the possibility of setting up a not-for-profit organisation, but I am open to other suggestions.

About Vincent

Vincent plays piano and viola and very much enjoys playing in orchestral gigs. He plays for the Solent Symphony Orchestra, the Havant Symphony Orchestra, the Charity Symphony Orchestra and for choral societies and other orchestras when needed.

He has 12 years’ experience as a general supply teacher in primary and secondary schools, and 17 years’ experience teaching class music in primary age range schools, including 12 years teaching Early Years Foundation Stage music within schools.

Vincent also teaches violin, viola and piano.

Vincent started the ‘Education through Music’ music school in 2016 at the request of a parent who had been searching on the internet for a Kodály trained teacher. He is enjoying working with families to introduce the Kodály and Dalcroze teaching principles to very young children, helping them to develop a lifelong appreciation of music, and supporting their overall development.

When not kept busy with his lifelong passion for music, Vincent enjoys mountain trekking, travel, and learning foreign languages.

To find out more about Vincent, see https://educationthroughmusic.net.

 


Zoom – My Lockdown Lifeline

It seems like a lifetime ago when Covid-19 plunged us all into isolation, quarantine, lockdown or whatever you call this reclusive condition.

Uppermost in my mind was how would I keep up with my regular violin lessons. I prefer to have a schedule and deadlines to work to.

Thankfully, the problem was solved by my neighbour’s son Jack. Jack is a bright lad who’s reading English at Oxford. He posted notes through letterboxes around our close inviting the little community to join in a weekly quiz via Zoom. With some help from the computer-literate people next door we joined in and the online quiz has been going on ever since.

At the very same time my violin teacher, Peter Best, came up with the idea of regular lessons on Zoom. Before retirement, Peter was Director of Musical Training at the Royal Marines School of Music. He’s a superb violinist and a knowledgeable and patient teacher. Because we have been desk partners in the Portsmouth Light Orchestra and the Meon Valley Orchestra he knew all my considerable faults already.

Lessons by Zoom have proved to be very useful indeed for both of us. He can see and hear me and vice versa. If I stand at the right distance in front of my laptop he can see immediately if my posture is not one hundred per cent correct. Dropped wrists or wrongly raised elbows are starkly revealed.

By having his own copy or the music in front of him he can also spot any discrepancies between what I’m playing and what is actually written. Although the tonal quality is not absolutely perfect it’s good enough for Peter to pick out when any notes are not as in tune as they should be. Conversely, he can demonstrate how things should sound on his own instrument.

For some inexplicable reason, Zoom seems to bring everything into sharper focus than reality itself. It’s a very business-like arrangement. However, the use of video does not allow us the play duets as the sounds are out of synchrony. It’s a shame, as this is something we both enjoyed. This is the only drawback I can find with Zoom.

It’s about ten miles from my home in Fareham and my teacher’s house in Southsea. So, from now on there’ll be no worries about traffic or parking. Until the “all clear” from this dreadful virus is sounded I’ll continue to learn and, hopefully, improve through Zoom.


Profile: Cathy Mathews, violinist

Who have been the main influencers on your decision to pursue a career in music?

My parents were refugees from Hitler. My mother was Austrian and my father was German. My mother, a violinist, had played in a piano trio with her father and brother since early childhood. My father played the cello. They met in a string quartet which was arranged with the express purpose of matchmaking. It worked!

I wanted to play the violin as soon as I knew of its existence.

I was a member of the National Youth Orchestra which was great, except that there were very strict rules about socialising. If you went for a walk alone with a boy you were thrown out. Perhaps that has changed now!

My parents wanted me to try for Oxbridge but I rebelled, left school and got a place at the Royal Manchester College of Music. I studied with, among others, Yossi Zivoni.

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

I spent about thirty years playing full-time in various orchestras, including Bournemouth Sinfonietta, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Welsh National Opera, BBC Radio Orchestra and BBC Concert Orchestra. I loved every minute of it, but it was not an enormous challenge. As a string player you are simply part of a very slick team. In a good professional orchestra, on the whole everything just works. The biggest challenges were getting the positions in the first place! And you do have to become very good at sight reading. Also you can’t really have a normal home or social life because there is so much travel.

I will now drop a name! During the Bournemouth Sinfonietta years, I lived in the same road as Simon Rattle, who was nineteen years old and had just won the John Player Competition. We became friends and he would sometimes invite me to his flat and cook me Rattletouille!

In Liverpool I was a sub-principal 1st violin and sometimes co-led. That was something of a challenge.

In WNO I grew to love the excitement and drama of the combined forces of singers and players. You are a small cog in a massive and thrilling wheel.

In the BBC Radio Orchestra we accompanied the BBC Big Band at Maida Vale and I developed a love and some understanding of jazz.

In more recent years I went twice to Fiddle Frenzy on Shetland and enjoyed learning about folk fiddle.

I also love improvising and did a lot of this when I belonged to a free, evangelical church.

Both from a musical and technical perspective, my greatest challenge now is playing chamber music, including sonatas, piano trios and playing in my string quartet, Speranza.

And teaching, of course, is always a challenge!

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Relationships can be an issue. You spend a lot of time playing with the same people. On the whole if you are being paid you put up with more! In an amateur setting, it is easier to feel irritated by each other’s quirks. Music is a language. It is a way to connect with others. We are doing it for the love of it. It is more fulfilling if we all get on. But in the end, the music brings us together.

I have played much chamber music with very good local musicians. It is a joy and a privilege.

My greatest pleasure at the moment is playing string quartets because I have found a group of people who appreciate each other, both musically and on a personal level. That is not so easy to find. It should not be taken for granted.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

I am not proud, as such, of anything. It has been great to play so much symphonic and chamber music. I have appreciated the opportunity to play the solo violin parts in, for example, Scheherazade and Don Juan with Havant Symphony Orchestra. In recent years, one interesting group to which I belonged for a while was a mixed wind and string octet called Pieces of Eight. The Schubert Octet was a highlight. Also it was a privilege playing the Bach Double Violin Concerto with the Havant Chamber Orchestra and the late Brian Howells. Brian gave me my first job in the Bournemouth Sinfonietta.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I enjoy playing music by most composers. I don’t always enjoy playing works by lesser-known ones just in order to give them a chance to be heard. Usually there is a reason they are not famous!

I feel a degree of affinity with Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven.

Which works do you think you perform best? Why?

I am perhaps most comfortable with the Austro-German classical repertoire, as above, because of their structure, scale, humour, grace and poignancy. Also there is a link with my heritage. I used to listen to my grandfather playing a lot of this music on the piano, especially Schubert lieder.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are too many to pick one out, but if I had to, then playing the opera Pelleas and Melisande in Paris with Pierre Boulez conducting must be in the running. His beat was tiny, just caressing the air with his fingers, yet crystal clear and so expressive,

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Only do it if you can’t bear the thought of doing anything else.

How would you define success as a musician?

There are many ways success could be defined. In the end I came up with this. If a discerning audience appreciates your performance then you must be doing something right.

Keeping sane under lockdown

There is an assumption here that one was sane before lockdown. However, the antidote to over-exposure to teaching on Zoom and Facetime is teaching in the back garden. Unless the neighbours are mowing their lawn.


Profile: Tim Fisher, violinist

Tim is first violinist with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Who or what were the main influences on your decision to pursue a career in music?

I was enthralled by the sound of a large orchestra right from when I was taken to a BSO concert in the Guildhall at the age of six. By the age of seven I had pestered my parents to give me a violin. I was lucky to have marvellous teachers in Benny Freeman and Sam Coats of Court Hill First School in Cosham. Many of their alumnae are still playing in great orchestras today. From the Hampshire Specialist Music School in Winchester (now Peter Symmonds College) I went to Trinity College (now Trinity Laban) in London, and then secured a permanent position with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) in 1986, where I’ve been ever since.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life?

The BSO itself! It’s a fantastic orchestra to play with: there’s a huge variety of music, from film nights, Viennese music, Christmas music through to opera. It very much benefits from having Kirill Karabits as its conductor: he’s so exciting and innovative to work with, and introduces the orchestra to so many new works. There’s a great feeling of teamwork within the orchestra.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

In Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, two violinists and a cellist walk off and then play a short snippet from the wings. I was one of the two violinists who had to do this a few years ago, which took some courage! I’ve also broken a few violin strings in my time – this causes quite a bang, and it’s quite a challenge to fit a new one with the minimum of commotion and then being able to find the right place in the music!

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Be prepared for an irregular lifestyle: such a career has plenty of travel and anti-social hours, but it is an extremely colourful one! And don’t think about embarking on it unless you think you will really enjoy it! Prepare for any audition with plenty of practice beforehand.

What is your most treasured possession?

A Benjamin Banks violin, made in 1774 in Salisbury. I know its history and the fact that it has not travelled very far, in fact it’s remained in Dorset most of its life! It has a wonderful mellow tone, comparable to a rustic English apple.

I also treasure my bicycle and motorcycle. In fact I often make my own way to concert venues with my violin on the back of the motorcycle. I am a volunteer motorcycle rider (a “blood biker”) for Serv Wessex, ferrying around equipment, supplies and samples for al the NHS Hospitals within Hampshire, South Wiltshire and Dorset.

As riders, we receive no money for riding, or petrol money for any rides, no matter how far the distance or the time it takes. We ride because it’s a great cause, close to all our hearts, and we all enjoy riding!

If you would like to donate, please go to
https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charity-web/charity/finalCharityHomepage.action?charityId=1015630.


Profile: Peter Best, violinist

Peter has been playing the violin since he was nine. He has an MA in Music Performance and is a Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music. Peter has travelled the world supporting the Royal Family as a violinist on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. He is now a regular player with Hampshire Orchestras and enjoys playing lead violin with the 4Strings Quartet.

The 4Strings Quartet is an experienced professional Hampshire wedding string quartet based in Portsmouth. It provides competitively priced quality live music for wedding ceremonies, wedding receptions, wedding breakfasts and for all types of corporate functions and private parties. It also offers a violin and cello string duo for the smaller wedding or function. The string quartet and string duo are available for bookings throughout Hampshire, Isle of Wight, West Sussex, Dorset and Surrey.

Who or what were the main influences on your decision to pursue a career in music?

My uncle, Roger Best, was a leading professional violist playing with the Northern Symphony Orchestra and later with the Alberni String Quartet. As a youngster I watched him perform the Richard Rodney Bennet viola concerto at the Royal Festival Hall and at that moment knew that I wanted to follow a career in music. When I was 15 a Royal Marines Band visited my school in Southport, and I was so taken with the sound and the promise of regular orchestral work that I signed up as soon as I reached 16.

Who or what are the most important influences on your musical life?

I had lessons with Felix Pouller, a violinist with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. He introduced me to the rigours of Ševčík Studies. I joined the Royal Marines in 1973. The training at the Royal Marines School of Music was superb and there I met my violin teacher Lou Becker. I will always be grateful for his guidance.

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

During my career with the Royal Marines Band Service*, I gained promotions to Bandmaster and Director of Music. In these roles I was required to take on the position of conductor. Nothing can prepare you for the first time you put down your instrument and pick up the baton. A mix of exhilaration and terror.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

As well as teaching and freelance work, I play regularly with the 4Strings Quartet. We play mainly at weddings and for receptions and corporate events. I have known the other players in the quartet for many years now, and always look forward to our regular rehearsals to try out new repertoire. I love ‘going on the road’ with Rod, Chris and Lorraine – we get on so well, and it is a real privilege to be able to contribute to making a wedding ceremony a success. I also teach violin; I always build in duets and encourage pupils to take part in ensemble playing, whatever their standard.

How would you describe your musical language?

You can’t have performed in concert bands, string quartets and orchestras without being multi-lingual.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

As a violinist I was lucky enough to serve on the Royal Yacht Britannia between 1977 and 1982 performing with a small orchestra playing at Royal receptions. However my highlight was playing in a small ceilidh band exclusively for the Royal Family as they relaxed on their annual Western Isles trips. My time on board included trips to Australia, the Middle East, the Greek Islands and the honeymoon trip of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

It’s a cliché but true to point out that when one is playing in an ensemble such as the 4Strings Quartet, gratitude from a grateful client is always warmly received and makes the rehearsal and practice worthwhile.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I have had the privilege to conduct the massed Royal Marines Bands at the Royal Albert Hall on several occasions. Walking out onto that stage to a full house to conduct the best band in the world is an experience never to be forgotten.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Aim for the top but also be aware that there are many avenues to having a successful and rewarding career in music. My career as a military musician, freelance violin teacher and as a member of a wedding quartet has never been anything other than rewarding.

How would you define success as a musician?

Success in music can be measured in so many ways. For the young aspiring orchestral player it may be getting through their audition for college or being offered a seat in a professional orchestra. For the teacher it’s seeing a pupil go on to build their own career in music. For me in my 60’s, it’s more about longevity – I just want to keep making music with friends for as long as I can.

* The Royal Marines Band Service is the musical wing of the Royal Navy. It currently consists of five Bands plus a training wing the Royal Marines School of Music at HMS Nelson and its headquarters is at HMS Excellent, Whale Island, Portsmouth. 


Profile: Colin Jagger, Director of Music, University of Portsmouth

Colin did a music degree at Manchester University and then went to the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) in Cincinnati, USA, to study for a Masters Degree in Orchestral Conducting. He spent four years in Cincinnati in a variety of conducting posts, before moving to Michigan to take up the position of Director of Orchestral Activities at Albion College.

In May 2000, Colin was appointed Director of Music at the University of Portsmouth. In September 2001, he founded the University of Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, and five years later the University of Portsmouth Wind Band. In 2004 he brought the international chamber music series ‘Music in the Round’ to Portsmouth, initially at Portsmouth Cathedral and now at the Portsmouth Guildhall.

In 2015, his production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro brought the University of Portsmouth Dramatic & Musical Society (UPDMS) to international attention, with an interview broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme which was picked up by NPR in the USA. This production also won an ‘Accolade of Excellence’ at the National Operatic & Dramatic Association Southern Area Awards. After a six-year project working on Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Yeomen of the Guard, Oxford University Press published a critical edition in November 2016, and this stimulated enough interest for another Today Programme interview.

Most recently, he worked on a production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, the first by UPDMS to use the original two-act version together with the original orchestration. The society is the oldest in the south of England, and Colin is now planning its 100th-anniversary celebrations, which will take place on 26 & 27 February 2021.

Simon O’Hea is in conversation with Colin.

Who or what were the main influences on your decision to pursue a career in music?

My parents assumed that I would follow them into some kind of career in science: my mother was a maths teacher. But I’d found an old violin the loft, and started to play it, as well as the piano; and in my late teens I was much encouraged in composition and conducting by my music teacher. Whilst at school I joined the National Youth Orchestra and loved the social aspects of performing.

Who or what are the most important influences on your musical life?

Whilst reading music at Manchester University, I discovered the Lindsay String Quartet, the University’s Quartet in Residence, under the direction of its founder Peter Cropper. Peter not only taught me violin but also showed me how to make music come alive, to how to make it communicate a series of strong emotions. Playing in the University String Quartet was now exciting! Read an article about Peter.

I also developed my conducting skills at this time, conducting the University Chamber Orchestra, and after graduating I moved to the USA to study for a Masters Degree in Orchestral Conducting. I’d considered taking conducting up as a profession with professional orchestras but soon realised that I preferred conducting amateur orchestras.

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

Conducting operas, as I regularly do at Portsmouth University, is really hard: you have to keep an eye on both the orchestra and the stage, and deal with the egos of actors!

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Only a collective effort results in good music, and that in itself gives me pleasure when it goes well!

Sport is often cited as being exemplary of teamwork, but music-making is the more so. Take a typical orchestra of 40-50 people. They all have to give and take, listen and then communicate all the time. Playing music well together is essentially something anti-competitive.

Sometimes the lead oboe takes a key role; the other instrumentalists have to listen. Then the leadership is passed to another section. The leader is never drowned.

The conductor has a particular part to play, which is to bring out the best in the musicians, but has to remember that they don’t actually produce the sound, the musicians do! By contrast, if you are a composer then you need a strong creative sense and the ability to communicate something unique and meaningful to the audience. By the way, few composers are good conductors!

How do you work?

One of my key roles as conductor is to help the orchestra to get inside the musical language. I’m also very keen to faithfully re-create the music’s original colour. Not everyone shares this view.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

Each year I have the privilege of giving many students a new experience, of introducing them to music that they probably don’t know, and bringing on their skills. I feel proud of them each time I’ve been able to perform with them.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Anything to do with Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6. Why Beethoven? He was hugely creative: he could make his music mirror life, in all its beauty and ugliness.

What have been your most memorable concert experiences?

When I was 10 years old, I was given the choice of going to a bonfire night or hearing the London Philharmonic playing Mahler’s Symphony No.1. I sat right behind the orchestra and could see everything. I’ve not forgotten the way that piece of music made me feel.

When I was at university, the Lindsay String Quartet used to play in a small converted cinema which had a glorious acoustic. I simply loved their cycle of Beethoven’s Quartets.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

You need to be determined and passionate about your adopted profession! It’s never been a way to earn a lot of money. In addition, these days it’s unfortunately more important to be well connected than to be talented. On the other hand, if you succeed, then you can combine a wonderful hobby with work!

What are your plans for the next twelve months?

2021 is the centenary of the University of Portsmouth Dramatic and Musical Society (UPDMS), which is the oldest amateur dramatic society in the south of England. We are looking to entice back alumni from over the ages for a show and gala concert in February 2021, so watch this space.

More immediately, I’m very concerned about the impact this current crisis is having on arts organisations and on the incomes of freelance musicians. Most venues run on very tight budgets, and if they have to cancel concerts they essentially have to close. That in turn means the non-payment of any fees due to performers, so those people have seen their incomes slashed to zero with immediate effect. If you wish to make a donation either to an arts organisation or to individual performers, please don’t hesitate to contact me at colin.jagger@port.ac.uk and I’ll be happy to advise.

 


Profile: Shoshanah Sievers

Parents, who have youngsters studying the violin, can do no better than take them along to hear Shoshanah Sievers play with the Charity Symphony Orchestra. The concert is at the Turner Sims Hall, University of Southampton, at 7.30 pm on Saturday 18 May. Read a review of it.

To see such a young and talented musician perform is sure to encourage and inspire any students of the instrument to practice like they’ve never done before. More mature, adult violinists may also marvel at this up-and-coming virtuoso.

Incredibly, Shoshanah began learning the violin just before she was three years old. Her grandfather composed and lectured in music, so maybe classical music is in her genes.

Shoshanah joined the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music in 2011 at the age of eleven. Off to a flying start, she made her concerto debut about the age of twelve playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto in A major with the London Mozart Players.

She became the youngest ever winner of the Joan Weller Composition Competition. In 2016 she performed “Le Nuances de la Lumiere” with the Aurora Orchestra at a BBC Proms Extra event at the Radio Theatre.

In the field of piano composition, Shoshanah has also excelled. She’s written a piece for eight hands and one of her piano trios has been twice performed and recorded at Farnham Maltings.

Shoshana has also played at top venues in Germany and the United Kingdom. She has played concertos by Dvořák with the Winchester Symphony Orchestra and by Bruch with the Petersfield Orchestra. She has played together with Tasmin Little and worked closely with Sir Karl Jenkins.

Shoshanah was brought up near Grayshott. Her grandmother was Polish which may explain why she chose to play Henryk Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto number 2. It’s a Romantic work with captivating, beautiful melodies. Shoshanah, who says she is excited to be playing with the CSO, will certainly make the most of its virtuosic brilliance.

Tickets for this unmissable concert can be obtained from the Turner Sims Box Office, University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ (tel. 02380 595151).


Profile: Julia Bishop, expert in Baroque music

It’s about fifty-six miles from Portsmouth to Lewes so some people would think twice before making the trip. However, for string players in our area, there’s no better reason to go there other than to meet Julia Bishop.

Blonde, statuesque and stylish, Julia is a violinist who specialises in Baroque music, which flourished in Europe from the early seventeenth century until the mid-eighteenth century.

Julia played in the English Concert for six years. She co-founded a group called Red Priest named after the prolific Venetian composer Vivaldi. She’s also been with the Hanover Band, taught Baroque violin techniques at the Royal Academy of Music in London and led the Gabrieli Consort and Players. Currently, she’s a tutor at Chichester University.

Without a doubt, Julia is a brilliant teacher. Extremely knowledgeable and sympathetically patient, she demonstrates this ornate and sometimes extravagant style of music by telling it like it is or by playing on her violin.

Owners of modern violins and bows need not go to the expense of buying valuable period instruments to appreciate the benefits of studying Baroque playing. There’s a lot to learn for all string players.

At first glance, some of the music looks pretty simple. Unlike today’s players, Baroque violinists rarely have to leave the first and third positions. But there are subtleties in rhythm, tricky counting, strange manuscript markings and unfamiliar harmonies to get to grips with.

Above all, the use of the bow is where students can find techniques which are nothing less than gold nuggets for string musicians. As everyone knows the bow is the business end of the instrument. The left hand finds the note while the right hand brings it to life. Full bows, half bows, playing at the nut, tip or middle, coming off the string, using the wrist or elbow: there’s no end to the useful stuff which can be learnt.

Julia organises Baroque monthly workshops on Wednesdays and Saturdays at St Thomas à Becket Church in Cliffe, Lewes. There are three-hour morning sessions on Saturdays and longer morning and afternoon sessions on Wednesdays. The modest fees are great value for money. Julia also coaches individuals and small groups. Email her at Julia@redpriest.com for more information.

Portsmouth to Lewes by road is a fair old trip but it really is well worth the journey to meet this first-class teacher.

Vivaldi Seminar – September 2020


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