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Dame Fanny Waterman "fears for the future of piano playing in Britain"

30 December 2014

World-renowned music teacher Dame Fanny Waterman fears for the future of piano playing in Britain because she says it is failing to produce performers who can compete internationally. She blames the popularity of electric keyboards and children starting to learn the piano at a later age in the UK than in other parts of the world. 

Waterman, 94, spoke to the Observer after announcing last week that she would stand down next year as chairman and artistic director of the Leeds International Piano Competition, one of the world’s most prestigious music competitions, which she co-founded in 1961. “The [future of the] piano is the cause of great worry for all us who love it,” she said. “First, lots of children are learning it from the electric piano. A waste of time, because you don’t get the speed of the key descent, you don’t get the different sounds.” Electric keyboards are “big business”, she said, likening them to playing the violin but studying the guitar – “different sound altogether”. 

Another problem was that many British children were not starting to learn the piano until aged seven or eight, which she said was too late. She pointed to the far east, where children are capable of “amazing” performances aged just four. Waterman, who has introduced millions of children to the instrument through her instruction manuals, also thinks schools should do more. 

The Leeds competition, which is held every three years, has helped launch the careers of some leading pianists – notably Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida and András Schiff, from Romania, the US, Japan and Hungary respectively. Far eastern winners have included South Korea’s Sunwook Kim. Although the competition put Leeds on the international classical music map, only two Britons have taken the top prize – Michael Roll, who won the first competition in 1963, and Ian Hobson, winner in 1981.     

Asked if there has been a deterioration in the standard of British playing, Waterman replied: “Definitely.” When she was growing up, she said, there were “so many” great British pianists, including Myra Hess and Clifford Curzon.

Oundle School diploma success

23 December 2014

Oundle pupils Calvin Koo (18) and Jeffery Hui (15) have been awarded a Dip ABRSM Diploma for double bass playing and ATCL for piano playing respectively. Considered to be the equivalent of the standard expected in the first year of an undergraduate music degree, the diplomas are a significant achievement.  

 Director of Music, Quentin Thomas commented: ‘It is a proud moment indeed when any person reaches the top of the music examination ladder and attains Grade 8 ... Attaining a professional diploma is another league entirely however, and earning the right to have a bunch of letters after your name on all documentation for the rest of your life is testimony to the accolade of salutes and applause players deserve’.

Recruiting opens for Glyndebourne Academy

22 December 2014

In January 2015, Glyndebourne opens recruitment for Glyndebourne Academy   ​a new scheme​ for singers aged 16-26 with exceptional potential, whose circumstances, economic, social or geographic, have excluded them from the traditional route towards a  singing ​career. Glyndebourne Academy has evolved as Glyndebourne’s contribution towards breaking down barriers into the profession.   

Following recommendations from the 2008 ‘Singers of Tomorrow’ conference at the National Opera Studio, Mary King, Glyndebourne Vocal Talent Consultant and Glyndebourne Academy Artistic Director, worked with Glyndebourne’s former Head of Education, Katie Tearle, to create a training course for young talented amateur singers.  The Glyndebourne Academy pilot scheme took place in 2012. It provided a select number of young singers, several of whom were entirely new to opera, with seven days of intensive instruction in operatic vocal technique and performance. Academy sessions covered vocal coaching, training in movement and drama, language coaching, work on notational literacy, discussion sessions about vocal types, career considerations, support networks and the range of skills development needed for an operatic career. 

Throughout the winter of 2012, each singer received continued support in the form of advice and resources concerning how he or she could continue their operatic development until such time as they were able to attend music college or other formal training.  The 2015 course follows on from the pilot scheme and successful applicants will enjoy a residential week, trips to the Festival and a performance opportunity of their own at Glyndebourne.  Recruitment for the 2015 Glyndebourne Academy  training course opens in January 2015.  F

or further details see the Glyndebourne Academy  website

Student composer for ENO children’s opera

19 December 2014

A PhD student at Birmingham Conservatoire has composed the score for English National Opera’s first ever show for children this December. ‘The Way Back Home’ is an opera adaptation of Oliver Jeffer’s children’s book of the same name, which follows the journey of a boy who crash lands on the moon and comes face to face with a stranded Martian.  

Joanna Lee who composed the opera’s score, has been described by the Guardian as a “considerable talent, capable of creating vivid musical images’.  Her previous compositions have been shortlisted for a British Composer Award and an Arts Foundation Opera Composition Award. Suitable for children aged between five and eight years old, The Way Back Home runs for 40 minutes and has been created by Katie Mitchell and Vicki Mortimer, the pair behind the hit stage adaptation of Dr Seuss’s ‘The Cat in the Hat’.  Joanna sees it as ‘ a wonderful project to bring contemporary opera to a young audience, something which seems vital to inspire future generations of musicians and ensure the longevity of this genre’.  

Professor Martin Fautley, Director of the Centre for Research Education at Birmingham City University, said: ‘Music education is a vital part of the education of young people. We know that the UK is a world leader in the creative economy and equipping our young people to play a part in this is vital for our future development. This venture with the English National Opera offers children an exciting opening into the world of serious music, as well as sparking their creative imaginations’.           

 More information at:

New Faces at Royal Welsh College

18 December 2014

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) report that the UK’s most virtuosic percussion duo, O Duo will be joining their teaching staff, with percussion guru Kevin Hathway as inaugural Ev-entz chair of percussion.  The percussion department at RWCMD offers performance opportunities embracing all musical styles. The course of study enables each student to work with leading professionals of international standing, creating versatile and employable future professionals. As part of the ongoing development of the College’s facilities, percussion practice space and resources have recently been enhanced with a large rehearsal suite, three purpose-built practice booths and a variety of new instruments.  

The College has excellent links with professional percussion artists both locally and internationally, with masterclasses punctuating the academic year and students receiving one to one tuition and specialist advice throughout their course from acclaimed professionals. Musicians with locally based orchestras WNO and BBC NOW provide tuition and mentoring support to students and offer unique access to rehearsals.  

Head of Percussion Kevin Price said, ‘Percussionists are the unsung heroes of the music world. Their chosen specialism means they not only need expertise in a huge array of tuned and un-tuned percussion instruments and timpani, but also the ability to access and appraise instruments according to the requirements of each score, and then to carry and set up everything well in advance of each rehearsal or performance. The ensembles at RWCMD which include percussionists is varied and diverse and includes six orchestras, two brass bands, a wind orchestra, brass ensembles and a specialist percussion ensemble  – all requiring the commitment and expertise of specialist percussion students and tutors’. 

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