A Pianist in Paris: A blog post by Clare Hammond

Pianist and new recruit to the Philip Langridge Mentoring Scheme Clare Hammond tells us how she got on during her recent trip to Paris to work with mentor Anne Queffélec

On coming intClare Hammond HOMEo the Gare du Nord, I was suddenly struck by a flutter of nerves. I am always anxious when I start to work with a new teacher. I wonder what they will think of my playing, which gremlins I’ve failed to expunge, and which imaginative possibilities I’ve been utterly oblivious to. To embark upon a relationship with a mentor is different still. I was planning to play to Anne so knew that my usual anxieties in a teaching situation would apply, but I wasn’t at all sure how to negotiate the other aspects of a mentoring relationship. I had been looking forward to this for so long and was very keen that the first meeting set a positive note for the rest of the year.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried. After battling my way across Paris, I arrived at a beautiful house near to Maisons-Laffitte, an area which feels almost rural despite its proximity to the city. Anne welcomed me to her studio; a bright room, lined with books, with views into the garden. I immediately felt relaxed and at home.

I had prepared Chopin’s 12 Études, Op. 25. These are pieces that I’ve grown up with and that have been subjected to various indignities as my technique has developed. I now know them well and have performed them at numerous venues over the past year, including most recently (and most nerve-rackingly) at the ‘Chopin and his Europe Festival’ in Warsaw. Anne is well known for her interpretations of Chopin and I hoped that she would be able to throw fresh light on familiar territory.

After hearing the set, she immediately leapt into action and started to suggest new ways that I might approach various passages. None of the concepts that she proposed were unfamiliar to me, but the sheer detail, intensity, and perspective of her listening was startling. After a little time, I began to hear how diffuse my sound was, how inconsistent my tone, and how illogical and irrational my phrasing. There followed a period of mild embarrassment as I tried, unsuccessfully, to find on-the-spot remedies, my ears now attuned to the atrocities I was committing.

Our second session was less unnerving. After a night’s sleep, I felt better equipped to experiment and was grateful for a few incremental breakthroughs. We discussed at length the unique capacity the piano has to imitate other instruments, including the human voice, and what a gift this is for the imagination. Several études, and a couple of espressos later, I was ushered to the door with plans to return in February. As I made my way back to the metro, another opportunity presented itself. A prodigiously well-stocked cheese shop whose wares looked as if they might walk out of the door themselves. I decided not to risk it this time, but intend to return equipped with a capacious and well-sealed icebox.

As I leave the Gare du Nord, unexpectedly exhausted despite the fine espressos, I am profoundly grateful that I have this opportunity to learn from such an inspirational artist and excited to see what else my first year as a mentee might hold.

Clare Hammond 

Philip Langridge Mentoring Scheme

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Sound:Vision – Ed Scolding and Peter Groom collaboration

Inspired by PULSE, our major commission this year, we have once again joined forces with with IdeasTap, this time to create Sound:Vision, a new initiative offering five young filmmakers and five composers the chance to create their own short film/music collaborations. We recently caught up with two of the successful applicants, Ed Scolding and Peter Groom, about their resulting work, Brut, which will be screened in London later this year. 

SCOLDING Ed PIC 2sqED SCOLDING, COMPOSER

When we first met to plot out the project, we agreed to base the new film on one of two existing recordings of my music – Air Unfolds or Torque. Since these pieces already stand on their own and we saw the film as a new, separate creation, I wanted to give Peter the freedom to use these recordings as he needed, to choose whatever in the recordings was useful to him, and if necessary to collaborate in editing or processing the recordings – whatever was needed for a stronger film.

I wanted to give Peter meaningful access to these pieces, to open up my music to him so that he could connect to my ideas, as the starting point for him to take forward into the new work.

Having discussed the pieces together, I wrote detailed accounts of each piece, plotting them like a script or storyboard, describing what I felt the moods were, what I had been imagining, how each moment related to previous moments, any physical performance features that might connect to movement in the film.

The decision was to go with Air Unfolds – used verbatim, as the original concert piece. Listen here.

When I wrote this piece, I was imagining a single point continuously moving, tracing a line as it moved, jumping and slipping between different people, sometimes latching to bring several people together, sometimes reaching each person only for a moment.

PETER GROOM, FILMMAKERGROOM Peter PIC

Taking inspiration from the title of the project SOUND:VISION, I was keen that each have their own identity as two separate things coming together to make something new. I didn’t want to create a choreography that was set to Ed’s music or create movements that would highlight or frame his composition. We set out instead to create a layering of images with sound; in the hope this would make something new for the viewer, that they may not necessarily have imagined just by listening to the music or seeing the film.

I tried to create a dream like structure, where images could repeat, fall back in on themselves or be seen again but slightly changed. We spoke a lot about freeing ourselves from a narrative of music and we tried to avoid creating a visual that would be story and focused on allowing the music to be the story with images coming in and out, like a dream or a remembering of something.

I began to listen to the music alone. I played it whenever I could for about two weeks, in the morning, last thing at night. I wanted to hear it as many different ways as I could. I started to write questions the music posed to me; ideas of reaching, longing, coming together, parting. These would form the beginning of questions I would ask the dancers to respond to in rehearsal.

During rehearsal we listened to the music very little, I didn’t want it in our heads as we worked. I wanted to create something with the dancers and then let what we had made meet the music later on. We spoke a lot about what people do to get rid of loneliness or to find tenderness/connection.

Once we had created the scenes we began to film, still free of the music, often filming one scene in many locations to give ourselves as much choice as we could for the edit. Then there was something new I had never experienced before. On stage, because it is live you finish the piece with the dancers still there, they are there at the dress rehearsal and at the premiere! But with this project once we had finished filming they left and what I was left with was bits of things still unfinished and you just watch these bits on a little screen and have to find a way that it works together.

I began by sifting through this material, searching for how it could hold together as a piece. The key was moods; creating moods with the images that could then be ordered to take us on a journey. Tenderness, care, loneliness, helplessness, confusion, passion.

Early on in the process I had asked Ed to write what he saw in his head when he listened to the pieces. He responded with ideas of tracing lines or a type of movement; he created a sort of guide that was so useful as though we were not recreating his plan, it enabled us to navigate our way through the moods in the music. So it was with these moods of images and Ed’s map that we began to slowly piece the film together.

I really hope you enjoy the film. I hope the visual doesn’t give you everything, but that when it is seen with music that it adds together. If either the film or the music seems strange or vague, all you need do is listen or watch and it will tell you.