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Want to know what life is like as an ANAM musician?  In Between the Lines is a blog post written by one of ANAM’s first year students.

Black and White: Part 3

The Tuesday lunchtime concert also featured Malcolm Williamson’s Concerto for Wind Quintet and Two Pianos (Eight Hands). This was such a feat to get this together. Prior to the concert, we had had rehearsals where we fiddled with the position and orientation of the two pianos, where the wind quintet was going to be, whether it would work without a conductor, putting up baffles to reduce the bathroom-like quality of the hall. Although it went fairly well (you know, we started together and finished together. Each movement, that is. Quite an achievement. Give or take some weird stuff happening in the middle.) I will admit that this is one of those things that I didn’t particularly enjoy. The piece conceptually is good – you know, wind quintet, lots of piano-ing; but the execution of this concept unfortunately didn’t resonate with me as the music didn’t go many places in the first movement, the second so complex texturally that it was hard to do much with it, the third was nice though a little stagnant and at least the fourth was entertaining with all its running semiquavers. Oh well, we did get through it quite sufficiently and as I mentioned above, one has to have not so exciting projects to know what exciting projects are.

Thursday’s lunchtime concert was an all-Poulenc program featuring Pascal and Ami Rogé, Tim Young and eight of the students in works for two pianos, as well as the Poulenc sextet. This was a really fun and enjoyable concert and also rewarding to not have to work hard and just to be able to sit back and enjoy the concert. Also because I don’t understand, but enjoy, Poulenc’s music. Friday’s lunchtime concert was a great ball of fun; Stephen Emmerson and all the students performed an all-Grainger programme of works for multiple pianos and multiple hands. There were some short cute tunes and a beautiful Scottish folksong arrangement with the highlight (not as I played in it, but rather as the most substantial thing that Grainger wrote) being his arrangement of his own orchestral work, The Warrior (Music for an Imaginery Ballet), for three pianists at two pianos. This twenty or so minute work is full of exciting harmonies that shift rapidly, melodic themes, percussive effects, polytime (between all three pianists at one point!), canons – among many other exciting things. This was a fantastic piece to work on and play. In the couple of weeks leading up to it, practicing it always made me happy because it is such joyous and fun music. And there are sections of extreme dynamics – really fun to create ‘barely a wisp of sound’ to thumping it out (‘bring to the fore’ and ffff). I seriously think that in the performance we abused the pianos so much that we put them out of tune! It was great fun. We started together and ended together; again, with a few funny things in the middle, but that is the beauty of live performance: the risk factor! It was still effective, and I think the audience really enjoyed it. I know I got a real kick out of playing this massive work. What fun.

Each evening, we also watched a concert given by one of the visiting artists. These ranged widely from Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, French ‘Impressionists’, Rachmaninoff, Messiaen to a recent composition/homage to Liszt. Being immersed in this much piano and performance was very busy (each hour accounted for, including when we had time to practice and when we ate lunch and dinner!) but also really satisfying because we could engage in so much so intensely. Going to a concert each evening made us critical listeners and inspired much comment and debate afterwards and into the rest of the week. All the concerts were good in their own way; each provoked (positive and negative) responses from the students, which I think is a good thing. To play and not have any response is probably the worst reaction because it means that the music and playing didn’t move anybody to care. Probably one of the highlights for me was to hear Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time). Much has been said about this piece but I had never heard it in its entirety, either on recording or live. If you get the chance to see it live, I highly recommend that you do. Played well (as it was on the Friday night), it is incredibly moving; I doubt I can even adequately describe it in words, but in a poor attempt to do so, I felt like I needed to sit in silence for half an hour after the performance to process what had just happened. It felt like plucking molten silver out of thin air. Time stood still for many moments.

There was an Improv segment to Piano Week as well, held the weekend after the classical stuff finished. I also managed to squeeze in a vocal recital on the Saturday night at the end of the craziness that was the week. Perhaps thoughts and reflections on those two days are better left for another post of far less intensity and information. A ridiculous amount of caffeine and sugar taking the guise of an addiction (there are far worse things to be addicted to!) helped me through the one hundred hour or so week of incredible music-making, madness and merriment. I met a bunch of amazing artists – both professional and colleagues – who made the week so enjoyable. When Monday morning rolled around, I had lost a little bit of that motivation and gung-ho attitude that came with having every hour of every day accounted for in some schedule. It is back to the note-learning phase. The week was incredible. So many ideas were bounced around; I felt like I had to constantly have my critical hat on (critical not in a negative way, but in an analytical way) to really question why we make the decisions we do, why we enjoy certain things or not, and what we consider to be important in our music-making. So many ideas were sowed into young, impressionable minds and friends were made over music. That’s important.

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