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Royal Academy of Music Public Teaching Events 2005

York Gate Research Seminars etc

Piano Gallery, York Gate Collections, Thursdays 29th September & 6th October
The Beethoven Sound (1) Sonatas and Fantasy A Keyboard Network Event presented by Aaron Shorr
The Beethoven Sound (2) Songs and Fantasy’ A Lyric Song Salon presented by Amanda Glauert and Ian Partridge, who discussed the piano textures in lesser-known songs and how they reveal his poetic intentions.

Vocal Masterclass: James Bowman 4th October

Rainier Soirée with Chris Redgate (oboe) and Kreutzer String Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skærved, Neil Heyde, Philippa Mo and Morgan Goff) Friday 7th October

A week with several visits to the Royal Academy has reinforced my conviction that London offers public teaching events which, for those free to attend them, can offer more pleasure and enlightenment than many of the formal concerts which are covered critically by the media.

The RAM Piano Gallery had been rearranged to bring together at one end instruments similar to those Beethoven, an innovator in pianoforte development, would have known. Aaron Shorr with Jeremy Eskenazi and Elena Vorotko showed us how much more was possible with pianos of the time in terms of colours in different registers, attack and fade, than with the smoothed-out, more comfotrtable sonorities of modern pianos which 'approach the uniformity aesthetic of electronic instruments'. Beethoven's piano music tests the limits, with character which cannot easily be replicated on modern instruments - "you need the ugly possibilities; the piano isn't only a 'singing' instrument". It was absorbing to hear the same passages explored on the collection's early Steinway and on Broadwood and Erard instruments, with far more dramatic contrasts bringing the music to more vivid life. We had demonstrations of technicalities, slurring, greater use of agogics etc.

In the second session two very different settings of Tiedge's An die Hoffnung took us into questions of Masonic influence and speculations on Beethoven's exploration of the limits of contrast, registers, dynamics, decay effects and slurs, all "speaking" more directly on the older instruments, fantasy in the songs related to the Arioso of Beethoven's Sonata Op 110. The session ended, most satisfyingly, with two performances by April Fredrick of the little song Resignation, with Mary Callanan accompanying on different instruments, their performance prepared with meticulous attention to balance and Beethoven's extraordinary and carefully notated dynamics.

April Fredrick was the last student singer in the great counter-tenor James Bowman's baroque class for one baritone, two sopranos, four mezzos and one counter-tenor. She alone availed herself of one of the two harpsichords in the room, and had prepared the Virgin's Expostulation thoughtfully. Bowman underlined Purcell's touching images and his understanding of English language, in contrast to Handel's more generalised responses.

Some of the participants were post-graduate students, displaying an outstanding overall standard of preparation and vocal quality and, even more importantly, each singer was quickly responsive to Bowman's suggestions, with illustrations in his baritone and falsetto voices, of other ways to try. Far from the domineering and intimidating style of a Schwarzkopf, master classes nowadays, typified by James Bowman (and last year at RAM by Richard Jackson) are models of supportive interaction, making the participants feel at ease so as to be able to respond to deeper aspects of style and technique and not intruding with self-serving ego-trips wih which the greats of earlier generations sometimes indulged themselves.

Bowman reminded the singers that Handel's theatres were small and that loud singing only came in during the 19th C. He continually asked the singers to seek more variety and to "always think to sing quieter", taking runs and melismas quieter to save their 'reservoirs of breath'. He was thrilled, as we were, by several of the singers voices and personalities, noting sadly that the audience had diminished after the tea break, so that people missed Kristen Darragh's exciting assumption of Sesto's Vengeance aria from Handel's Giulio Cesare, and some moving Bach from Severine Delforge and Laura Trayhum. He banned octave doubling in Handel and sought lighter playing of the piano accompaniments; "quieter and lighter" were messages we were left with.

The South African composer Priaulx Rainier (1903-1986) studied and later taught at the Academy. She is a highly regarded composer of striking originality who however never quite achieved mainstream exposure amongst British composers and is now being
re-discovered and celebrated again with an exhibition in the RAM Museum.

Each one of her works is unique, explained Peter Sheppard Skærved and his colleagues of the Kreutzer Quartet [pictured]. The String Quartet (1939)* and Pastoral Triptych for oboe (1959) both spoke strongly to substantiate the claim that she has been undeservedly neglected. To end the event the audience was invited to join the artists at a champagne reception and a viewing of the Rainier display in the York Gate Collections!

* - - the very early (for a late developer) String Quartet - - is astonishing in its assurance, in its precise imagining of what are often highly original textures. For example one of the first movement's two main ideas is a sequence of slow chords (the other is a wreathing pattern of unison or canonic quavers). Why does that sequence sound so grippingly strange each time it recurs? They are the very commonest chords you can think of, yet by their ordering and juxtaposition (in fact by a subtle process of building expectation and contradiction) Rainier seems almost to have re-invented them. A composer who can do that - - is a creator of real consequence; this collection is a major re-discovery. (Redcliffe RR 007; Gramophone 1992)

Priaulx Rainier's Viola Sonata and Suite for clarinet & piano are included in METIER MSV CD92056, coupled with chamber music by Sadie Harrison, recorded by Double Image, a group founded in 1989 to specialise "in performances of music by women".

Updated details of forthcoming daytime PublicTeaching Events at RAM can be found at www.ram.ac.uk


In connection with RAM projects, Peter Sheppard Skærved and Neil Heyde forsook the Academy on 20 October for St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield. where they gave a duo recital of string solos by Micael Alec Rose and David Gorton, and vln/cello duos by Kodaly and Ravel; the latter the undoubted highlight of an unusual event, filmed and recorded by Colin Still in one of London's most magnificent historic churches, where Peter Sheppard Skærved has presented a series of concerts.

Tonight 21st October they are back at the RAM String Gallery to take part in a conversation/performance Soirée about Simon Shaw-Miller's book Visible Deeds of Music (6 p.m.)

© Peter Grahame Woolf