Listen to the International Piano Series podcast with Mitsuko Uchida

Mitsuko Uchida talks about the strangeness of Schumann, her piano collection and her interval snack of choice.

You can hear Mitsuko Uchida perform a recital of Schumann, Schoenberg and Bach on Tuesday 15 January 2013, 7.30pm at Royal Festival Hall.

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Watch Alice Sara Ott perform Pictures at an Exhibition

You can see Alice Sara Ott perform Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ at Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday 12 February, 7.30pm.

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Listen to the International Piano Series podcast with pianist Christian Blackshaw

Christian Blackshaw talks in depth about his love of Schumann and Schubert, ahead of his Queen Elizabeth Hall recital next year as part of the International Piano Series.


You can hear Christian Blackshaw perform on 26 February 2013, 7.30pm at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

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On 2nd July Southbank Centre welcomes David Braid to the Purcell Room to present his new album of chamber and instrumental music. The evening will include performances from The Erato Piano Trio, pianist Sergei Podobedov and clarinettist Peter Cigleris.

Steve Reich said of David’s work: “ ‘Morning’. Integration of voice with string quartet beautifully done – Very honest stuff”.

We catch up with David ahead of the concert.

What are you particularly looking forward to about your forthcoming concert at Southbank Centre?
It’s been a few years since I had something played here, it will be good to return as I love the atmosphere – it’s very relaxed and ‘human’. As a composer I suppose I should say I’m looking forward to the performance itself. However, it can be rather stressful to be honest, being stuck in the stalls while others play, as it’s out of one’s hands, so I’m looking forward to it being over and getting back to work on my new piece – I much prefer composing to having concerts, although I’m extremely pleased to be having them of course!

Is there a piece of music you would pick out as one of the ‘best’ works ever written?
Well there are the obvious ones by the big three composers, discussed a great deal by others I expect, so I’ll avoid those and say Sibelius’ 5th Symphony – What to say about it though? – too much, it speaks for itself really, but in brief: such unbelievably perfect structure plus its powerful and somehow inevitable geometry across time – music that tells you something/everything about spacetime that cannot be even slightly approached by using language – also his 7th Symphony of course, plus a great number of John Dowland’s lute songs, clearly in the same class as Schubert’s, but a lot closer to home for me; Lutoslawski’s 4th symphony also – transcendent!

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
Time travel obviously – facing forward of course! I would like to have a chat for a few hours with someone from 15,000-20,000 years in the future (I’d have to bring an army of linguists and philologists with me of course – he/she/it would have to bring historians too so we could understand each other). It would need to be someone who is very well-informed on the then-current scientific, artistic and ethical developments. I would risk blowing a mind-fuse for this.

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
I’d get Bach to come and improvise on the organ! If he was busy that day I’d ask Dowland to come and play the lute.

What is the most played piece of music on your mp3 player or in your CD collection?
I only really listen to vinyl these days and I have no mp3 player as I can’t listen to music that much as it distracts from composing, so I never bought one. So, most-played? Glenn Gould’s record of Byrd and Gibbons, (I’ve actually got two copies of this so when the first wears down I have a spare) followed by Beecham’s Sibelius’ 7th (only one copy of this unfortunately – hence its 2nd place).

Do you have any strange rituals you carry out before or after you perform?
I’ve not performed for many years so not as such. However, before a performance of my stuff I tend to worry a lot and drink a couple of beers to be quite honest.

For more info and to book tickets, click here

Violinist Julia Fischer talks total Schumann

Julia Fischer, photo by Julia Wesely

Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen previously recorded and toured the complete violin and piano works of Schubert. This time they’re tackling Schumann on a three-date tour, including Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 29 November.


What is the appeal of single composer programmes, and why Schumann? ‘When I play a traditional recital it tends to be more about me than the pianist; for example, in a mixed repertoire programme there is often a solo piece,’ explains Julia Fischer. ‘When I have an artist like Martin playing in concert with me, I want to have a full project to present.’


That the duo this time plumped for a composer from the same period and country is unsurprising. ‘Martin is really the best pianist of his generation for the German classical and romantic repertory, meaning Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms,’ she says – a compliment that could equally apply to herself as a violinist. ‘So for me it was obvious that our next project had to be about one of those composers.’


Of the five composers Fischer mentions however, Schumann is the least renowned as a composer of violin music. She acknowledges that his three violin sonatas are relative rarities: ‘The Schumann violin sonatas are underestimated and not often enough performed in concert.’ This is not, she says, because Schumann is a difficult composer, as is so often suggested. ‘It is not true that musicians and audiences find Schumann’s music awkward, because in his output you find some of the canon’s most popular works – the piano concerto, cello concerto and lieder,’ she says.


Rather, Fischer subtly observes that, as a pianist, Schumann ‘couldn’t reward the violinist in the way he might have otherwise’. It is a gentle way of saying that Schumann’s violin writing wasn’t always fluent, even if, as a melodist, he was unrivalled. ‘If you take the violin part of his violin concerto, for example, and simply play it on the piano, it sounds absolutely marvellous,’ she says. ‘But if you have to play it on the violin, you really have to figure out how to make it sound right. Schumann tends to stay in a low register, which is rarely rewarding for a soloist. It is dangerous technically too, because although the notes themselves can appear simple, you have to be really smart in terms of fingerings and bowings.’


This is a challenge that Fischer relishes, but it is not an intellectual exercise. She places great importance on balancing the intellectual and emotional aspects of performing – something she appreciates in Helmchen too. ‘He is a very intelligent musician; he really thinks very deeply about what he is doing and how he performs,’ she says. ‘But he doesn’t forget that in the end it is about emotions and feelings. He can close his intellectual door and just enjoy playing music. This combination is really important.’


Both artists clearly enjoy the total immersion approach to preparing recitals. ‘When we did the Schubert project, we tried to learn everything about him,’ remembers Fischer. ‘And with Schumann it will be the same way.’ Ultimately, she believes that the musical complexity and intensity of expression that is inherent in all Schumann’s music is better explored in isolation. ‘If you have an entire evening of Schumann, rather than slotting one piece into a programme, audiences really get to know his musical language and get a feeling for how he wrote for these instruments,’ she says. ‘That is only possible if you have the courage to dedicate the whole evening to him.’


Will Fischer and Helmchen dedicate a whole disc to Schumann too? ‘We will work on that,’ is all she will give away.


Interview by Tim Woodall


Click here to book for Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen’s 29 November recital.