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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RPS Young Musicians Recital 2013

A special recital hosted by Sir Vernon and Lady Ellis offered the opportunity to hear and meet some of the outstanding young performers supported by the Royal Philharmonic Society. The beautiful drawing room of 49 Queen’s Gate Terrace provided an intimate setting for performances by the Wu Quartet, cellist Ariana Kashefi and pianist Richard Uttley, all current beneficiaries of the RPS Young Musicians Programme.

Wu QuartetAs RPS Executive Director Rosemary Johnson explained, there is no simple or clear path for a musician who is graduating from college and establishing their professional career. Acknowledging this, the RPS Young Musicians Programme provides comprehensive and tailored support to exceptional artists throughout and beyond their training. In conversation with Rosemary following a spirited performance of Mendelssohn and Janacek, members of the Wu Quartet explained how their RPS Albert and Eugenie Frost Prize is helping them to expand their development and performance opportunities. The prize enables them to travel to and from Germany, where the quartet is being mentored by Hatto Beyerle, former member of the Alban Berg Quartet and founder of the European Chamber Music Academy.

Ariana KashefiGermany is clearly the destination of the moment. 2013 RPS Julius Isserlis Scholar Ariana Kashefi will be using her grant to fund a two year Masters course at the Hanns Eisler Music Academy in Berlin. If the experiences of fellow Julius Isserlis Scholarship winner Emily Hoile are anything to go by (read her blog post here!), or indeed the career of the scholarship’s first-ever recipient Stephen Hough; studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity to broaden one’s horizons. Ariana’s distinguished performance of Schumann’s Drei Fantasiestücke certainly suggested a promising future. With pianist Alison Rhind, she sensitively negotiated the dramatic mood changes so characteristic of Schumann’s music.

Richard Uttley (credit Benjamin Harte)Richard Uttley was joined by Rolf Hind, his mentor on the Philip Langridge Mentoring Scheme, to perform the piano duet Ma Mere L’Oye. Composed by Ravel in 1910, it is more familiar to many listeners as the orchestrated version which he completed the following year before expanding the work into a ballet. The rapport between Richard and Rolf, in addition to their outstanding technique and musicianship, bodes well for PULSE, the Royal Philharmonic Society’s new music and film commission for the PRS for Music Foundation’s New Music Biennial in 2014. The pair will be joined by two percussionists and two gamelan players to perform Dobrinka Tabakova’s score. With this and so many projects in the pipeline for all of these young musicians, the concert was a taste of great things to come.

Helen Pearce