Archive for : May, 2016

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The View from Markson Pianos: Geoffrey Paterson – Conductor


In spite of the difficulties presented by the orchestration, in the end – if you work at it – it does work! 

“At the performance I spoke with the audience from podium before we started to play, and one of the things I said was that it was very likely that none of the audience had ever heard the work before. It’s not widely known within orchestral circles that Joachim’s orchestration of Schubert’s Grand Duo piano duet exists. The work is not published in a set with the other symphonies and it’s quite a challenge just to locate the parts. So I think this difficulty in finding the parts has something to do with why the piece isn’t often played.

Another reason is that the orchestration, as we discovered, is frankly rather strange! It’s fascinating, but it’s not really like a Schubert symphony – because of the way it’s orchestrated.

Schubert wrote this large scale piano duet (four movements, forty minutes long) in 1824 for two pupils at a time when he was not able to play because he was ill.  After Schubert died, Schumann thought that this piano duet was either a reduction, or sketches for ‘the lost symphony’ and encouraged Joachim, who was only 24 at the time and already a very famous violinist and part time composer, to orchestrate it. Schumann  wanted Joachim to  reconstruct this Schubert symphony that had apparently been lost. So in 1855, thirty-one years after the duet was written, that’s what Joachim did.

I don’t know what Schumann thought of the result. Certainly it’s not orchestrated in the way Schubert would have done. A lot had changed in the twenty-seven years since his death. In 1855, when Joachim made the arrangement, Wagner was already at work on The Ring. It’s already a completely different musical landscape. Of course Joachim was more aligned with Schumann and Brahms than he was with Wagner, but the orchestration isn’t particularly Brahmsian either.

It’s quite densely orchestrated. One of the most striking things is that Joachim worked through with a kind of impatience; either with a quest to do something different or because he didn’t quite have the confidence in his decisions. He’s very reluctant to let one instrumental group take a melody, or an accompaniment figure, from the beginning to the end. In most symphonic repertoire, at least in the way that themes are first presented, you can talk of ‘the violin melody’ or ‘the clarinet melody’ or the ‘flute melody’, but in this orchestration it’s almost impossible to do that because no melody really belongs fully in one instrumental group before he passes it to another, even in the first presentation. That’s very unusual!

A harsh judgement would be that it’s slightly incompetent. And maybe that’s an attitude that people take and that’s a reason it’s not performed very often.  But from a twenty-first century point of view, with the whole history of the first part of the twentieth century, with neo-classicism and particularly with composers such as Stravinsky who deconstructed earlier music, it’s very interesting to hear that in the mid-nineteenth century, there is an orchestration that uses similar principles.  For example, in the last movement, sometimes only two or three notes of a tune are played by one instrumental group before the tune is then passed on to another group, and then to another group, and so on.

It’s quite disorienting to listen to – in Pulcinella, Stravinsky does something similar, but he also tweaks other elements of the music so we immediately recognise that there are inverted commas around the source material,  But with Joachim it’s not the case – the material is literally Schubert’s music from the duet, it’s just the way it’s arranged. And that is very odd.

In conducting the work there are a lot more basic problems to solve than there would be in a symphony of that era because you have to balance these melodies, you have to dovetail things. But firstly, the players have to understand what role they play in the texture and when you have quite dense textures with counterpointed two melodies, plus an accompaniment figure, plus a bass line … even if it were orchestrated in such a way that people had longer to get into the zone of what they were doing, you have to clarify those lines. And when those lines are not carried through within an instrumental group, each section has to really understand who they’re passing the melody to, where they’re getting it from, how you balance between very different instrumental tone colours in such a way that in the audience, you hear a through-line.

At the first rehearsal, there was no problem with accuracy, but the music itself sounded very disjointed; everything was constantly changing in terms of the tone colour and dynamic level. But you just have to work quite painstakingly. The moment the players understand what the main melody is and what their component part of that melody is, then those things kind of solve themselves because they know what they’re listening to.

From my experience of being a viola player you get a very valuable perspective from sitting right in the middle of the orchestra.  But it does mean that can get lost in the middle if you’re not quite sure if whether what you’re playing is a countermelody, or the main melody, or an accompaniment figure. Until you understand that, you really don’t know how to play a work.  And so it took a little more time than it might have done until clarity emerged, which I hope it did at the end.

Afterwards, backstage the players were thrilled. It had been a challenging process and I don’t think anyone expected it would be as difficult as it was. But when you surmount the challenge and achieve it in the end, yes, I think everyone was really delighted!

In spite of the difficulties presented by the orchestration, in the end – if you work at it – it does work! And with a figure as important as Joachim in 19th century music, as a performer, to have this extensive document of how he thought of the orchestra as a medium is wonderful. We know how Joachim played from what was written about him, but there is only a small amount of recorded material of him playing from the earliest years of sound recording. What we do have from him is this document of what he thought about the orchestra and that’s an invaluable resource.” (Geoffrey Paterson was speaking with Markson Pianos Composer in Residence, Lola Perrin)

Postscript: Kenneth Woods, who programmed the concert conducted by Geoffrey Paterson, adds:

“My interest in Joachim’s orchestration of the Grand Duo came about through my friendship with the great composer John McCabe, whose loss last year continues to leave an open wound in the hearts of many a musician across the UK. John was a great devotee of this arrangement. As a pianist, he’d played the Duo many times and found it sonically problematic in spite of the fact that it was glorious music. It’s unusual, if not impossible, for an arrangement of a work to improve on the original, but there are arrangements such as Ravel’s orchestration of Pictures at and Exhibition which, even if they’re not an actual improvement, offer an easier way into the piece for the listener. John also felt that as arranged by Joachim, it offered a wonderful addition to the limited number of mature orchestral works by Schubert, standing alongside the Unfinished and the Great C Major symphonies. Of course, many musicians, not least Robert Schumann, have suspected that Schubert always intended the work to be a symphony.” (Kenneth Woods)

Connect with Geoffrey Paterson

Geoffrey Paterson’s current season includes multiple projects with the London Sinfonietta, Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Glyndebourne on Tour, The Nutcracker with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen and Aarhus and his debut at the Holland Festival with a revival of The Corridor and The Cure. He studied at Cambridge University, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, took composition lessons with Alexander Goehr, participated in conducting masterclasses with Pierre Boulez, and trained as a repetiteur at the National Opera Studio. He won First Prize at the 2009 Leeds Conductors Competition, also winning the audience prize. He works regularly at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where he was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme.

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Charlie The Piano Tuner: Our Role


About nine months ago Markson Pianos were approached by a film production company and asked if we could supply pianos for Florence Foster Jenkins, a film being made in the UK.  They were very specific.  There were six pianos in all.  They wanted a concert grand, two smaller grands and several uprights for specific location sets.  The film is based on the life of Florence Foster Jenkins who was an American socialite from the 1920s and ‘30s.  They wanted a concert grand for the Carnegie Hall set and we put in a Steinway.  There were two hotel and apartment scenes where we put in a Bechstein grand and another Steinway grand.  The uprights were for various different scenes for a members of the cast playing the piano.  The pianos all had to be adapted to become silent so they could be played as ordinary pianos but could also be silenced where necessary.  At other times they would be played quite quietly.  Meryl Streep had to sing, and you always can’t sing without a piano accompaniment really, but the piano couldn’t be too loud for those scenes.  So there were lots of technical challenges.  We put a Steinway grand into Abbey Road studios with Meryl Streep coming along to record her singing, where she recorded in a separate sound booth to where the piano was situated.

We had to deliver the pianos at short notice and also tune them at very short notice.  Logistically this was challenging to arrange.  The piano might be needed twenty steps up or twenty miles away.  Our tuner could sometimes be required to be there at 8.30am and stay there all day.  He was picked up either from his barge, or from our showroom, by a chauffeur.  I think it was both the most exciting and most challenging thing we’ve ever been asked to do, with last minute changes and technical demands of finding so many different pianos at the same time for one film.  We’ve done lots of different films where we might have been required to supply one piano at a time, like for ‘Room with a View’ when we supplied a beautiful ornate Bechstein grand piano.

I was asked by the production company to do a viewing to see if one of our pianos could be taken to the first floor of a mansion outside London.   The film director turned up with crew in a jeep and I was asked to play the part of the piano tuner in the film.  I’ve done a lot of amateur dramatics and improvisation before, so I unhesitatingly said “yes!”.   The director said “we’ve found our piano tuner” and everyone cheered.  Then, followed a costume fitting and several months later I was called in for the filming, collected by car early in the morning and taken to Twickenham film studios. I expected that my character would to be seen in the background tuning a grand piano, so I was surprised to find myself on set with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.   It was only in the dressing room that I had been shown my script.  It became clear on set with various retakes that I would grow into the part of Charlie the piano tuner, and that my interaction with Meryl Streep was a comic one.

While on set I was asked my opinion on whether a large busk of Toscanini should remain on the piano or if it should be placed behind me.  I said it shouldn’t be placed on the piano as it would be difficult to tune the piano. I was also aware it would block most of the view of me in the film!  Hugh Grant wanted it on the piano but Meryl Streep agreed with me and the bust was placed behind. With the announcement of Toscanini’s arrival I was to be escorted off stage by Hugh Grant.  In one of the takes I slowed down thinking that this would increase my visibility in the film, and the director, Stephen Frears, shouted out “Don’t make a meal of it Simon”.

In the after-party Meryl Street was very interested to hear about our piano business.   I was told by the young editor that I had been cut in rather than cut out so I knew straight away that I wasn’t on the cutting room floor. It was a wonderful experience, they were very good humoured, supportive and encouraging.” (Simon Markson)


Florence Foster Jenkins is out in cinemas from May 6th

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Ronald Stein: Sketches from the 2016 ‘Around the Globe Piano Music Festival’ winners concert

Sketches from Ronald Stein, a talented sketcher who attends our concert series monthly. More on Ronald here

Marina Petrov

Marina Petrov playing our new Bosedorfer 280 VC grand

Costanza Pascuzzi

Costanza Pascuzzi

Alexander Anderson

Alexander Anderson

Alexandra Mironova

Alexandra Mironova

John Bailey

John Bailey


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Rhinegold Live with Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen

Markson Pianos would like to introduce the Bosendorfer 280 VC (Vienna Concert.) Recently unwrapped at the Conway Hall with Charles Owen & Katya Apekisheva’s mid-week recital at the Rhinegold Live series.

The recital programme comprised Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano Four Hands, three of Rachmaninoff’s From Six Morceaux Op. 11 and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

A real energy shone from the playing style of these two talented pianists. Playing together in fluidity, a performance – inspiring and welcoming of the warmer days we are approaching. Well-done Charles and Katya.

It is a real pleasure to welcome the new Bosendorfer 280 VC grand to our event hire fleet.

Developed for the concert stage and based on the Viennese tradition of piano building, the instrument combines a warm and singing sound with a broad dynamic range and powerful tonal development and sustain.

Click here if you wish to attend the next Rhinegold Live event on the 19th July with the ‘Fidelio Trio’. Tickets are free and included is a pre-concert beverage.




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The 2016 Markson Pianos Concert Series: Nadia Lasserson & Peter Fisher

Nadia Lasserson & Peter Fisher – Wednesday 25th May 2016 – 7pm

As we move on into the warmer months we are delighted to introduce a masterful chamber music duo who will be performing an evening of Brahms.

Nadia Lasserson was a student at the Royal Academy of Music and while there, was appointed a Sub-Professor and was awarded the Manns Memorial Prize. With a wide repertoire of Concertos and Chamber Music, Nadia has played in the Purcell Room, Music Clubs and Festivals in Great Britain and abroad, having made her debut in the Festival Hall at the age of sixteen.

She has recorded the rarely-heard Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin and Piano and the Schubert Notturno with violinist Peter Fisher with whom she gave many concerts in 1997.

British violinist Peter Fisher is an artist of remarkable versatility and insight who possesses a tone quality of great beauty and lyricism.

His extensive repertoire ranges from the Baroque to Jazz and, exceptionally among his generation, he has a strong affinity with the romantic music of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Join us after the concert for a complimentary glass of wine or non-alcoholic beverage.

To book, click the link to the Markson Pianos website here