Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A Chetham's Diary: Tuesday 21 August 2007

Tuesday 21 August

This rarefied atmosphere at Chetham’s is further exemplified by the 22-year-old Christopher White, a student of Hamish Milne’s in London. At BM’s class, he sat down at the piano, a beat-up and out-of-tune Boston baby grand, and performed from memory Busoni’s Fantasia Contrappuntistica, the 30-minute behemoth that was the visionary Italian’s completion of Bach’s The Art of Fugue. It’s a stunning performance that left me speechless. Not only does he have the fingers, he also communicates with a rare coherence that made sense of those multitudes of notes. Surely here is a worthy inheritor of transcendental British pianism as espoused by Sorabji, Ronald Smith, Ronald Stevenson and John Ogdon.

One of the optional classes at Chet’s is the tai chi lesson. It’s run by pianist Philip Smith, who happens to be the partner of Noriko Ogawa. His lanky frame is ideally suited to this willowy non-violent form of Chinese martial arts and he is also a natural teacher. I’m not sure whether this hour of “parting the wild horse’s mane” and other movements will help me lose weight, but it certainly enables the body to relax, and rids the knotty shoulder aches that invariably accompanies a hour at the piano.
Tai chi master Philip Smith. That t-shirt looks kinda' familiar.

My second lesson with Noriko takes place at the historic but totally spooky Baronial Hall. Its soot-covered stone walls provide a natural chill, while Humphrey Chetham’s bust and a trophy staghorn heighten the fear factor. Never get locked in here at night. We work on Alan Richardson’s transcription of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise (Op.34 No.14), and I get bogged down with my arbitrary fingering of the right hand harmonies. Noriko does not miss a thing, and soon we also work out the inner voices that complement Rachmaninov’s seamless melody. I linger on to hear Katsuyuki Sasamoto, a male nurse from Osaka, who played quite beautifully Debussy’s La plus que lent and the Glinka-Balakirev The Lark.

Chetham’s food has improved by leaps and bounds, according to the many returnees, but I still miss Chinese food. Chinatown is a comfortable 15-minute walk down Market Street, via Piccadilly Gardens and Mosley Street. When one’s stomach is rumbling, no distance is a long distance, and I make it to Wu’s CafĂ© for ngau lam mien on a canter. Six pounds is extortionate for a bowl of noodles washed down with jasmine tea, but who cares?

After the splendid recital given by Leon McCawley, I suggested that we students should play something for each other. Getting Auntie Rosie to come along, I played Mayerl’s Evening Primrose and snatches of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag and Gershwin’s Someone To Watch Over Me. With this, I received an impromptu masterclass from her, and learn there’s a proper way to play jazz, with strict observance to dynamic markings and the score. Nothing happens by chance with jazz pianists, and proper fingering, pedaling, and accents are part and parcel of good jazz playing. And shame on me for regarding the Maple Leaf Rag, a ragtime standard, as anything less than Beethoven’s Op.111. She’s a wonderful teacher who really knows her stuff, and someday she might be asked to run a course on ragtime playing at Chetham’s!

Auntie Rosie (Rosemary Hallum) playing Gershwin's Rialto Ripples

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