Archive for the ‘Piano’ Category

New ABRSM Piano and Clarinet Syllabi

The ABRSM have announced the release of a new piano syllabus, details available from Thursday, June 7th, 2018. The new clarinet syllabus can be downloaded here .

ABRSM Piano Grade 1 Scales and Broken Chords

For the benefit of piano students preparing for the ABRSM Grade 1 examination, I have typed out all the scales and broken chords in full with fingering. Please ABRSM Grade 1 Piano Scales and Broken Chords, which is in .pdf format. If you do not have a suitable file viewer, you can download Adobe Acrobat here free of charge.

Lang Lang at the Roundhouse

I’ve just watched the BBC Four broadcast of Lang Lang’s Liszt recital at the Roundhouse in Camden Town, July 2011. Featuring a combination of crowd-pleasing favourites (Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15), sentimental showpieces (Un sospiro) and Liszt arrangements of works by Schumann and Schubert, the pianist emerged from (and sometimes disappeared into) a cloud of dry ice, lit in primary colours and with a bewildering kaleidoscope of images displayed on massive screens downstage.

The performance was part of the 2011 iTunes festival, and Lang Lang was the only classical artist alongside luminaries from the pop and rock scene such as Coldplay and Adele. The Roundhouse is a converted railway engine shed, and has been used as a performance venue on and off since 1964. Although in more recent years it has started to host concerts of contemporary classical music, it is best known as a centre for avant-garde performing arts productions and popular music festivals.

Lang Lang has gained a reputation for flamboyant showmanship, both in the staging of his performances and his interpretation of the repertoire. His extrovert style has lead to critics renaming him “Bang Bang” and calling him “the J-Lo of the piano.” Reviews describe his playing as “vulgar and self-indulgent.” The Roundhouse performance will have done little to change that view. Yes, he dresses like a rock star, not a classical musician. Yes, his hand gestures could be considered “self-indulgent.” Yes, the staging was more typical of a pop concert. I suppose the whole thing could be regarded as more than a little vulgar.

It’s interesting, then, that Liszt was chosen as the subject of this recital. Liszt, in his early years, was a flamboyant, showy performer. He dressed extravagantly, and lived the hedonistic, self-indulgent life of a nineteenth century celebrity. After Paganini, Liszt was the first true celebrity performer. He is credited with inventing the piano recital, and along with the demon violinist himself was among the first musicians to transcend the music and become an object of adulation with wealth and independence that Mozart could only dream of. The celebrity phenomenon we recognise in popular music today is a more or less direct descendant of the performance tradition established by Liszt.

I also find it interesting that Lang Lang programmed Consolation No. 2 in E major, a relatively easy piece, yet wonderfully expressive and characteristic of Liszt’s high romantic style. This suggests that the recital was about more than piano pyrotechnics and mawkish sentiment. Lang Lang may be of the “vulgar herd” (attributed to Thomas Gaisford, about the benefits of a classical education in securing a well-paying job!), but is that so bad? Like Liszt, Lang Lang’s father was a humble musician from a relatively poor provincial background. If Lang Lang revels in his popular success, why shouldn’t he? I enjoyed his performance for all the right reasons: his interpretation engaged me, his performance skills astounded me, and his showmanship drew me in further. If this style of recital helps others of the vulgus (Latin: ‘common people’) appreciate the great tradition of Western art music, I can only see that as a good thing. Unless, of course, one considers oneself above the vulgar herd . . .