Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A Chetham's Diary: Sunday 19 August 2007

Sunday 19 August

What do you do when you wake up at 4am with jetlag? Listening to 10 different versions of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor (WTC Book I) did not quite help, and certainly not Rach 3. So it’s a very early morning rise to do something I’ve never done for a long time, wake the neighbours up with some piano playing!
Chetham's at dawn. The grey skies are merely a photoshop abberation.

I had been assigned Practice Room G2 – a cubicle to be exact - at Chetham’s Palatine Building, formerly a hotel block. One could tell by its narrow corridors with multiple rooms on either side. Someone’s already started his or her morning practice, and there’s some Chopin floating about. I add to the cacophony on the Yamaha upright, beginning with Scarlatti and Mozart, then Chopin and Brahms, and finishing with Debussy and Rachmaninov. I had picked these for my lessons at the Summer School; mainly short pieces, mostly falling within the hands and nothing brisker than Allegretto. Pianists Lee Pei Ming, Dennis Lee and Toh Chee Hung had helped me, and we all came to the same conclusion: I still have a lot to learn about piano music.

Classes begin at nine and I head off to Bryce Morrison’s Music Criticism course. Dr Morrison is what one would expect from a top music critic – extremely knowledgeable, erudite, full of humour and brimming with anecdotes. His willingness to share is infectious, and his stories get more florid on each repetition, and the laughter induced no less raucous. But isn’t Music Criticism a serious business? Yes it is, but it is also a very human one, based on a wealth of experiences and the eagerness to share it with all and sundry. He gives examples of good critical writing and the bad – the verbose James Huneker comes off on the short end of the stick.

Bryce Morrison's Music Crit class is as informal as one can get.

I also got my first piano lesson today, with Noriko Ogawa at the English Room. She is one of the world’s foremost Debussyists, and so I played for her Bruyeres (Heather) from Book 2 of Debussy’s Préludes. Colour and contrasts are paramount in Debussy, and that was her focus – how to differentiate between piano and pianissimo, as well as how to use the sotto voce pedal when the situation calls for it. Also important are subtle changes in dynamics, accelerandos and rallentandos that alter the pulse – and life - of the music. All this should not be new to me, but somehow it becomes a reality when played in the presence of a true interpreter. There was time also to work on Brahms’ Intermezzo in A major (Op.118 No.2). Here she focuses on the top line, and how not to lose the melody amid rich Brahmsian harmonies.

Noriko Ogawa with a student at Baronial Hall

At Chetham’s, one tends to get cloistered from what goes on outside its gates. Determined not to be lost to the world (unlike some Mahler lied), I ventured out to Market Street and beyond. A short walk took me to HMV and its basement classical section. I picked up a Claudio Arrau CD and its programme notes are by… Bryce Morrison. Meanwhile, Manchester City lead Manchester United by a goal. Come on yer Blues!

Two more recitals this evening, by Bernard Roberts and the perpetually coughing Margaret Fingerhut. Let’s hope I don’t catch anything besides pianomania.

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