Last August, I attended my first piano summer school, a week-long residential course at The Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford. My primary reason for attending the course was the opportunity to spend a week away from the demands of family life and have the time to focus exclusively on my upcoming ATCL Performance Diploma in December 2011.
I searched around for summer courses after reading an article in Pianist magazine in March 2011 with details of the various courses on offer. I liked the look of the Hereford course as it had some excellent tutors and offered 3 masterclasses with your tutor plus the chance for one-on-one lessons with the other tutors. I was particularly keen to attend Christine Stevenson‘s class as she is renowned for her specialism and expertise in all things Liszt and this was one of my performance pieces. As I had not previously attended the course, I did not realise that most classes would be fully booked by the end of the previous year’s course when attendees pay their deposit for the following year. For this reason, Christine’s class was already full, so I opted for a private lesson with her and joined Simon Nicholl‘s class as Simon had been brought in to run an additional tutor group as there was enough demand to sustain an extra group.
Simon studied at Royal College of Music with John Barstow and Kendall Taylor, winning many awards and prizes, and attended masterclasses with Paul Badura-Skoda in Germany. For ten years he taught the piano at the Yehudi Menuhin School, working with Louis Kentner and Vlado Perlemuter, and for twenty years was a professor at Royal College of Music, London. He now teaches piano, accompaniment and song interpretation at the Birmingham Conservatoire. We were very lucky to have John Barstow as one of the tutors. He has been teaching at Hereford for many years and decided that this year would be his last.
After a 3 hour train journey from Paddington to Hereford and a short cab ride to the college, I arrived in the residential lodgings of the Royal National College for the Blind. The main college is an impressive building, although it has been somewhat ruined by a bolted-on modern building which is fairly ugly as you can see in the photo! A bit of trivia – The RNC used to be in Shrewsbury which is where my (blind) piano tuner trained. The College is amazingly well equipped – several Mac studios for video and sound editing, music production, graphic design etc, a huge dance studio, lots of performance spaces. It is unlike any College I have ever seen! There is a whole department dedicated to Piano Tuning and Restoration.
On arrival, I found my way to my room and was sharing a room in an annexe with Jean and Marion. Jean and Marion have been attending Hereford for over 30 years. They are both piano teachers and studied at the Royal Colleges and I believe some of their children also went on to study there as well. They were so friendly and welcoming on my arrival and took me under their wing which was great as I suddenly realised as I arrived that I didn’t know a single person (I am not quite sure why this didn’t dawn on me before!).
After settling in, we all gathered in the Main Hall – a lovely Chapell equipped with two grand pianos, one being a Steinway Model B. Christine Stevenson was the first to greet me so it was lovely to find a familiar face as I had recently been in contact with her by post to buy her Liszt CD. Then Wendy Wyatt, the course organiser gave a brief introduction to all the tutors before we headed off into our group.
We were in a group of 10 students, all playing at Grade 8 and above. Two of Simon’s students from Birmingham Conservatoire had come along on the course. I include below the pieces that students performed throughout the 6 day course:
Poulenc Nocturne No.1 in C Major
Poulenc Improvisations Nos.7 & 8
Liszt Sposalizio from Années de Pèlerinage – Italie
Chopin Mazurkas Op.59, No.1 in A minor, No.2 in Ab major and No.3 in F# Minor
Chopin Nocturne in B Major Op. 32, No.1
Schubert Moments Musicaux (D280 – Op.94) Nos.1,2 and 3.
Bach Prelude and Fugue in C# Major (No. 3 from Book 2, BWV 872)
Beethoven Sonata Op.26 in Aflat Major
Liszt Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (Années de Pèlerinage, 2nd Année)
J.S Bach D major Prelude & Fugue from Book 2, No.5
Scriabin Preludes Nos.1,2,4,9 from 24 preludes Op.11
Ravel Sonatine pour le piano
Janacek In The Mist
Scarlatti Two Sonatas
All of us in the group are amateur pianists, of which four are piano teachers and two are music students.
It was fantastic to hear some new repertoire from composers I have never heard before, particularly Sarah’s pieces by Tansman and Paul Spicer. The Tansman piece below is one on my ever expanding “to learn” list!
At first, we mostly stuck to our group during dinner times, although we soon started socialising with other pianists on the course – there were nearly 100 of us! Meal time was great, the food provided in the canteen is delicious – and plenty of it. It was so nice not to have to bother cooking or washing up for a week!
Each evening, we were treated to a piano recital by each tutor which was spectacular. Highlights of the recitals included Andrew Ball‘s performance of Copland and Grieg; John Barstow’s Wagner and Chopin Nocturne were sublime. Christine Stevenson and Karl Lutchmayer’s programme of Liszt was virtuosic in the extreme – I could only dream of playing like that!
The 5th and 6th evenings were dedicated to student recitals. The first concert was an informal one, the second was a more formal concert. Playing in the concert is entirely optional. I was extremely nervous to perform but would have gladly done it all over again once it was over – I played Ginastera’s Malambo which went down well! After the formal concert, we all had a sit-down meal as a final farewell to all our fellow pianists.
I am already signed up for the course this year and am looking forward to being part of Frank Wibaut‘s group. My proposed repertoire is:
I thoroughly recommend these courses to anyone with an avid interest in the piano and meeting other pianists. It’s quite lonely being a pianist unless you perform regularly in ensembles – I certainly did not know many pianists before I attended this course and now I have already met up several times with people that I met on the course that live nearby. I was delighted when Christina asked me to page turn for her concerto in December 2011, and I went to Wigmore Hall with Marie just a few weeks after we got back from Hereford. I have also managed to secure myself a lift down to Hereford this Summer with Christina!
Another great course that I attended and met a fantastic piano friend is Penelope Roskell’s Advanced Piano Course. Frances, aforementioned piano chum, has written a detailed blog about this so I shan’t repeat the facts but do have a read. These courses are definitely worth the money and I shall certainly be returning to Hereford many times over the next few years. There is also a course at Birmingham Conservatoire that I will attend in 2014 called BIPA.
The Piano Summer School takes place in Hereford from 18th August to 24th August 2012. The tutors are James Lisney, Christine Stevenson, Frank Wibaut, Simon Nicholls, Karl Lutchmayer and Nataša Lipovšek.
The fee of £590 include class tuition and full board. There is one class for pianists from Grades 4 to 8. Partners are welcome as observers.