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Two amazing weeks. Here’s an overview of what I have been doing the past two weeks in Nashville, London, Oxford and Dover.
EVENT: Friday 7th March Royal Academy of Music Recital Room. Admission Free 230pm
Reflections on the exchange programme LINK
Monday 24th February 2014
Here in Nashville to work with the wonderful students and colleagues on the Blair School of Music/London Exchange. After a long journey, everyone arrived safely. I will post each day as the work progresses.
The programme was founded after Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Michael Alec Rose were introduced by the great composer George Rochberg. The first programme took place in 2006. Each iteration, performers and composrs from the Royal Academy of Music London, and the Blair School of Music (Vanderbilt University) Nashville, spend a week in each city, filled with workshops and experimentation.
But I am going to start with inspiration from an instrument. Luthier David Hume has restored by 1903 W E Hill and Sons violin, which I was so lucky to obtain when I was 16. This is British based making at a high point, and even more excitingly-with all the orginal fittings. That bridge is over a century old! It was this violin that started me on the quest for colour and meaning, the whole point of this week’s work!
Same Day PM-Work begins
A wonderful hour with Michael Alec Rose working on ‘Silence’, the third movement of his set of pieces inspired by Dartmoor. LINK to the project. The lovely resonant foyer of Ingram Hall, the perfect piece for experimentation. What was fascinating about this session, for me, is the fun that can be had when with a composer, you find the stuff which is hiding behin the notes. Michael’s music looks elegantly simple on the page (this is a compliment), but there is a deeply felt expressive shape which animates it, and which cannot be notated. It’s thus with Schubert, with Kurtag, with Torelli: and just like those composers I find that I need to get the ‘passport’ (as Stravinsky put it about his Concerto); which might be better expressed as the knowledge of the shapes and meanings which are fundamental to the work. In this context, our workshop was a little ‘nerdy’, ranging from the hunt for articulations which might reveal the ‘micro-sphere’ of the piece, through work on voice-leading, which is always fundamental to solo writing/performance, and perhaps most important of all for this piece, the shaping of silence-through rhythmic notation, and spatial. Michael has said that this relates, is at an angle to the drawing/composition which we did of the walk which inspired this piece, which I reproduce below. We are hunting for a way to abut these.
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Hillfield-Cosdown-Hound Tor(s)-the great silence-River Taw-Ivy Tor
Workshop One. 24 2 14
An inspiring first evening, hosted by Mr and Mrs Calhoun, in their lovely home in Bellevue. Wonderful to ease into the first workshop with a lovely meal, in such a warm and welcoming environment. Beethoven noted to himself, in his Tagebuch for 1812-13, the importance of ‘every day, meet for a meal with musicians: there you can talk about instruments and such’. I read this as a reminder that he should not allow his regular Werkstätte to lapse. These began early on from his arrival in Vienna in 1792, and usually involved his closest string-playing friends/teachers/collaborators/drinking buddies, such as Schuppanzigh, Linke, the Romberts, Mayseder, Kraft, Weiss etc. What we did today is something which I think that he would recognise.The evening consisted of a series of timbral and structural explorations, which were all brought together in final musical object, which incorporated a 5 part canon by Michael Alec Rose.
Those of you who know me will know that painting has always been a daily part of my practice as a musician. Recently this has had some surprising ramifications, such as Sadie Harrison’s wonderful ‘Gallery’ LINK
What was really special was the way that we all worked in companionship. Whether playing or commenting, suggesting, there’s no room for hierarchies in collaboration-just the excitement of the power of all the ideas in the room-this picture, of Michael Slayton, bringing his wonderfully crafted insight to bear on what is happening, and elegantly coming up with a lovely peroration for the evening, sums this up.
This picture shows what I think is always a great place to begin, with pure noise-listening carefully to the colours, textures and pitches which emerge from the instrument-the edge of sound, the husks, gravel, clitter, mud, diamonds and long grass which gives even the most traditional classical sound its character and heft.
The tremolo exploration with the result of a suggestion from Carter Callison, that we find a way that we reify the fact that increasing densities of rhythmic activity, increase in speed, always leads back to stasis.
This begins from a gesture which I love the fact, that any group of musicians, will ‘accidentally’ produce what I call the ‘omni-chord’ a serendipity which never fails to astonish me.
Michael Alec Rose-Canon (With improvised ‘frame’)
Michael’s Canon was the only piece of notated music which we worked on today, but as is so often the case, notation is something to work towards and away from at the same time-the discoveries which result from mistakes (in performance and writing) are so often the grit which makes the pearl!
Memory of ‘opening the composer’s workshop in Mexico City
Here is a piece which I wrote for a group of young composers and performers with whom I collaborated in Mexico City in 2004-2005. We had wind players, so worked on the cross over between bowing and breath, between speech and music. The piece was born in a project in Ankara; hence the Turkish title, ‘Breath’.
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Nefes ‘Breath’
Ensemble Sodio e Asfalto. Mexico City 2004
Day Two-’Touch, for there is a spirit in the woods’ (William Wordsworth)
I began the day in the sheer wonder of the woods around Nashville, walking with my very old friend, violinist Karen Winkelman. We chose to go to walk the ridge path at Radnor Lake. The woods were full of wildlife-deer, waterfowl, songbirds-very vocal. But still that amazing feeling of the ‘moment before’, when nature cannot quite allow Spring to be sprung: quivering anticipation.
Landscape like this always puts me in mind of G B Viotti, who loved to walk in Epping Forest, with the painter Elisabeth Vigee-le Bryn. Here’s his most personal piece, which sums up his love of nature.
Giovanni Battista Viotti-Ranz des Vaches
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (Betts Stradivari – Library of Congress)
Workshop with Michael Alec Rose-’Bearings’
Michael and I met in the afternoon for a second workshop on his Dartmoor pieces, this rtime on ‘Bearings, which reflected on our first full day of work on the moor, which led us along an astounding stone row towards the circle on Stall Moor.
Here’s an overview of the session-chit-chat, pencil and eraser white noise effects, lots of wrong notes, but the process blown wide open
Michael Alec Rose & Peter Sheppard Skaerved workshop-Ingram Foyer, Nashville 25 02 14
Workshop 2: Ingram Hall 25th February
Audrey Lee-Workshop piece ‘vibrato speed/amplitude study’
Audrey brought a simple but challenging suggestion to today’s workshop-to observe and utilise subtle shifts in vibrato speed and amplitude, in an ensemble setting.
Sara Cubarsi-Workshop Piece
Sara brought a fascinating ‘instruction score’ which presented a fascinating challenge of activating contra-rotating layers of microtonal ascents and descents. A new and unique technique.
Sean had incorporated some of the techniques which had began to emerge in the first workshop, and invited the ensemble to focus them on the ‘bowed tailpiece’ technique, which was no transferred onto the double bass, with dramatic (distant thunder/heavy metal) effect.
Carter Callison-Workshop suggestion
Carter invited the group to explore the miraculous effect of glissandi with fingered/touch harmonics on the fourth, but with the hand position rigid, which results in fantast curves and dips of glissandi. There was energeti debate as to whether this was ‘seagulls’ or ‘space invaders’.
Workshop 3 26th February Choral Rehearsal Hall, Blair School of Music
This workshop focused heavily on David Gorton’s ‘Dowland Project’, which had its first outing at the British Museum in December. (Link to earlier workshops). Here’s a link to my blog about the project on the British Museum Website.
David is publicly drawing together layers of responses to John Dowland’s ‘Lachrymae’, moving towards a large scale piece for string orchestra. To date, material by Dowland, Randall, Farnaby, Byrd and Sweelinck has found its way into the mix. Today he split the string group into two halves, and we all started the process of building, moulding, melting, smashing and reconstructing.
John Dowland-Layering of versions by Randall and Farnaby
John Dowland-Further layering (plus Byrd)
John Dowland-Further layering and melting!
The Last Transformation
27th February Workshop Day 4
Discussion in Composer’s Class, with David Gorton, Michael Alec Rose, Carter Callison, Macek Burdzy, Sara Cubarsi, Audrey Lee, Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Peter Sheppard Skaerved
Today was a very intense. After a morning giving short coachings to a cross section of instrumentalists and composers from Blair, the exchange contingent re-convened to present our work to the student body in Turner Recital Hall. This involved revisiting some of the earlier experiments, most particularly Sean Calhoun’s ‘Erase’ and David Gorton’s continued Dowland exploration.
Then we spent an hour presenting the work to the Blair composition class (see above) before re-opening our ‘composer’s’ workshop with a piece of six strings by Carter Callison, based on a hexachordal treatment of Palestrina. This proved to be a fascinating session, as everyone brought a plethora of ideas to bear on this work, which is distinguished by an apollonian purity.
attending the very interesting ‘Living Sounds’ concert of student compositions, which featured a striking string quartet composed by 2nd Year Composition student Amy Thompson. Watch out for that name in the future.
I finished off the concert with solo pieces by Michael Hersch, Sadie Harrison, and David Gorton-his Rosetta Caprice.
28th February Day Five
Listening to David Gorton give an interesting talk on his ‘Austerity Measures’-which is a great excuse to look at material from the previous exchange 2012
Concert Performance 1st March 2012 Turner Recital Hall, Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University Nashville TN.
David Gorton-Austerity Measures
For me, the rest of the morning has been spent giving individual sessions to Blair Musicians, which are fascinating for me. I have been working on the Hindemith Horn Sonata, the Bach 1st Solo Sonata, and with composers-the conversations ranging from Cage to Paart to solving ‘inside piano problems’ with fishing line…..
After a celebratory Indian meal, and good conversation, we all were happy to turn to a workshop to finish our time in Nashville. This was centred on challenging material provided by Sara Cubarsi, which involved incredibly slow movement through the first few chords of the Chorale ‘Es ist genug’, which Bach arranged, and Berg enshrined in his violin concerto.
This apparently simple piece proved to be equally challenging and rewarding, and, after an hour’s work, yielded a musical object of great beauty. The conversation ranged from the challenge of incrementally expressed microtonal shifts, through to Yoga, to Scriabin, to the great challenge of listening in such detail.
Sarah Cubarsi-Workshop Piece
Reflections on Week one.
Voices from the exchange:
‘The last week has been incredibly refreshing. The freedom to experiment as inspiration appears and bring risky or unorthodox ideas to the table nurtures the creativity and open-mindedness I’d like to apply to all repertoire, new or old. This, along with an undogmatic admiration for the capabilities and alluring boundaries of tonality, has set the stage, so to speak, for a week of fruitful composition and music making.’ Matt Lammers
‘I’m appreciating parts of the compositional process that had been a mystery to me, or that I had not even considered, and remembering that there’s an entire universe of sound possibilities outside the canon I’ve grown up with.’ Audrey Lee
‘ The experience of working with the students and teachers from RAM and Blair has been remarkable – the performers are not only skilled at playing their instruments traditionally, but also at experimenting with we composers’ often eccentric ideas. And the performers have excellent ideas themselves – it’s not just the composers telling the performers what to do. I’ve particularly enjoyed the various contortions of Dowland’s Lachrimae.’ Sean Calhoun
‘During this week, the composers had a chance to almost be in the skin of the performers, dealing with performance aspects of their work, such as effects like the stiff-arm tremolo, the John Cage trick, sul pointicello, improvisation and of course dynamics, tempi, and I could go on for a while, and putting them into practice, generating very interesting material and discussions in the room that will need to be digested over time. From the performer’s point of view, I think the key to these workshops is what Peter set us as “homework” after the first session at Sean’s place (which set up a great friendly environment!): to think as composers. Personally, this space allowed me to put into practice some of my ideas on the theoretically infinite nature of microrhythm, that we perceive as “pitch”, which I had to simplify so that they would work in a short space of time working with a group of 7 players (and simplification was a key element to the success of these exercices). I (we) experienced the REAL HUMAN MEASURE of what we call a microtone. The workshops are a cascade of ideas and I cannot wait to know what next week is going to bring us!’ Sara Cubarsi
Sunday 2nd March
Arrival in the UK. Whilst most of the group went home/to find their billets for the next week. Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Michael Alec Rose met up with writer Malene Skaerved (Peter’s wife) and took the high-speed train to Dover.
Peter and Malene had put together a salon for DOVER ARTS DEVELOPMENT, for whom they completed a major Arts Council residency project last year , with composer Nigel Clarke. LINK This had climaxed in a major concert event at the ‘Maison Dieu’ in October last year, with Peter’s ensemble ‘Longbow’, which includes a number of previous alumni from the previous exchange programes-Diana Mathews, Alice Barron, Preetha Narayanan, Midori Komachi, and members of the Kreutzer Quartet.
Sunday’s ‘Salon’ aimed to take the collaboration with the town of Dover forward, and took place a sail maker’s loft which is now artists’s studios, responding to new cloth/thread sculptures by local artists Clare Smith. Peter and Malene wove together her new poetry and works by Philip Glass, Biber, Sadie Harrison and Michael Alec Rose – literally, art, music and words in a workshop environment, which was moving for all concerned. Link for more information on the event.
And here is the DAD Online link to the event
Workshop 6 Royal Academy of Music Museum
We used the opportunity of the fascinating pianos in the RAM museum to stimulate a new stage of discussion of colour. The Heichele Fortepiano (ca 1812) with its multiple pedals; for tuning, moderation, sustaining, and ‘Turkish Music’. This discussion of pedals provided a great opportunity of Carter Callison to introduce his ground-breaking ‘scordatura pedals’ for the double bass. The first musical experiment of the class revolved around the harmonics that are possible on the instrument with this range of easily accesible re-tunings.
NB lo-fi sound quality due to mic problems
Workshop experimentation 1. 3 3 14
After a while, David Gorton’s Dowland material was re-introduced, here with semitonal shifts replacing the melodic counterpoint
Workshop experimentation 1. 3 3 14
A final experiment. The Dowland bass line, with contrary motion micro-tonal ‘fake glissando’ above.
Workshop experimentation 1. 3 3 14
After the morning of experimentation, we all went different ways, and I soon found myself giving a session at the Music Faculty of the University of Oxford, working with some fascinating students on pieces by Villa Lobos, Bernard Andres, and Toru Takemitsu – prompting me into more discussions of colour and form, and a great excuse to listen to Takemitsu, in Rhapsodic, post-Messiaen mood.
I met Toru Takemitsu just once, when I was a student at the Academy. I was asked to take him to tea. So we sat by the fireplace in the old Staff room, and he talked about colour: ‘I dream, he said,that I have wings, and I am flying by a wall that extends in every direction, as far as the eye can see. In the wall are many drawers, and I can fly up and down taking the many colours that are in the drawers.’
Toru Takemitsu – Distance de fée, for violin and piano, SJ1050
Violin-Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Piano-Jan Philip Schulze (Live Performance September 2010)
More voices from the Exchange
‘Reflecting on the past week I have come to realize that there are so many rules I have put upon myself. I can break and make my own rules and I have seen that I can stretch my imagination even further. Getting myself to go that extra step and stop limiting myself is a really interesting moment in my artistic development that I’m looking forward to nurturing and that I think I can even go further with. Applying that to my everyday practice and music-making will be an important step for me. I’m very much looking forward to the next week and have already had an amazing time in London so far! ‘ Caitlin Quinlan
Workshop 7, SOUNDBOX and more
We began today’s session with some really detailed work extracting material from Sean’s lovely piano piece. This opened doors onto some ear-catching rhythmic structures and Berg-ian harmony.
I am very excited by the spirit of collaboration in this wonderful group. It is a delight to work with people who delight in listening, in sharing ideas, in finding joy in musical adventure.
Carter Callison brought in the first prototype of his ‘Scordatura pedals; these immediately proved to be a great stimulus of ideas, and of course, I couldn’t resist getting them to do things for which they were not designed!
At 1230 we set up for ‘Soundbox’ the public forum where I explore anything which interests me-in this case, Michael’s new work for Zubin Kanga, who played and presented very eloquently.
Wednesday 5th March Workshop 8
Today we went to one of my favourite venues, the wonderful St Michael’s Cornhill. This Church is very special to me. I was lucky enough to give many recitals and chamber concerts in there as a teenager, including my first SERIOUS quartet concert when I was 15 (Beethoven Op 95 AND Mozart K421 on that programme..). I am deeply indebted to the visionary organist and music director of the Church Jonathan Rennert for the welcome to this inspiring building, Wren’s most Italianate, where Blow and Purcell inaugurated the organ.
I have recently been spending time playing in the church, building and exploring my work centred on the musician’s of Samuel Pepys’s London. Here’s a link to that growing project. I wanted to talk about the music played by musicians in London at the time that this marvellous building was finished. So I played a prelude by Torelli, published by the firm of Walsh, whose shop was literally yards from the Church, in 1705.
Giuseppe Torelli-E minor Prelude (From Walsh-Preludes & Vollenteries 1705 LINK for more)
We began the afternoon’s work with Carter Callison’s fascinating 6 part work based on Palestrina. This is the second workshop on this piece, and we were able to push the experimentation further-making both ‘full throttle’ versions, and removing and restoring musical material.
Carter Callison-Workshop Version one (Full Volume)
Carter Callison-Workshop Version two (Notes removed…)
Carter Callison-Workshop Version three (Intermittent return of melodic material)
Attention then turned to Michael Rose’s Dartmoor project-a jewel-like expansion of part of ‘Silence’, which I had premiered in the Dover event on Sunday. The fantastic acoustic of this wonderful church provided a great opportunity to experiment with notions of musical, acoustic, and architectural space.
Michael Alec Rose-’Silence’ (Workshop version of opening)
Sara Cubarsi continues her challenging work on microtones. She brought along a two-part piece, using a 53-part division of the octave, but cleverly notated in conventional notation.
Sara Cubarsi-Two-part workshop piece (53-part division of the octave)
The group’s exploration of Dowland’s Lachrimae hand in glove with David Gorton’s compositional work on this musical source took wing in this inspiring place.
David Gorton-Dowland Workshop Pieces (St Michael’s Cornhill)
1.Version with florid cadenzas
3.Microtonal version plus original theme
27th February 2014 REICHA!
It’s here! Reicha Complete Quartets Volume 2. With Neil Heyde, Morgan Goff, Mihailo Trandafilovski. Thanks to Martin Anderson and Ron Drummond for all the work. Go to the link to listen and BUY! http://www.toccataclassics.com/cddetail.php?CN=TOCC0040
21st February 2014 Celebrating W E Hill and Sons, and Philip Glass
Philip Glass-’Strung Out’ for Amplified Violin (1963)
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (WE Hill and Sons 1900) Workshop recording Wapping 21 02 14
The back of my beloved W E Hill and Sons violin, newly restored, with all original fittings from 1900 (pegs, bridge, tailpiece). So pleased to bring it home, that I could not resist playing Philip Glass’s ultimate ‘gallery piece’, ‘Strung Out’, which have been playiing for 20 years-in all sorts of contexts-in front of a Pollock, in the Rufino Tamayo Gallery in Mexico, and Sunday week, in Clare Smith’s exhibition space in Dover…
February 18th 2014-A great work for two violins
Alan Rawsthorne-Theme and Variations 1936
Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Christine Sohn-Violins
When I was a first year student at the Royal Academy of Music, the wonderful Manoug Parikian handed me a copy of this piece, Alan Rawshorne’s ‘Theme and Variations’ for two violins. ‘This is possibly the best piece ever written for two violins’, he said, handing it over, ‘I certainly can’t think of a better one.’ Many years and many performances later, I have to agree with him. John McCabe fuelled my enthusiasm for this piece, which succeeds in being at once almost spartan in it’s use of materials and an absolute winner onstage. Here it is, with Christine Sohn a first year student at the Royal Academy of Music, the wonderful Manoug Parikian handed me a copy of this piece, Alan Rawshorne’s ‘Theme and Variations’ for two violins. ‘This is possibly the best piece ever written for two violins’, he said, handing it over, ‘I certainly can’t think of a better one.’ Many years and many performances later, I have to agree with him. John McCabe fuelled my enthusiasm for this piece, which succeeds in being at once almost spartan in its use of materials and an absolute winner onstage. Here it is, with Christine Sohn
February 16th 2014 Hans Werner Henze – Solo Sonata ‘Tirsi-Mopso-Aristeo’1978/Revised 1994
Henze’s solo sonata was directly inspired by a folk version of the Commedia dell’Arte particular to Montepulciano, where I worked with him whilst I was a student. It’sperhaps one of the most interesting dramatic challenges for solo violinist, demanding that the player present, quite literally, three complete acts of an imaginary drama, whilst the music makes allusion to (as Henze reminded me) Haydn and Montiverdi. Here’s a corner of a building in the old centre of the town, drawn in the summer of 1990.
February 14th 2014 John McCabe Celebrated
We are celebrating the great John McCabe this weekend at the Royal Northern College of Music. The concert starts with wonderful ‘Maze Dances’.
John McCabe ‘Maze Dances’ (1973)
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Stradivari 1734 (Habeneck)
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Stradivari 1734 (Habeneck)
Jan Philip Schulze’s surprise appearance at SoundBox today, a great opportunity for me to express my gratitude and admiration of this wonderful friend and collaborator. and a recording of us playing Evis Sammoutis’s ‘Metioron’ in Nikosia: http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2011/05/evis-sammoutis-%CE%BC%CE%B5%CF%84%CE%AE%CE%BF%CF%
Tuesday February 11th Soundbox: War and Peace
SoundBox. Tomorrow February 11th. 1230 Piano Gallery, Royal Academy of Music. Together with Joanna Jones and Nigel Clarke, discussing our Arts Council project with Malene Sheppard Skaerved for Dover Arts Development. Here, part of te process, Nigel and I sulking in St Edmund’s Chapel, Dover. For more information on the project go to -http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2012/07/war-and-peace/
Improvisation in the Grand Shaft
Sunday February 9th Celebrating John McCabe!
It’s going to be a week celebrating the work of the wonderful John McCabe, leading up to workshops and concerts, with Neil Heyde, Morgan Goff, Linda Merrick, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Aaron Shorr at the RNCM. So to begin, here’s the coruscating ‘Star Preludes’ live with Tamami Honma.
John McCabe-Star Preludes
Live performance London 1999 (Stradivari 1734 ‘Habeneck’)
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin
On violin playing, some thoughts (February 2014)
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’
(Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn, (v.5)
Over the next week, I feel driven to write a little about what I have learnt from composers about how music might be performed. It was made clear to me, from my earliest years, by the extraordinary artists who helped me, that we had a duty, to speak and sing truthfully, however inconvenient that might be.
So, day by day, a series of vignettes. All of them sit alongside the Keats which I have chosen to begin. Funnily enough, the Ode on a Grecian Urn came up most powerfully in conversation with the British composer Howard Skempton, sitting in the Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum, in 2006. The poem was, he said, fundamental to his music, to his expressive sensibilities, to the directness of expression which he thought.
Day 1. Louis Krasner
But so much of it begins with Louis Krasner, who commissioned and premiered the Alban Berg Concerto, and to whom I went to study when I was 20. Krasner believed that connections between us were, are, everything. He demanded that I believe, as a Credo , that J.S.Bach had arranged the chorale, es ist genug, specifically so that Berg should find its meaning, the ‘kronende Abschluß’ of his own ‘requiem’ centuries later. He made me promise that I too, would, in sixty years, ‘pass it on’, as he had passed it to me.
There was no question with Louis, of truth being anything but hard won, wrought: “You must fight, you must wrestle with the material, even with the composer, you know, like the story of ‘Jacob and the Angel’. There are many obstacles in the way, and you must seek them out in the music – the effort, the physical, emotional extremes, the furious activity-this will bring you to the truth, to the music. It’s not meant to sound restful, that would be insincere, and you will betray Berg, and Bach!”
Hearing Krasner talk, driving me to take more challenges in music which I thought that I had mastered – his sense of duty, never left me. His picture hangs in my hallway, reminding me to take the difficult road, every time I pick up the violin.
Day 2. Ralph Holmes
I was sent to study with Ralph when I was twelve, by Beatrix Marr, about whom I will be writing later this week. Ralph would have been in 41 when I first met him, and I was not prepared for how overwhelming this encounter would prove. I have no idea why he took me on-I was a mess, and really, musically, very behind the curve. However, he found a way through my muddled approach, using his interest in, well everything. Very early on in the lessons, he used the collection of paintings and sketches, which filled his studio, to illuminate our work directly-when he talked about colour, he would hunt for the precise shade, in a nocturne by Whistler, or the sheer heft, the impact in a Matthew Smith, or in one of Elisabeth Frink’s oil sketches. It took a couple of years before I let on that I had always been a painter, and that became further fuel for the fire.
Coupled with this, something which I am not sure that he could articulate, but which his playing, and his sensibilities could not fail to. Ralph always hunted for sincerity, whether it was to be found in the bustle and bluster of a Leclair sonata, or the brimming lyricism of the last of Prokofiev’s Cinq Melodies or Bach’s E minor (continuo) Sonata. ‘Gilding the lily’ was simply not an option, not acceptable; the beauty which was to be found had to be presented as it was, with its flaws, which so often, were/are integral to its nature. Very early in our friendship, he brought out a copy of Matisse’s Woman with Green Stripe, to make this point.
Every day I see a gift that he gave me, a wonderful hand-coloured ‘magic-lantern’ slide of ‘Lord Nelson-Through Shot and Shell’. The face is almost overwhelmed in the rage and erosion of the brush strokes around it, by serene nonetheless. I had admired it, standing on his piano, for months, and then one day, he made me take it. It sums up so much of what he was saying, and what his radiant playing imparted.
3. The Living Line
Like so many artists and musicians, there is no divide between the inspiration which comes from working with mentor figures and friends/colleagues. If there was one subject which animated the conversations which I was having with the players to whom I was closest when I was younger, it was the question of line. Debate raged, instruments in hands, over the relationship between the physical nature of the material of music, and its meaning or function. This might not seem to be a ‘blood on the carpet’ issue, but for string and wind players (not to mention singers), it’s fundamental. We fought over this question of integrity: should/shouldn’t the manifestation of music, whether seen formally (like a phrase) or in a concrete manner (the breath running through a note, the tremor and scratch of the bow on the string), reflect/be the music itself? On this subject, it is fair enough to say that no one can agree, and, whichever answer you choose, you will make someone dislike your work. It was/is obvious that the answer was intensely personal? The teachers whom I admired had made it abundantly clear that this was a question of integrity, of conscience, but there is no question that the industry was looking the other way, and perhaps still does.
A glimmer of light in the conversation was found in drawing. A few of us became fascinated by the way that the great artists had made their emotional/spiritual involvement apparent in the way that charcoal, pen, or pencil met the paper. It became apparent that the greater the draughtsmanship, the more impossible it was for these giants to resist the manifestation of Eliot’s ‘circulation of the lymph’ in the tremor of line on the page. We turned to Käthe Kollwitz, to Egon Schiele, to Hockney, Guercino and Michelangelo. There in the drawings, an answer seemed to be found. In recent years, meeting up again with the friends who were part of those discussions, I found that far from ebbing, these convictions had remained embedded; we had all found different paths from these small beginnings, but this realisation remained, still fundamental.
4. Beatrix Marr
In my childhood the violinist Beatrix Marr was a constant. ‘Trix’ had been my mother’s teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, and we would go and stay with her at half-terms, in the beautiful cottage she shared with her husband Norman, in a hidden valley in South Devon. Quite early on, I would take the train down to Devon, and stay with her for lessons. She had studied, like so many of the great London players of her generation, with Rowsby Woof, but had also sought out D.C.Dounis, and his approach was present in her teaching. However, the distinguishing feature of her approach was idealism (She did not believe in treating children any different from adults). Music simply had to be relevant, and that meant that the musician had to be a complete artist; literature, painting, history, all these were factored in. I still have the books that she pressed on me when I was very young – anthropology, folklore, history, art – and she made me love Patrick Leigh Fermor’s work, a fascination which never dimmed.
Lessons took place under the Hugo von Beckerath drawing of Brahms playing his Op 76, lost in rapture and concentration. I grew up comfortable with her clear understanding that there were mystical links which did not respect place and time, and that, as artists, as people, we were bound to respect these things, that no note should be produced from the violin in vain. Trix banned me from ‘fiddling around’ on the instrument-‘either play, or be silent, say what you mean’. That stuck with me, and she encouraged me to love practice, not as a repetitive routine, but a place of discovery, of enquiry, of silence. So much of this was beyond me at the time, but as is so often the case with great teachers, the lessons seeped in after the fact.
Bach was always at the centre, and she was the first to make it clear to me the high expectations that Bach set any musician. She would take one movement, say of the G minor Partita, and have me study and play it in 8 different ways, with different bowing combinations or dynamic gradients. Then she would send me out to hunt for Neolithic tools in her vegetable garden, or to walk to the medieval stone bridge which crossed the river near her land. I now understand, what she was showing. We do not interpret Bach, or any great music, we chisel away at our understanding of the work in the optimistic expectation that we might live it well, that we might stumble across something wonderful in our repeated modest traversals of these pieces. The stone tools which she gave me, and the ones which I found in her garden, are often on my practice table.
(more to follow)
Wednesday 29th January 2014-A glorious daw with a treasured composer
We spent the day recording with the great David Matthews, such a dear friend and lifelong inspiration. I will say it -his 12 Quartets are as important to us as any string quartet cycle that we play. Yesterday we recorded nos. 2 and 3, which date from the 70′s for release on Martin Anderson’s wonderful Toccata Classic’s label, making this our 4th Matthews disc for them (counting my disc of solo works). David was with us, like playing quintets, with Neil Heyde, Morgan Goff, Mihailo Trandafilovski. Here, outtakes of No 2-listen to the Scherzo (which he says was more than a little influenced by Velvet Underground).
David Matthews-2nd Quartet Op 16(1974-1980(outtakes of recording session 29 1 14)
Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Morgan Goff, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Neil Heyde)Engineer-Jonathan Haskell
Tuesday 28th January 2014-a new work arrives
Sunday 26th January. Review of Grieg/Finnissy Disc (Metier)
Grieg/Finnissy disc continues to make waves!’ROBERT ANDERSON (Music and Vision Daily) ‘… the whole disc is an unexpected serendipity.’