‘I want to explore every sense of a human being- even smell!’

We caught up with Marcelo Bratke to find out more about the man who is ‘happy to either play Bach or to plunge into popular music’.

You began learning the piano when you were sixteen. What got you started?

My parents had just divorced and, visiting my father one weekend, I heard him playing Chopin. ‘Play it again!’ I kept insisting, and when I tried to imitate him I was able to get most of the notes right. After that I began music lessons, which I stuck with at first because I loved English horror movies and I wanted to play melodramatic, terrifying music, but as I played I found that through music I was finally able to express myself. I had felt very limited because of my sight and suddenly I had the ability to move people to these extreme emotions.

You often collaborate with different art-forms, such as film. What art-form do you feel comes closest to your playing?

I feel that film, images in movement, introduces a multimedia aspect to my music. It opens new audiences to understanding music in a different way. But, really, I would like to work with all art forms. I want to try and explore every sense of a human being, even smell. When I was blind smell used to be so important to me- when I was travelling to so many different places I used to recognize cities by their smell.

Your music and lifestyle have both been very cosmopolitan. Where have you been happiest in your life?

I spent most of my youth travelling and felt very cut off from my family and friends. I really didn’t like feeling so separated at first but now I am used to it I love every new place I go to. I went to South Korea recently and as soon as I got off the plane I thought ‘I’d love to live here!’ I love London, it is my favourite city. I love the tension and diversity and the crazy levels of information.

You have performed  audiences all over the world. Has there been a performance that was particularly special to you?

I’d have to say the reaction of the prisoners I performed to as part of the Cinemusica Project (Bratke performed the music of Villa-Lobos alongside Mariannita Luzzati’s film of Brazil in prisons around Brazil). They were so into the music, they were more silent than any prestigious concert audience. My performance meant a lot to them and I felt very loved.

To book tickets and get more info on Marcelo’s upcoming concert at Southbank Centre click here

Marcelo Bratke talks about the power of music

After performing at renowned international venues and leading exciting collaborations with jazz musicians, film makers and Brazilian popstars, Marcelo Bratke returns to Southbank Centre for his upcoming concert From Rio to New Yorkwhich explores musical parallels between the two cities. Here he talks about the concert and how it was influenced by his work in prisons and with street musicians from Brazil.

Your upcoming concert From Rio to New York ranges from Gershwin to Vila Lobos and spans two continents. Are there any ideas or themes that connects the pieces?

I like to create concerts in which music links things which are not close together. In this concert I take four composers from Brazil and four from America, who were working in the same period of time, and I hold them up as mirrors to each other. Despite their different cultural environments we see the same musical phenomenon, influenced by popular culture in Brazil and by jazz in America.

You have been involved in a lot of exciting projects such as working with young musicians from shanty towns in Brazil, and playing a series of performances in prisons. What have you learnt from these?

I was almost blind from birth, having 2% vision in one eye, and 7% in the other. A few years ago I had an operation which restored full sight to my left eye, and I was able to see the world in its full beauty for the first time. I also clearly saw the social differences in Brazil and I felt I wanted to give something back. I created the Camerate Vale Musica five years ago, an orchestra made up of young musicians from shanty towns in Brazil. By the end of our first tour kids who hadn’t even known what the Carnegie Hall was were performing there, and now many of them are at university studying music.

When I took a Vila Lobos concert and film About Brazilian nature on tour around twelve prisons, I wanted to create an imaginary window in the prison walls. To be honest I was expecting it to be a depressing experience but it was the opposite. I found wonderful stories. Six hundred women heard the melodies of Vila Lobos and began singing along. When I was playing at a maximum security prison one of the prisoners came onstage and played a beautiful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. I found out later that he had murdered his girlfriend’s parents. That really showed me the subtle limit between normal and abnormal.

So do you think that music has a responsibility to society?

Music is a language of communication that can bring people together that weren’t linked in any way before. It is more than a form of art- it passes irresistible messages, more influential than a politician’s speech you could say. I think this is really what I am trying to communicate in my concert at Southbank Centre.

For full concert info and to book click here

Check out this video of Cinemúsica Villa-Lobos and Brazil – a film by Mariannita Luzzati and a concert by Marcelo Bratke

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra 2011-2012 season at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra present this brand new video ahead of their season of concerts at the Royal Festival Hall.

Largely recorded at the venue, gain an exclusive insight into what goes on behind the scenes on a typical concert day and listen to exclusive interviews with RPO players, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Charles Dutoit and Principal Guest Conductor Pinchas Zukerman, both of whom appear with the RPO here at Southbank Centre this season.

The RPO’s next concert is Tuesday 8 November and features performances of Berlioz’s Overture Le Corsaire, Barber’s Violin Concerto, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. You can buy tickets from the event page on our website.


Watch a video on Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

OAE players talk about Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, which they perform with conductor Gianandrea Noseda and the Philharmonia Chorus on 4 November at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall. The concert is given in memory of Sir Charles Mackerras.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard CD review

Liszt, Bartok, Berg et al – The Liszt Project
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)

Deutsche Grammophon 4779439
There’s intelligent method in this two-disc mega-recital. On the first disc, three of Liszt’s late experimental works each precede a single-movement sonata — by Wagner, Berg and Scriabin — before Aimard plays Liszt’s own single-movement B minor sonata. Disc two ingeniously pairs four works from Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage collections with descriptive pieces by Bartok, Marco Stroppa, Ravel and Messiaen, highlighting poetic, formal, textural and gestural similarities galore. Aimard’s readings are characterised by a clarity that allows detail and shape rightful pre-eminence. Stephen Pettitt

Fiona Maddocks – The Observer

Bombarded as we are by Liszt recordings in his anniversary year, this is refreshingly different. Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is also a skilled maker of programmes (he is currently director of the Aldeburgh festival). This recital, recorded live in Vienna’s Konzerthaus, celebrates Liszt’s influence on subsequent composers: Wagner (his little known sonata in A flat), Scriabin (the bizarre “Black Mass” sonata), Bartók, Berg, Ravel, Messiaen and Marco Stroppa (b 1959). Since large quantities of Liszt in one sitting can be indigestible, this is an excellent way into the B minor sonata and sections of Années de pèlerinage.

Aimard performs these works on Tuesday 8 November at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Check out Philharmonia’s Bartok Blog!

Philharmonia Orchestra are drawing their year-long festival with Esa-Pekka Salonen Infernal Dance: Inside the World of Bela Bartok, to a close soon. Check out their dedicated Bartok blog packed with films, a gallery, articles and behind the scenes info. View it all here.

See the final events of Infernal Dance at Southbank Centre

Get to know Charlie Piper

On Saturday 5 November London Sinfonietta are presenting a feast of new music in Pavilions: New Music Show 2.  We caught up with Charlie Piper to hear more about his new work Insomniac, which you can hear at the event.

Your work Insomniac portrays several different forms of insomnia.  Can you tell us a little about the different states reflected in the music?
 has three movements. The first movement has a frantic feel and portrays the sort of insomnia caused by anxiety or stress when your mind can’t shut down and thoughts spin frustratingly round and round in your head. The middle movement is a much calmer portrayal of the surreal sensation when floating between sleep and wakefulness. And the last movement looks at the effects of external influences on the ability to sleep.

One of the common causes of insomnia is anxiety.  What single thing makes you most anxious?

Whilst writing this composition, I believe you spent some time in Sweden.  Do you find that your surroundings affect your writing at all?
Absolutely. I was staying inGotland, which is a small Swedish island and very serene and beautiful. My work studio looked out over the sea and so, when I wasn’t staring distractedly out the window, I was in a good calm state of mind to work. However that isn’t always ideal – if I’m trying to write frantic music it helps to be in my rail-sideLondon flat! Also I was inGotland during the summer and so I experienced, for the first time, all-night sunlight – which certainly doesn’t help with insomnia – but the extraordinary colour and iridescent glow over the sea was a big influence in the atmosphere of the middle movement of this work.

And what time of day do you find is the best to compose?
I usually give myself 9-to-5 business hours to compose (unless there is a deadline looming!) which helps me focus my energy but I think the morning is probably my most productive period.

Your programme note for Insomnia states that ‘the final movement is concerned with insomnia caused by other external influences – such as a neighbour having an all-night party’.  Describe your ideal party.
One that I haven’t had to organise…

And finally…Insomniacs are often told to play music to relax before trying to sleep.  What is your favourite piece of music to relax to?
Possibly the Aria from the Goldberg variations.

You can hear Insomnia on Saturday 5 November at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.  Click here to book tickets.