I’m off to Italy to teach for a week on the European Chamber Music Academy course. ECMA is an unusual organisation which moves around during the year, holding courses at a number of ‘host institutions’ in different parts of Europe. It offers high-level coaching to chamber groups – mainly string quartets and piano trios – who are often post-grads or young professionals, but feel that they still benefit from occasional study sessions. Groups have to audition to be admitted as ECMA members, and only a few are accepted each year.
This summer the ECMA meeting is being held in at the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole, in the hills above Florence. The Scuola runs its own summer string quartet academy, held this year in parallel with the ECMA project. I’ll be teaching groups from France, Italy, Austria, and various Eastern European countries. Nobody has asked me whether I can teach in those languages, so I’m hoping that English will turn out to be a lingua franca as it usually does. I could make a little headway in various languages, but it would involve a lot of pantomime.
If you are due to be in or near Florence next week, there are two concerts by the ECMA participants – at 21.15 on the evenings of Wednesday 24 July in the church of S.Salvatore di Monte (there’s no piano in this concert) and on Thursday 25 July, with piano-based groups, in the famous church of Santa Croce (see photo). Having read the participants’ biographies, I am sure both concerts will be very fine.
A few months ago, disheartened by the difficulty of ‘growing’ my blog readership, I consulted some of my students about the situation. I say ‘students’ but in fact they are all high-achieving young professionals who come for the occasional coaching.
They all agreed that it’s nearly impossible to persuade people to go to the trouble of going direct to one’s website to see what’s new, when they’re used to getting their alerts from social media such as Facebook and Twitter. They thought I should bite the bullet and sign up with one or both of those services. I had always felt I didn’t have the time, but I was feeling sufficiently motivated to take action. So I said I’d try one of them. Which one? Everyone said Twitter. They thought that if I managed to build up a presence on Twitter, more people would visit my website on a regular basis, and even buy my books. So off I went (or flew).
I’ve only been on Twitter since May, but already I think I can see a pattern, and it’s not the one I hoped to see. The number of my Twitter followers is slowly increasing, but there has been very little knock-on effect on my blog readership. I’m starting to get the impression that the two audiences are quite separate, and interested in different things. There seems to be almost no overlap between the two groups.
So my strategy seems to have been misguided. My secret plan was to use Twitter to make more people aware of my website and then fade gracefully away from Twitter. But now I can see it doesn’t work like that. Curses! Is nothing simple?
In the meantime I have come to enjoy the ‘community’ of Twitter, which I didn’t expect. I have even met some fellow musicians who are fun Twitter company. However, keeping up with it is very time-consuming, as everyone warned me, and I don’t have time to do justice to both Twitter and my blog (as well as writing a book). What to do?
The Guardian weekend magazine has a page, ‘Your Pictures‘, where they ask for photo contributions on a given theme. For today, the theme was ‘produce’. I sent in a photo of our favourite Egyptian geese, whom we’ve been feeding for years on visits to Richmond Park. They have never before had any offspring (at least not to our knowledge) but this June they produced a magnificent flock of nine. And all of a sudden we heard the mother honking for all she was worth to protect The Nine from the predatory crows. Her voice rang out mightily across the lake. After knowing the Egyptian geese as silent creatures for so long, it was startling to hear how loud her voice could be, and touching to see how instinctively and with how much zeal the adult geese had taken to the role of being parents.
Anyway, my photo of Mother Goose honking at the goslings has made it into today’s magazine – here’s the online link to the photo. Now I can proudly say I have had a photo published in The Guardian!
This Saturday, BBC Radio 3′s ‘Summer CD Review’ has selected my Mozart piano and violin sonatas e-album, made with violinist Erich Höbarth, as one of their summer recommendations. You can see Saturday’s playlist for the programme here.
The recordings were made live at performances in Perth Concert Hall last season. They’re true ‘live’ recordings and have not been edited or re-touched in any way, so we hope the spirit of the occasion will make people willing to overlook any little blemishes.
CD Review will be playing the last movement of the Mozart D major Sonata K306 at around 11.20 on Saturday morning. You can use the ‘listen again’ facility to hear it on the BBC website for a week afterwards. To buy the album itself – or individual tracks from it – please visit CD Baby; alternatively, you can find the album on Amazon or iTunes.
This is my first e-album venture, and some of the profits actually come to Erich and me, so please buy it! I’m told by people who’ve already bought it that the hi-fi quality is excellent.
Sad news this week that Steinway Pianos is to be sold to a private equity company. What does this mean for pianists? On the face of it, nothing; it’s just a change of owner for the firm. But a friend writes from New York that the Steinway showroom on Manhattan’s 57th Street is closing down, and there have been other signs that the demand for high-quality grand pianos is fading – in the West at least. The desire to have a quality grand in your home seems to have swung to China, where music conservatoires have taken delivery of large numbers of new ‘traditional’ pianos.
Announcing the sale of Steinway to Kohlberg and Co, the Guardian website illustrated its article with a photo of John Lennon and the explanation that Steinway was the firm which manufactured the piano on which John Lennon wrote and recorded ‘Imagine’.
As an Elizabethan might have said, ” ‘Tis come to this.”
For most classical musicians, Steinway Pianos are associated with great pianists of the past such as Rachmaninov, Rubinstein and Horowitz. Even today the Steinway is the pre-eminent piano, the one you’d expect to find in leading concert halls, the one you hope to have when you make a record. It’s the one you can expect to see this summer in most of the Proms concerts featuring a piano. There are rival pianos made to different ‘recipes’ and marketed more aggressively, but although I’ve admired some of them and enjoyed playing them for particular repertoire, I’d say the Steinway has been the most consistent in terms of quality. My own piano is a Steinway from the 1960s. I can never change it because I had to demolish half the front of the living-room to get it into the house in 1988. If I ever move out I might try the reverse process and have the Steinway dis-assembled and taken out in little bits like London Bridge when it was moved to Arizona.
I would better understand the use of John Lennon to illustrate the significance of Steinway if Lennon had been a virtuoso pianist. As it is, the piano part of ‘Imagine’ is a simple affair. It’s a nice song, but Lennon’s playing does not even begin to conjure the sound that skilled pianists of the past and present can draw from a Steinway.