I can safely say i have not heard this much left hand only piano performance in two days! It was a real pleasure to create, organise and take part in this first festival. And judging from the feedback – i think many people have discovered a beautiful and vibrantly unique branch of piano creativity. Nicholas McCarthy kicked off both evenings with a great set of interview questions. I think that is only the second time i have done a live interview on stage. He is a brilliant host (and i know that radio has already taken note of this!).
Pat Thomas started off the festival, and it was great that in spite of talking about this for a good while, and admiring his playing for ages – i would also still have no real idea about how he would sound (left hand only) ! All the pianists were getting to reveal a side of their piano relationship – that wouldn’t often get much of a chance normally, and probably would not have been recorded etc. The music by Howard Skempton – through Pats interpretation - was completely fascinating. As a fan of various schools of improvisation – it makes me want to find out how other great figures would sound given this approach/limitation (i write this after at last having checked out Borah Bergmans 2nd album – Bursts Of Joy – from the vinyl where the whole B side was recorded left hand alone and is incredible). This was a big sound at times, and had a distinct compositional vision through to the final improvisation. The set list is up on the festival website (and after a detailed editing process – more audio and video will definitely be added as well). Although the music is ultimately the measure, it was great to see more than one head in the audience move – in order to visually understand how what they were hearing , was possible via the single hand.
Ivo De Greef began with my piece Realm (from 2007). This is the commission which allowed me to open my account at the bank of left hand only piano interest (!). It is a rare privilege for me to hear a piece of mine be interpreted and be performed over this length of time (if not within a band gig of mine). An honour and a great job! Wonderful presentation as well – the notes from Frank Bridge to pianist Douglas Fox (to whom the Three Improvisations are dedicated) were ideally placed, and greatly informative: ‘I doubt whether you will be attracted when you try the pieces through at first, but just work at them a little and then I fondly hope they will stand up on their own legs and smile at you.’ Some amazing glissandi work in the arresting world premiere of Liberty For The Left Hand by Andrew Poppy. Brilliant creativity in the pieces by Alejandro Schwarz – surly the worlds first left hand only pianos tango music ! Conviction, rhythm, space and drive beautifully combined here. And there was a good showing for the music of Howard Skempton, from both Ivo and Pat . The pieces were in tribute to his teacher Benjamin Britten (in the 100th anniversary year of his birth) . They ended with a wonderful crystalline miniature – In Memory of Catherine Carmack (a tribute to the cellist and teacher). The whole arc of this set given a brief understated ending. It was also great to hear that a good number of audience members would return the next night to hear the rest of the music.
Clare Hammond began with great interview. A real depth of knowledge about her repertoire, made this again as much a presentation as a performance. The Scriabin Prelude and Nocture, had many people trying to gain a clear view of the piano, in order to understand exactly how one hand could clearly produce an elegant and detailed conversation between several voices! The typical earlier career mix of romanticism and sadness – was not at all diminished during this period where he composed (after a severe right hand injury). I had heard and enjoyed the Fleischer interpretation of Robert Saxton’s Chacony – and to go straight from this to the Bach Chaconne requires intense concentration, and relaxed stamina. I had enjoyed the live sound of the Saint Saens earlier in the week at the session for BBC Radio3. Clare had selected the less chordal pieces from the series, and this provided a nice contrast with rest of this more overtly virtuosic material. A great closer came from the Dinu Lipatti Sonatine. A legendary concert pianist – who has belatedly been gaining more appreciation for his compositions. I think this is deserved and will continue – especially if left hand piano repertoire can generally be performed more frequently. There were many decades of change between these compositions, and this was a bold programme. Fantastic!
RM: Although this was a special album launch for me , i decided to also include a piece not on the album – Zeitgeiest (a tribute to the great films by Peter Joseph). I did record it, but was not happy enough with it at the time of the session. This Steinway B suited it very well for me, and i think it will continue for the rest of the tour. Also there was a first appearance for The Defiant Gene, and two improvisations – one as an encore. Some lh only music featuring more inside piano and sostenuto pedal is on the way! Never played that much lh only on one night – and i really look forward to be back on the solo tour in April (one of the most fascinating i have undertaken). It was a real pleasure!
Can i thank Clare, Pat and Ivo – for their great work, enthusiasm and commitment. Thanks to all of the folk at the Forge (Adam, Charlotte, Joanne) for their support and for putting on other mini-festivals, which have definitely inspired me towards Leftitude. Thanks to Nicholas McCarthy for the flawless presenting and interviewing (especially after the first evenings mad dash to get there after someone pulled the alarm at Kings Cross!). And thanks to Emma Perry who did a great job with the PR. And also to Keith Snell for the great blog, and attendance from him, Steve Warzycki, and Yasuyo Segawa (all fantastic pianists too!). More words, audio and video covering this event will be on the way as soon. Thanks to everyone who came through, and i hope you will spread the word on the concept, repertoire and intentions of this baby festival. Watch this space !