Monday, September 16, 2013

Guest post: Frances Wilson introduces the South London Concert Series

A little way round the South Circular from my neck of the woods, pianist, teacher and blogger Frances Wilson - whose blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist has become a must-read for the keyboard-inclined - has been busy organising a brand-new series of very social concerts involving both professional and amateur pianists. Here she is to introduce it. JD

Music for Friends: the South London Concert Series
By Frances Wilson

The South London Concert Series is a unique new concert concept, created and curated by myself and fellow pianist, harpsichordist and piano teacher Lorraine Liyanage, in which we offer professional and amateur pianists the opportunity to perform in the same formal concert setting.

The series developed out of the London Piano Meetup Group, which we took over hosting in May 2013. The group, run via Meetup, a social networking platform which allows people with shared interests to plan events and get together, had been rather dormant up to this point, but it has now been transformed into a lively and friendly “club” for amateur pianists, with monthly performance platforms, masterclasses and workshops with visiting teachers and professional pianists, concerts and courses, and social events in and around London.

Lorraine and I met in September 2011 on a weekend course hosted by my teacher, Penelope Roskell. We hit it off almost immediately, not least because we were both working for diplomas and had the same two pieces by Liszt and Messiaen in our programmes. Talking during the coffee and lunch breaks on the course, we discovered a mutual love of all things piano, in particular a desire to support and inspire amateur pianists to perform, share repertoire and meet other like-minded people.

‘We both enjoy performing and we love meeting other pianists!’ says Lorraine, who is very active in her local community in south-east London, running the busy and successful SE22 Piano School and Dulwich Music Festival (now entering its third year). ‘We set up the London Piano Meetup Group because we felt amateur pianists lack opportunities to perform, particularly on a really fine piano and before an audience.’

In many ways, I have Lorraine to thank for encouraging me to start performing regularly again (something I had not done since school in the 1980s), and the opportunities she gave me – at her student concerts, and via the London Piano Salon (the precursor to the London Piano Meetup Group) – undoubtedly helped me gain confidence and an ability to communicate with an audience which led to success in both of my performance Diplomas. I understand the value of being able to put repertoire before a non-critical audience, whether in advance of an exam, festival or concert, or simply to share music.

I come across many amateur pianists who are extremely talented, who play at what can be considered a “professional” standard in terms of repertoire, technique and artistic flare, but who have chosen a career path other than music. Many of these pianists lack performance opportunities: our Meetup group provides regular performance experience in a central London location, enabling pianists of all levels to put repertoire before an informal and friendly audience in a supportive and encouraging environment (most events are held at Peregrine’s Pianos). Our events are nearly always sold out almost as soon as they are advertised, and the feedback afterwards is incredibly positive. We enjoy a varied range of repertoire, from Baroque to contemporary classical and jazz, and we often extend the meeting into the pub afterwards, where the “piano chat” can continue over a glass or two of wine.

The South London Concert Series is our latest initiative. The idea grew out of the London Piano Meetup Group's launch event in May 2013, at which Emmanuel Vass, a prize-winning recent graduate from the Royal Northern College of Music, gave a short recital, including his stunning Lisztian ‘James Bond Concert Étude’ (his own “mash up” of three iconic themes from the James Bond films, complete with sparkling cadenzas and vertiginous virtuoso passages). It was so popular with members, especially the opportunity to meet and talk to Emmanuel afterwards, that we decided to extend the format. 

Keen to support young and emerging musicians, and pianists focusing on lesser-known and rarely-played repertoire, we hope the series will provide a unique way of presenting classical and contemporary music in an intimate venue. My many conversations with professional pianists reveal, by and large, a great willingness to support and inspire amateurs, for we are all quite humble when we sit at the keyboard. Lorraine and I hope that by bringing together professional and amateur pianists in the same concert setting we can provide opportunities for young musicians (students in conservatoire or people who are just embarking on a professional career) while also offering inspiration and encouragement to amateur pianists.

The concert format is quite simple: an hour of music, including a recital by a guest artist of around 30 minutes, followed by socialising and a chance for everyone to meet the performers. The venue, the beautiful 1901 Arts Club near Waterloo Station, is ideal for this: it recreates a nineteenth-century salon in its décor and ambiance, and boasts a fine Steinway C grand piano. We hope the atmosphere will be very much one of “music for friends and amongst friends”.

The South London Concert Series launches on Friday 29th November 2013 at the 1901 Arts Club with a recital by Helen Burford, featuring works by Satoh, Magi, Butler and Rakowski, and guest performances by Susan Pickerill, Daniel Roberts, Emma Heseltine and Mark Zarb-Adami. Future concerts will include performances by pianists Emmanuel Vass and Angelo Villani.

Tickets cost £15 and are by application only: please contact to apply for tickets. The 1901 Arts Club's exclusive bar and lounge will be open for the enjoyment of ticketholders after the concert.

South London Concert Series

Twitter: @SLConcerts

London Piano Meetup Group

Twitter: @LonPianoMeetup

Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. Twitter @CrossEyedPiano