As the first Manchester Guitar Festival draws ever closer, we caught up with some of the musicians performing across the weekend. This week we went behind the scenes with Daniel Martinez as he gears up for his live concert and workshop.
What music will you be playing at the concert and how have you chosen it?
I will be playing my own compositions that form part of my production ‘Art of Believing’. I composed this body of work in 2017 over a couple of months and presented it in October of that same year to a sold out audience in Edinburgh‘s Lyceum Theatre. It all happened so quickly and naturally; from the composing, to the decision to present it, to recording a live album… it just flowed, it was a really special time.
What attracted you to the flamenco guitar as an instrument?
From a very early age I was surrounded by music, my father plays the guitar and the piano (not professionally) and my uncle plays classical guitar, the lute and is a teacher at the Royal Conservatoire of Music of Cordoba where I studied for 14 years. At the age of 7 I already knew I wanted to be a flamenco guitarist as I had fallen in love with the emotion and the harmonies of flamenco guitar. My parents nurtured this love I had for music and learning to play and I truly believe I have them to thank for such a great start in what’s turned out to be a wonderful music career so far.
What do you wish more people knew about flamenco guitar?
My goal and dream is to continue to make flamenco guitar, music and culture accessible to music lovers across the UK! I still feel it’s a relatively unknown art form in this country and nothing makes me happier than showcasing my guitar and spreading awareness of this beautiful music.
What does it mean to you to perform as part of the festival at Stoller Hall?
It’s fantastic to form a part of Manchester’s first ever Guitar Festival! Really happy that I will there to see the first edition and hopefully this will be a brilliant yearly guitar event we can all look forward to!
What’s next for you?
We are embarking on our 2022 ‘Art of Believing’ tour and actually the guitar festival is our first weekend! We will be visiting many cities including Poole, Exeter, London, Bristol, Swansea, Cardiff, Norwich..to name only a few! Then in February 2023, straight after our last concert of the tour in London’s Sadlers Wells, I will be presenting my second production ‘Andalucia’ with a Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh‘s Usher Hall.
Becky first shot to notice appearing on a talent show on TV channel Sky Arts and is now an established solo musician. The inaugural Manchester Guitar Festival is celebrating all things six-stringed at The Stoller Hall – and Rochdale percussive fingerstyle guitarist Becky Langan cannot wait for her show and workshop. Becky has established a name for herself in the music scene after originally coming to public prominence appearing on Sky Arts television programme Guitar Star in 2016.
What are you most looking forward to at the first Manchester Guitar Festival?
She said: “It’s quite surreal, I didn’t expect to be in this position, playing on stage alongside these really well known musicians from around the world. I’m just going along with it.
“I can’t wait for the festival. I went to play at the venue and it’s absolutely beautiful.
“I’m excited because I haven’t been on stage much with the pandemic. This is a really nice gig and a nice way of getting back into things. It’s going to be good.”
How did you get into percussive fingerstyle guitar playing?
Becky first picked up a guitar aged 11 and for the first few years learned chords and strumming and was particularly interested in folk music and playing the blues.
However, she discovered what would turn out to be her own musical path when she came across a video online aged 14.
That was her introduction to percussive fingerstyle, which features a huge range of techniques and musical ideas including tapping the strings with the fingers, experimenting with alternative tunings, providing both melodies and rhythms and using the body of the guitar, all done by a single performer.
Becky said: “I didn’t know the style existed until I saw a video of a guitarist called Andy McKee online. At first I questioned whether he was a robot, I had never seen anything like it.
“I just started writing from there. I’m basically a self-taught musician and play by ear. I really enjoy writing and with this style of playing there’s more freedom and creativity.”
British pianist James Lisney is looking forward to his early summer concert with excitement.
We caught up with James to talk about how he and the music industry in general has fared during the past two years of the pandemic, the challenges and unexpected benefits of the enforced isolation, and the expectation of returning to live concert-giving once again.
The last two years have been extremely challenging for our industry. Have you seen any benefit from the enforced isolation of lockdowns and lack of live music?
The life of a self employed pianist has, in many cases, not been too adversely affected by the pandemic. Study, recordings, writing and online teaching have filled the gaps – but I am aware that there are many musicians who have had their careers decimated by the collapse of orchestral choral concerts in particular. Their phones and emails went ‘dead’ almost as soon as Covid was flagged up and, even when concerts started again, the full forces have not been employed on a regular basis. This economic hardship has not been specific to the young musicians, but there are scary statistics about how many musicians of all ages have either decided to retire or change profession. Apart from the lack of income, the expenses of their vocation continue: large insurance payments, membership of industry bodies, diary service subscription, instrument maintenance etc.
The matter of concert cancellations has been frustrating but it has also allowed unexpected time to rest and to study. For me this has enabled me to learn two monumental piano challenges by Beethoven: the Sonata in B flat (‘Hammerklavier’); and the ‘Diabelli’ Variations’ which I’m programming throughout the group of concerts that I am giving this spring and early summer. The lack of time pressure has allowed for deep and relaxed study – processes that have refreshed my love of music and the piano.
With time suddenly becoming a plentiful commodity, I have had time to explore Scriabin (for the first time), work at the music of Jan Vriend (always a slow process for me!), Chopin’s Études and Liszt’s Feux Follets – and I’ve even studied technical exercises that I’ve been intending to ‘get around to’ for about forty years!
The concerts I’m giving this spring and early summer are a gift to myself (programmed around my sixtieth birthday) and feature works that are the fruits of the pandemic (including Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli’ Variations and Scriabin Vers la flamme, for example); and music that I have performed for over four decades (such as Chopin’s Sonate funèbre and Ronald Stevenson’s ‘Peter Grimes Fantasy’).
Talking of Chopin, he is a composer who remains very close to your heart. What is the attraction of this repertoire, for both player and audiences?
Chopin has been central to my programmes since I was eighteen. Audiences love this music and it is a constant fascination to attempt to play it – but it is also a constant inspiration in my work as a teacher. Chopin gets to the heart of our physical relationship with the instrument – and to the beauty and meaning of the score. He exemplifies exactitude and classical values with the skills of poetic recreation and improvisation. When one considers, in addition, the premises of his teaching philosophy, it is difficult to find an area of his influence that is not essential to the study of music from almost all of the eras of keyboard music.
The Sonatas and Fantaisie [Opus 49] have been in my repertoire since my teenage years and continue to fascinate and evolve for me – each return to study revealing a more essential layer of understanding. The pandemic has been a chance to work on the Mazurkas – music as dense in implication and as demanding intellectually as late Beethoven. The trio of Mazurkas, opus 56, for example, cover a huge intellectual range and can hardly be considered as “miniatures”.
Classical music felt like a lifeline for many of us in the pandemic, keeping our spirits bright. But its potential to fuel, fortify and restore is far greater than that and has now been recognised in a new report. Music for Dementia and UK Music have joined forces to publish a new report which outlines a blueprint to use music to help improve the nation’s health and wellbeing. The report also spells out the support needed from a variety of sectors to ensure its recommendations come to fruition.
The Power of Music report sets out four key recommendations:
The appointment of the UK’s first Power of Music Commissioner to champion and coordinate all the work in this area – setting up a new Government taskforce and a Life With Music Consortium to spearhead positive change.
A major public awareness campaign to show how the power of music can change lives, improve health and bring communities together – supported by a new online information platform, development of which is being led by Universal Music UK.
Support frontline workers by providing better training on the role of music in health and care – in particular by establishing an accessible training module to help practitioners understand how best to use music as part of the care they provide in their work setting.
Extra funding to help make music accessible to all delivered by new investment partnerships between Government, industry and philanthropists.
To celebrate the launch of our new Spring/Summer Season, we are removing all booking fees for 24 hours on Friday 22 April 2022. You don’t need to do anything – just book as usual and save up to £2 on every ticket you buy before midnight!
We’re getting ready for a very special performance next week, one which brings together a classical masterpiece, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, with a live string ensemble performing Hollie Harding’s Melting, Shifting, Liquid World. We caught up with the composer to learn more…
HH: Hi, I’m Hollie Harding. I’m currently studying towards a PhD at Trinity Laban in Composition. I also teach there on a course called Listening to the 21st Century. I recently had my final piece performed at The National Maritime Museum. It was called Melting, Shifting, Liquid World.
HH: A huge part of the piece was thinking about climate change and ocean pollution. Melting, Shifting, Liquid World was an immersive, site-specific piece written for performance at The Great Map at The National Maritime Museum. I wrote it for the Head of Strings, Nic Pendlebury, to play on electric viola, and Trinity Laban String Ensemble. There was also an electro-acoustic tape part delivered to the audience over bone-conduction headphones.
TSH: What exactly are bone-conduction headphones?
HH: They’re quite different to normal headphones. They send sound via micro-vibrations through your cheekbones and straight to your inner ear. And they leave your ear canal unplugged so you can hear other sounds as well.
TSH: What is it like to put on the bone-conduction headphones?
TSH:It certainly requires you to actually engage with it properly and find the sweet spot for you.
HH: Bone-conduction technology was developed originally for the army so that soldiers could hear instructions as well as the environment and they’ve since been put into commercial use by the company AfterShokz, primarily for cyclists and for runners so you can listen to music or podcasts while you’re doing your exercise.
TSH: Why have you chosen to present the music in this way?
HH: My PhD research is looking at space and physical action as elements of musical performance and how that can influence composition. So within the piece I was playing with the idea of layers of sound around the listener. The aim of that was also so that every listener, or every audience member, had a unique experience depending on where they decided to place themselves.
TSH: Could you tell us about the costumes that the performers were wearing?
HH: I knew quite early on that I didn’t want the performers to be just wearing standard concert dress, so I got in touch with the costume department at Laban and I ended up collaborating with four costume designers. We had two research and development days where they showed me textiles that they’d made out of recycled plastic. They wove plastic bags and up-cycled plastic into netting that was donated by fishermen.
HH: I want to raise awareness of the issues, which is why I did the piece. I’m not doing it as a gimmick. It’s so complicated. As I was saying about plastic bottles for aid for refugees, how do you even begin to pick and choose between saving a person or saving the planet. I want to get people to think about this huge beast of a thing that we’ve got to deal with.
As coronavirus hit the US in March 2020, Noah Gundersen found a moss-covered cabin deep in the woods of Washington State to hole up in for 18 months. The result? A new album.
In early March of 2020, I was sitting in a friend’s apartment in Los Angeles, penning the words “I guess I just get nervous when things are going ok” with a sense of quiet dread. The sun was shining. Traffic snaked in an unending crawl. The city functioned with all the patterns of apparent normalcy. But below the surface ran a palpable undercurrent of mounting anxiety. The novel coronavirus had crossed the ocean and made landfall in my hometown of Seattle. Every day brought more sobering news of the reality of the situation. Life as we knew it was about to change.
Two weeks later, I moved off the grid as the world went dark.
There is a moss-covered cabin deep in the woods of Washington State, nestled in the foothills of Mt. Baker, just off the North Fork of the Nooksack River. It has no WiFi, minimal cell reception, a water supply fed by a nearby creek and a wood burning stove for heat. This is where I spent the last year and a half when I wrote this album.
The first couple month’s I felt like Wile E. Coyote after he’s chased the Road Runner off a cliff. Wheels still spinning as the reality of the opening abyss below slowly sinks in. I’d start drinking at noon while chain smoking on the porch, the only spot on the property with enough reception to FaceTime my friends around the country, all of us grappling with our strange new normal. I resolved to read “Ulysses” and gave up after a few pages. I took long walks. I even made sourdough. And I wrote songs. In the deepening silence, the whirlwind of the last decade finally caught up with me. All the memories, the unresolved pain, the broken relationships. The fragments of a life constantly on the run. I was faced with the harsh reality of who I was without the validation of playing music.
For the first time there was nowhere to run, no plug to pull, no option for blowing up my life when the banality of existence triggered my anxiety into a blind panic. I was finally forced to face it. And in that space came these songs. Songs about memory, love lost, and love found, overcoming self-destruction, anxiety, saying goodbye. Attempting to break deep-seated patterns of co-dependency. Chasing the dragon of love’s first high. I recorded simple demos on my phone and sent them to my producer, Andy Park, who helped craft beautiful, lush arrangements around them. And like that, back and forth over quarantine, we crafted most of the record. Later, as restrictions loosened, we brought in friends and collaborators to put their own unique stamps on all of it.
The Mithras Trio are fast growing a reputation as one of the next generation’s most exciting piano trios. Currently a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, the Trio includes Chetham’s School of Music alumni, pianist Dominic Degavino. We spoke to Dominic about making his Stoller Hall debut with the Trio and what goes on behind the scenes of their live performances.
What can audiences expect from your performance at The Stoller Hall
Firstly, hopefully a very enjoyable time of course! It’s a lovely programme of contrasts. The Mozart Trio is predominantly a very cheerful one, although with a few darker touches along the way. The Fauré, a late work which is, in our opinion, a little underplayed, full of subtly shifting harmonies and glorious melodies. Then the Helen Grime pieces in the middle. We have played them a few times now, yet always discover more in them every time we come back to them – a mark of really great music, in my opinion. They’re full of colour, and full of character. As for us, we try and have our playing be full of colour and character too!
What goes on behind the scenes when you’re getting ready for a performance?
Of course, most of the work is going on quite a long time before the performance happens, in rehearsal and in our own practice. Getting to know a piece well can take years… On the day, we need to get used to playing in the space, and then Ionel and Leo tend to want a lot of food for energy. Whereas I’m the opposite! The challenge is finding the right balance between being energetic and yet relaxed, confident and yet still focused, etc…
How did you build your career(s) as classical musicians?
The three of us met at the Guildhall School in London, in 2017. We were lucky to have excellent support from them from the get go, and then gradually started applying for auditions, competitions and the like, while playing more and more concerts.
I don’t know if there’s a secret to success in this day and age, beyond trying to be a strong group in as many different ways as possible. Whether that’s playing a broad range of repertoire well, to being easy to work with and organised. There’s some luck involved too, if you ask me. Strong friendships within the group always help, which we happily do have. And some organisations have been a huge help in particular – the Countess of Munster Trust springs to mind, as does the BBC now…
What does it mean to be (or to have been) a BBC New Generation Artist?
It’s meant a huge deal to us, especially at a time when everything in the Arts has been so uncertain. We only joined the scheme last year, but have already done a big project in Belfast, resulting in four lunchtime concert broadcasts in a week, and we had a further two broadcasts of studio recordings over Christmas. It’s given us a lot of visibility – I think it’s something that concert promoters in particular really take notice of. Plus, the chance to collaborate with other New Generation Artists past and present is a real treat too!
Why is classical and chamber music important today?
It can take us on an emotional journey unlike almost anything else, and one that transcends all sorts of barriers. It brings people joy, comfort, refuge – whether in a big concert hall or in a workshop with children with special needs. At least, that’s what’s important for me.
Favourite musician and why?
Too many to list, and it changes all the time! In recent times I’ve been listening more and more to Alfred Brendel for instance… The most incredible musicianship.
Ahead of his live debut at The Stoller Hall for BBC Radio 3 Manchester Week, we caught up with tenor Alessandro Fisher to learn more about his journey to becoming a professional musician on the world’s stage.
What can audiences expect from your performance at The Stoller Hall?
I hope this will be an interesting and fun journey through the seasons, as witnessed and then put to paper by poets and composers of lots of different nationalities. We all see nature and the seasons differently, with the inherent changes to light, temperature, flora and fauna meaning different things to different people. I wanted to explore how a poet and composer’s attitude to nature and the seasons is influenced by their lived experiences and the places they grew up in. I hope there will be some familiar sounds for the audience, maybe even some recurring themes that can be identified, but also some startling surprises along the way too!
What goes on behind the scenes when you’re getting ready for a performance?
People have often said that a performance is much like an iceberg, in that the vast majority of the work and preparation that goes into it remains largely unseen. This is especially true of a song recital, where a performer will explore a wide variety of different languages, compositional styles and indeed greatly contrasting themes. First and foremost, (and the part I find hardest!) there are the hours spent honing a programme that will (hopefully!) be entertaining and challenging, both for the artists and the audience. Once a programme has been chosen it’s then a question of slowly getting the music and lyrics “into the voice” or indeed “into the fingers” in the case of the pianist! This isn’t just a case of vocal repetition, although I’ll come to this in a moment, but also of organising coachings with language specialists and indeed genre specialists, who serve to bring a deeper layer of authenticity and understanding to a performance. Then comes the repetition… Hours and hours spent singing, speaking, even just thinking about the text, the music and their significance – all so that by the time it gets to the performance they have become ingrained in the body and the mind.
How did you build your career as a classical musician?
I was very lucky to be surrounded by music from a very young age. My mother was herself an opera singer, and has been teaching professional singers ever since I was born. I therefore grew up hearing opera and classical music as part of everyday life. There was never a part of me that thought that this might be an “unusual” career, as I had been exposed to it for so long that it felt totally normal! Just as valuable as the experience of hearing music from such a young age though, was witnessing everything that comes with a career in the performing arts – the good and, even more importantly when starting out, the bad. Being surrounded by musicians meant I heard all their stories of things that were going well and not so well, the highs and lows of auditioning, constant travel, the euphoria of the curtain call; the list could go on. It meant that when it came to starting out on my own career I felt that my eyes were open to the path I was choosing. Having been a choral scholar at university I went on to continue my studies by doing a Masters in Vocal Studies at the Guildhall School of Music. Meeting and working with people (both students and professors) who were so intensely passionate about classical music provided the perfect atmosphere to grow as a musician and a performer. It was at the GSMD that I became hugely passionate about song and the art of the song recital. The amazing coaches I was able to work and study with, as well as lots of wonderful pianists to collaborate with really fostered this passion and allowed me to explore a wonderfully wide variety of repertoire. I was then fortunate enough to sing in the choruses (and indeed go on to perform roles) at Garsington and Glyndebourne – both such incredible venues for fostering young talent and giving them opportunities to perform on world class stages at such important early stages of their careers. All of these experiences ultimately built on eachother, giving me the confidence to keep pursuing and building on my career.
What does it mean to have been a BBC New Generation Artist?
It has meant so much more than I can hope to express in a short paragraph! It has given me opportunities that I thought I could only dream of. I’ve performed in concert and recorded with four of the wonderful BBC Orchestras (with hopefully more to follow!); I’ve been able to come into the studios at Maida Vale to record song programmes with some truly amazing pianists; I’ve been able to perform recitals around the UK under the NGA banner, bringing my love of song to as many people as possible. In times of Covid, the NGA has been an invaluable lifeline, allowing me to keep working and keep recording, when I would otherwise have not been able to do so. The BBC, by inviting me into their NGA “family” have also shown me so much support and belief, both such important and often overlooked aspects of a performer’s life. I feel so immensely lucky to have been accepted onto the scheme.
Why is classical and chamber music important today?
In broader terms I feel that classical and chamber music have always been important to a modern audience. The themes that are dealt with, as well as the emotions and reactions they elicit from an audience are just as relevant today as they were when they were first composed. Moreover, the pandemic has helped show the world just how important a healthy and productive music industry is. When we were confined to our houses we often turned to music for comfort, inspiration, and, of course, escapism. This will continue to be the case even after the world fully reopens, and indeed I think we will all feel an even deeper appreciation of the joy that only classical music can bring!
Favourite musician and why?
This is a particularly difficult question, as there are so many aspects of performance that can lead to someone being considered a “favourite”. In terms of the sheer joy and enjoyment that I feel though when listening to a piece of music, I think the prize has to go to the German tenor Fritz Wunderlich. Whenever I listen to a recording to his I can’t fail to smile, forget everything else and just sit back and relax – what more can someone ask of a performer?!
You can book tickets here for Alessandro Fisher and Kunal Lahiry on Wednesday 26 January
BBC Radio 3’s Manchester Week celebrates music-making in Manchester, with performances by BBC Philharmonic, the Hallé and Sir Mark Elder, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Chloë Hanslip, and Manchester Collective amongst others
Nine live and pre-recorded performances as part of BBC Radio 3 in Concert & BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert
Monday 24 to Friday 28 January 2022
Following the cancellation of the January 2021 Manchester Week due to COVID-19, BBC Radio 3 announces new plans for a week of live and pre-recorded concerts from the English city, featuring performances from some of Manchester’s best-known concert halls and venues: Bridgewater Hall, The Stoller Hall at Chetham’s School of Music, Salford’s The White Hotel and Media City, home of the BBC Philharmonic.
Highlighting BBC Radio 3’s continued commitment to connecting listeners and performers with broadcasts of music-making as it happens all over the UK, the Manchester Week celebrates the city’s ensembles, musicians, and composers, with appearances by established and up-and-coming artists, presenting well-known as well as experimental repertoire, including music based around the theme of sound and nature.
A series of five Radio 3 in Concert programmes showcase the wide variety of the city’s performing groups in all sizes and combinations, alongside four Lunchtime Concerts live from The Stoller Hall, based alongside Chetham’s School of Music. Introduced by Elizabeth Alker, these recitals feature the emerging talents of some of the current and former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists: pianist Pavel Kolesnikov; tenor Alessandro Fisher and pianist Kunal Lahiry; the Consone Quartet; and the Mithras Trio.
The week kicks off on Monday 24 January with a special pre-recorded edition of BBC Radio 3 in Concert, presented by Tom McKinney. Manchester Camerata, who are celebrating their 50th birthday this year, present an all-Mozart programme as recorded at The Stoller Hall, including Piano Concerto No 9 in E-flat major K. 271 “Jeunehomme” directed by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major K. 364 with soloists Alexander Sitkovetsky and Timothy Ridout.
Other BBC Radio 3 in Concert episodes as part of the Week feature:
trailblazing home-grown experimental music group Manchester Collective as captured at a performance in December at Salford’s The White Hotel, presenting music by Bryce Dessner, Dobrinka Tabakova, Michael Gordon, and world premieres by Ben Nobuto and Sebastian Gainsborough;
soloist Chloë Hanslip and the Northern Chamber Orchestra in music for string orchestra and percussion by Grieg, Finzi, Elgar, and Shostakovich, as recorded at The Stoller Hall;
Salford-resident BBC Philharmonic live from Media City with conductor Ben Gernon and Chetham’s School of Music’s alumnus cellist Guy Johnston, presenting the Cello Concerto by Manchester-born William Walton;
Music Director Sir Mark Elder and theHallé Orchestra in a pre-recorded performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 at Bridgewater Hall with soloist Alice Coote.
Alan Davey, BBC Radio 3 Controller, says: “Here at BBC Radio 3 we are passionate about reflecting the amazing musical life of this country and bringing it to audiences the world over. This mission matters even more in the current climate, with the ongoing global pandemic and ensuing uncertainties affecting audiences’ opportunities to enjoy the live music they crave, and for musicians to be able to play, connect and make a difference. With the Manchester Week, we take a moment to celebrate inspiring talent in inspiring venues, and to put the spotlight on one of the UK and the world’s most creative and culturally vibrant cities. ”
Fran Healey, General Manager of The Stoller Hall, says: “Manchester’s music scene is legendary, but with so many emerging artists and with incredible venues to host them, classical music in Manchester has never been more vibrant. Here at The Stoller Hall we couldn’t be more excited to welcome BBC Radio 3 into our very special concert hall, sharing the city’s music with the nation and the world.”