Tag Archives: piano

RTE Concert Orchestra (NCH, 25 March 2015): Ravel’s piano concerto in G

RTÉ Concert Orchestra: Essential Classics

John Wilson conductor
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet piano
RTÉ Contempo Quartet

Eric Coates Dancing Nights
Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major
Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Gershwin An American in Paris

“What links all these pieces?” began conductor John Wilson, biding time as the stage was reset after the Vaughan Williams piece.

“Maurice Ravel.”

With a raconteur’s fluency, leaning casually on the podium, Wilson then gave a fascinating programme note. (I had been, shall we say, just in time for the concert, and so hadn’t availed of a printed programme.) Ravel was teacher to Vaughan Williams for an intense period that marked a transformation in his style; Gershwin adored the composer but Ravel famously recognised that the world would benefit more from a first-rate Gershwin than a second-rate Ravel; Coates was one of the few composers that Ravel sought out, on account of his command of the modern instruments (e.g. vibraphone, saxophone).

Coates’s ‘Dancing Nights’ was the only piece that I hadn’t heard before, but its stylish gaiety — with such glorious melodies and harmony! — was immediately familiar and just thoroughly enjoyable. It’s the music from this period that John Wilson has championed in his career and it is one of the very best things to do in Dublin to hear him conduct the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

Onto Ravel. I fell in love with this piece of music when i first encountered it at university. (The conductor of the Edinburgh University Chamber Orchestra at the time, Richard Jeffcoat, conducted it from the piano. I was on clarinet.) It may say ‘piano concerto’ on the cover, but it’s an incredible piece of work that treats the orchestra more as a chamber ensemble. The writing for each and every instrument demands extraordinary technique. Perhaps this is why it’s so exciting to hear: it’s just so interesting! Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the piano soloist, was such fun to watch — his remarkable abilities allowing the jazzy energy of the music to shine. There’s a thundering piano run in octaves in the first movement that he played rather differently than I’ve heard on recordings and that was the moment for me when I knew something really special was happening.

The second movement is one of the most perfect things ever committed to paper. It is simply one of the best things in my life; one of those things that I can’t even really recommend to you because, to me, it’s so completely mine.

(If you look very closely you can see me sitting in the balcony, directly above the harp!)

There’s a gem of a book by the brilliant fiction writer Jean Echenoz that I read, and loved, a few years ago. Echenoz uses the facts of Ravel’s last ten years to create a wonderful, charming work.

Gabriel’s Message — solo piano

I really like this melody (it’s a Basque carol) and I find its subject matter, the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, one of the most interesting episodes in the Gospels. Like a lot of the stories of Jesus’ genesis, it’s not dealt with in *all* the gospels. Matthew, after his lengthy family tree (*this* is what the bible’s editors ran with for the opening of the New Testament…?!), outlines quite clearly the rather delicate situation that the young couple found themselves in, concerning this surprise pre-nuptial pregnancy, but doesn’t go into the specifics of ‘The Annunciation’. Mark, the breathless, bounding lion of a writer that he was, skips it and everything to do with Jesus’ early life. As does John (although he wins for best introduction). Luke, the doctor, the man of learning, he gives us everything we know about Mary’s bizarre encounter.

“Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

She’s perplexed at his angelically formal hello (fair enough), but he hasn’t even got to the good part yet…!

Many artists have painted the scene throughout the ages. The one I’ve chosen is by Carl Heinrich Bloch, a prominent 19th century Danish painter. The light effect is incredible. (The original hangs in Denmark’s national museum in Frederiksborg Castle, north of Copenhagen.)

PS If you’re listening on headphones, or on good speakers, marvel at the beautiful sound of the Nord Stage piano sound (I’m using one that’s sampled from a Steinway Model D). Especially the harmonics and overtones on the ‘most highly favoured lady’ phrase.

Winter Wonderland piano arrangement

Happy Christmas! This is a jazzy arrangement of ‘Winter Wonderland’ that I did last year for one of my piano students, Chloe, just as I was finishing up my teaching and preparing to embark on this year’s Post Tropical adventure. I’ve made it downloadable, so feel free to add it to your seasonal playlists…!

I’ve also revamped my website, so this is also an announcement of that. Feel free to ‘share’ and ‘bookmark’ and ‘like’ and ‘follow’ in the spirit of holiday cheer!!!

Much exclamation 🙂

Thinkin Bout You — Frank Ocean (mini tutorial)

Here are a few resources I prepared for my student, Ben, this week. This song has a lovely vocal by Frank Ocean underpinned by some juicy seventh chords in the verses. It was a good song to demonstrate chord inversions: in the chorus, the three-note chords (triads) that the right hand plays are all in 1st inversion (with the root note in the middle).

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