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Joseph Fleetwood

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  • Posted on 31 March, 2014
  • By Lola Perrin
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Generally I'll start my practice session with a little warm-up, play some Bach, or something light, or something Romantic, just to get the blood going through the hands. Then I'll look up the repertoire I'm performing at that particular time and focus on the technical problems because, there's no point in playing the whole programme through if you can play most of it, but get stuck on bits. So, in the Liszt for example, there are a few scary moments in there and I just make sure they're secure, that I can play them without thinking of them technically, so that the technique just functions by itself. At the same time I'll be working on the sound and the interpretation, but once the technique is solid you can then open the door into what's next; how you phrase, how you interpret the piece ...
To solve technical problems what I do is break the music down into the smallest component parts. I studied with a teacher called George Donald, and he was a pupil of two great teachers; Karl Schnabel (the son of Artur Schnabel) and Aube Tzerko who was a pupil of Artur Schnabel and they both go into something they got from Leschetiszky, who got it from Czerny who possibly got it from Beethoven; to get the composer's view of how the music is constructed so you look at motifs. So the motifs are like the words that make up the phrase. I'm talking about practising micro phrasing hands together; so split up the phrase into the smallest unit that makes musical sense on its own. That's called the motif, and it's the stringing of these motifs together that make up a phrase. If you practise that one motif until it's right, and then you go onto the next motif and then you can string the two together so that you're not taking a running jump at a huge difficult part. The smaller the unit, the better the practice. Obviously you can't just practise the single note as that doesn't make musical,or physical, sense. The aim is that the motif becomes instinctive. So, play it very very slowly, and with a light, but firm touch. You'd play with the key all the way down, but lightly, so that the fingers really understand the movements that they have to make. When you practise it at a slow enough speed, the brain understands the movement that the fingers have to make. Of course, when you practise faster, a certain compromise has to be made, because when you play all these motifs into a phrase you don't necessarily want your audience to hear the separate parts to the phrase, but if you don't practise like that, sometimes you can hear this and the music can sound a bit frenetic and senseless. It might feel like you're doing the phrasing right, and the pedalling right, and everything else, and getting the tone right but that sense of rushing comes from not rushing on these individual motives. Practising in these small chunks actually builds stamina because your concentration is focussed only for a very small time, so you're not having to maintain a long line of concentration all the way. When you perform, your brain is going through the motifs so you're not focussed on thinking “I have to maintain the long line” - yes - you do have to maintain it, but you can do it in such a way as to go between the places where you can rest. You will have practised the motif within context, you will have moulded the motif into the line and that increases the stamina of practice and because you're not going over the same passage . In fact it's easier to make sense of the "long line" (as in the romantic idea of the long line) by focusing on the motifs, because instead of trying to make the line out of notes, you're making it out of the motives. It's like the difference between trying to make sentences and paragraphs out of individual letters, or trying to make it out of words. I wouldn't play it excessively until it's right because you end up killing your ear and numbing your brain, so I think play the motif 3 or 4 times, then go on to the next one then go back – and keep it fresh, keep everything fresh. I never sit down and open the book from beginning to end unless I'm practising the performance. When I'm practising for a performance I do two things. When I'm playing it all the way through, I practise it very, very slowly with that kind of soft, but sure, touch. You have to be incisive but you can't bang. And that gives you the core sound. George used to tell me that Schnabel told him that the tone should sound like iron wrapped in a velvet glove, and that you should imagine even in your pianissimo that you are playing to somebody sitting at the back of a large concert hall, but never shout at them. And from that sound you can increase to your fortissimo or decrease to your pianissimo and then you practise certain things in different ways. Sometimes it's good to practise a fortissimo passage pianissimo because you can get into the habit of thundering out all these chords and you're not really hearing what you're doing at that volume, your ear gets confused. So if you take it down and listen to everything at low volume you don't get as tired actually, because it's actually quite a lot of work. Break it down tonally and again into the motifs. Playing everything through at half speed is a good test of memorisation. I'm not a great advocate of memorisation. The fashion is already changing and pianists are returning to using the music in performance; the piano competition had made some pianists into performing monkeys. Of course, I'm not saying that ALL competition pianists are like that, and there are exceptional players rise out of the competitions, like Danil Trifonov or Federico Colli, but many who enter competitions are merely thinking about memorizing as many of the right notes as possible and churning them out. I'm not sure how healthy that is to be honest. I think it's more the fault of an individual competitor than a competition - after all, the competition organizers aren't controlling how these people play. That is down to the individual, right? I'm from Dundee which is going through a renaissance at the moment. There's currently a twenty year campaign of building works to completely redevelop the waterfront. Joseph Fleetwood comes from an extraordinary musical lineage, having studied extensively with George Donald, a concert pianist in Scotland and a pupil of Karl Ulrich-Schnabel. Karl’s teacher was Artur Schnabel, a pupil of Leschetiszky, who had studied under Czerny. Czerny was a protégée of Ludwig van Beethoven. It is from this training that Joseph’s concept of tone production and preparation has been developed, and his playing is attracting international critical acclaim. His current CD of piano works by Edvard Grieg is available directly from him (visit his website for details). His next recordings will be of the complete Bach Partitas, and the Liszt B minor Sonata coupled with the Schubert Wanderer Fantasy, and John McLeod's Sonata No.1

John Adams - Concert Pianist and Teacher

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  • Posted on 05 September, 2013
  • By Lola Perrin
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“I‘ve taught a huge number of private students from aged 7 up to college age from lower level up to concert level. As they approach college age I always told them there were two routes. First, they could try for the biggest names, i.e. Julliard, Curtis, Eastman, and spend a huge amount of money along the way. Or, they could come here to USC, save a huge amount of money and then on graduation apply to a top graduate degree program like those named above. USC has been hugely successful with this approach to recruiting big talents. When students go directly from your studio to a top flight school, the minute they hit that level the name of the teacher who got them there in the first place seems to disappear in favour of a bigger name. So for example, when they have a concert and name their teachers - they will only put the bigger name and never recognise the teacher who worked with them in their formative years. So I have a bone about that and I‘ve sometimes made a pertinent comment! I’ve found it has improved in recent years, in some students, in their maturity have looked back. I‘ve heard from students now in their 50‘s and 60‘s and they‘ve started to pour our these very emotional stories about what I meant to them and how I made them realise all these things about themselves and how I opened up a whole world of music for them - all this family stuff, “my father was very opposed to me doing this, and “I was suffering from all this emotionally”…etc. Of course I‘ve found this enormously gratifying! I grew up in the South, in Birmingham Alabama, in the 1930‘s and ‘40‘s - it was like South Africa, we had complete segregation. I played by ear until I was 11, it was perfectly usual just to be able to play. My first teacher was Elizabeth Allen. She pulled me up to quite a high level in just two years. She had been trained by the same teacher (a composer herself) who had developed the composer William Gillock. I was already in the line of some high level, serious pedagogy. We moved home and my second teacher was responsible for bringing one of Clara Schumann‘s last students, Carl Friedberg, all the way from Julliard to Kansas City. His comments to me when I was seventeen were just riveting. No one had told me I had a special gift and could go far. He asked me to go to New York to work with him but my father had a fit and said no way. Over the next years I had lessons with him when he visited Kansas - he was the first great influence on my life.” (John Kenneth Adams, July 2013) About John: American pianist John Kenneth Adams has travelled the globe presenting recitals, “Piano Portraits&rdquo, master classes and lecture-recitals to audiences in 22 countries. He has successfully blended a wide choice of repertoire with his unique ability to speak about music in terms that bring audiences closer to the music. Long known for his powerful performances of French repertoire, including the complete piano music of Claude Debussy, he has also made a strong reputation as an exponent of major works of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms
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