'As always, it was sheer pleasure to observe Robin Hill's remarkable fluent technique: everything looks easy when he plays it.' Colin Cooper- Classical Guitar Magazine ----- 'Wonderful for their (Hill & Wiltschinsky) precision, touch and clarity of sound... refined virtuosity, the achievement of a long interpretive process.' Il Giornale D'Italia (Rome) ----- 'I loved your CD and thought your technique and performance were fabulous...' Rick Wakeman

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Beatles, Sgt Pepper -Segovia -The Zimmers - Rosslyn Chapel

The Beatles were one of the factors that decided Robin's fate in life, (Bach, 'Chaconne' was another, but I'll save that one for now.)

The Beatles themselves recognised the importance of classical music and George Harrison once said that, "Segovia is the Daddy of us all."
On hearing this, Segovia's response was, "These pop stars might be nice boys, but what they are doing is obscene and a disease."
Sorry Segovia, I just have to disagree with you, on that one. Maybe he just wasn't quite ready for The Beatles.

Celebrations are underway to acknowledge that 40 years have elapsed since the recording and release of 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'.
This incredible album, which sounds as fresh as the day it was released, is being re-recorded by various artists, Bryan Adams, Razorlight, Kaiser Chiefs, to name a few.
Read Robert Sandall's report, 'It was 40 years ago today', for the full story.
Whilst I can't imagine anyone bettering The Beatles own performance, I'll be watching BBC2 on Saturday at 10.45pm, to see what's going on.

Meanwhile, 'The Zimmers', continue to take the world by storm.
They have now had a complete makeover. Read,'From Gran to Glam - Zimmer's new look is a huge hit' , by Hilary Alexander.

Also, you can watch this short video clip, 'Rosslyn chapel: making the stonework sing', to see just how the code was cracked.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

YouTube video - Robin Hill

Today I have decided to post Robin's YouTube video on the site. It gives me the opportunity to explain a little about each of the pieces, or rather extracts, that you hear, and for those interested in watching a guitarist at work, you can see what Robin is doing!
As the opening credits role, you can hear, 'Eternal Dance', this is the first movement of 'Concerto Latino' for guitar and orchestra. It features a driving 5/8 rhythm with some occasional 7/8. It begins with solo guitar and light timpani roll before the orchestra then state the theme. This piece was originally composed for Robin's quartet, 'Eklectica', but he then expanded it onto an orchestral canvas.

The first piece that you can watch as well as listen to, is 'Return to Islay'. This piece was inspired during a visit to this remote Hebridean island during a tour with Hill/Wiltschinsky.
Although Robin had never visited the island before he felt the place was strangely familiar, hence the title, 'Return to Islay'.

'Dolor de Muelas' has a freewheeling samba groove and contains much improvisation. As for the title, well, translated it means toothache...The piece was composed and recorded during a very violent bout of toothache. I wish I was so productive when I didn't feel well...

'Canarios' by Gasper Sanz dates from the mid 1600s and was originally for baroque guitar. As the title suggests this lively jig hails from the Canary Islands and many will know this theme from the last movement of Joaquin Rodrigo's, 'Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre' - composed for Andres Segovia in 1953.

With the closing credits you can hear, 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba', which comes from the oratario, 'Solomon' by George Frideric Handel. It is eminently suited to performance on the guitar with it's rapid scales and arpeggios, the original dialogue between two oboes being replaced by guitar and recorder.

Over on YouTube many of the comments have been about Robin's technique, so here's an opportunity to observe him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Happy Birthday to Isaac Albeniz

Today would have been Isaac Albeniz's birthday, he was born on the 29th May 1860.
Albeniz, the Spanish composer and pianist, is one of the most important figures in Spain's musical history.
He was a child prodigy who at the age of four, so amazed the audience with his performance, that they suspected trickery. Famously as a young child, he stowed away on a ship to South America where he entertained audiences by playing with his back to the piano and other amazing antics.
Albeniz performed for most of his life, and, continued composing until his death on the 18th May 1909.
Albeniz composed, 'Suite Espanola', of which the fifth movement is possibly one of the most famous classical guitar pieces, 'Asturias'.
Although originally composed for piano it was later transcibed for guitar by Francisco Tarrega, along with many other pieces by Albeniz.
In fact Albeniz once declared that he preferred Tarrega's transcription of Asturias to his own original piano version.
Asturias can be heard on Robin's, 'Virtuoso' album.

If you go over to Jessica Duchen's blog you will see that it is also Korngold's birthday!

Update on previous blogs:
The other day I mentioned an article by Ben Quinn on an elderly pop group called, 'The Zimmers'. Their version of 'My Generation', by The Who, has been viewed by more than two million people on YouTube. Read, 'Pensioners pop on course for number one', for the full story.
Well done to The Zimmers, and also to Tim Samuels of the BBC, for putting the group together, and highlighting the needs of the elderly - or not!
There's also a further twist to the tale about the 'code cracking' antics of Thomas and Stuart Mitchell. I first mentioned them on the 1st of May, and it appears that Stuart Mitchell has been contacted by a Mexican astronomer who claims the same hexagonal shape can be seen on Saturn.
Apparently, in musical terms, this shape represents a B natural, suggesting more code cracking is needed.
I'm not making it up, read Ausian Cramb's article, 'The Da Vinci chapel echoes to the sound of Saturn', for the full story.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Domenico Scarlatti and the Honky Tonk Piano....

As we have been talking about 'incidents' in the recording studio, I remembered another one, that happened a few years earlier.
Again, it was Hill/Wiltschinsky, and they were recording an album in Yorkshire. 'Music of Europe'.
On this particular day, their attention was solely on Scarlatti's sonata K141.
This is a highly intricate toccata like movement which places severe demands on the players - especially at the tempo that Hill/Wiltschinsky perform it.
The duo pride themselves on their recordings being pretty much what you will hear in concert. No editing was done in this recording, the moment is simply captured again and again, until they are satisfied.
Due to the complexity of the piece the duo spent an entire day recording and re-recording this one piece.
As day turned into evening they tried one more time to capture the sound they wanted.
As the final note disappeared into the air they knew they had achieved their objective.
Both Robin and Peter have an uncanny telepathic understanding when it comes to music.
The relief, and release of tension was incredible, and Robin leapt up, ran to the other side of the studio, and thrashed out some honky tonk, on an idle piano.
"That was great", said the sound engineer, "You'll be pleased to hear I recorded it".
"I hope you didn't do it over the Scarlatti", replied Robin, joking.
Errr, whoops, he had......
What do they do? Shout, scream, jump up and down.
The duo pick their guitars up and start all over again.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Recording For Teldec With Sutured Finger....

After reading, 'Painful gig story from Don Mincher', over on, 'Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog', and leaving a comment, I feel I should tell the whole story here.

Some years ago, the Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo were asked by Teldec to record two new albums, 'Les Deux Amis' and 'The Sound of Strings', with a five week break between each album.
This is, of course, an honour, from such a well respected label.
The duo obviously spent many weeks in preparation for their trip to Berlin.
One week prior to departure, Robin, who is so careful with his hands, cut the index finger of his left hand, opening a tin can.
This required a visit to the local Accident and Emergency department, where a very anxious doctor, was given the job of suturing a musician's finger....

There was no way Robin would cancel the recording.
He continued his rehearsal as well as he could, and a few days later, set off for Berlin.
The duo quickly got into the recording, and Robin was able to transcend the pain and focus on some rather demanding music. The sound engineer found the blood and sweat (but no tears) rather difficult to deal with, but he just had to focus on the mixing desk.

The music ranged from 'Suite Italiana', composed for the duo by Mario Gangi, Fernando Sor, Pierre Petit, J.S.Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn, Scarlatti, Rossini, Faure, Falla, Tarrega and many more, plus their own compositions.

For Robin, the main problem was barring, as the left index finger is under a lot of pressure, but he managed it.

The duo were so delighted when the last piece was finally recorded that they celebrated by walking into Berlin. They didn't appear to notice that it was a 12 mile hike, each way, until they got up next morning to discover the blisters - on their feet...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

From Microphones to Britain's Leading Concert Pianist - Stephen Hough

It's a very exciting time here, as Robin has been testing out microphones, and, so far, one in particular, seems to be capturing the beautiful sound his Miguel Rodriguez guitar makes. For the first stage of testing, this is very encouraging, as the guitar is a notoriously difficult instrument to record.
The down side is that Robin remains elusive as to the cost. From experience, this tells me, that I should go and lie down in a darkened room, with a cold compress on my forehead, for at least an hour, before I ask him again.

Meanwhile in the wider world, the virtuoso pianist Stephen Hough, has been barred from performing a concert in Vietnam, 'for his own safety'.
It's such a shame when politics/religion/sexuality or whatever, get in the way of people being able to enjoy music.
But also a reminder to us all, that we should be careful what we say, as we never know when it may come back to haunt us.
For the full report, by Ben Quinn, click here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

World Premiere - 'Wheatfield under Troubled Skies' - Robin Hill

So, here it is.
We finally managed to sort out our technical difficulties, and you are now able to listen to the world premiere of, 'Wheatfield under Troubled Skies'.
But first, let me set the scene.
This piece was composed about three years ago and it may surprise you to find that there isn't actually a guitar within earshot!
It is from a work for piano and orchestra - 'Three Van Gogh Portraits'.
The first movement, (The Journey South) depicts Vincent's train journey from Paris to Arles, and the third, (Yellow House) describes the frenzied creativity and energy of the artist's studio. The second movement, which can be listened to today is 'Wheatfield under Troubled Skies'.

Robin has always had a fascination for Vincent Van Gogh. The title, 'Wheatfield under Troubled Skies', is taken from one of Van Gogh's most dramatic works painted during his final creative period in Auvers.
The painting depicts a wheatfield, literally under a dark, oppressive, and threatening sky. There is an uneasy, brooding feel about the whole image, which reflects his sombre and desperate mood. The sun tries to break through occasionally but is doomed to failure.

With that in mind, we approach the music.
The opening theme is sparse and bare, stated on solo piano, and reflecting a scene of great beauty but all here is not well.....

As the movement progresses it has a rural, pastoral feel, with each appearance of the piano, getting ever more complex and involved, yet retaining the dark mood and reflecting the inner struggle in Van Gogh's mind.
The movement culminates with a rumour of thunder represented by a distant glissandi on the timpani.

The score itself was composed using Sibelius software and, on this recording, is played through a Roland 1080 sound module.
This is, of course, a pale substitute for a real orchestra, but gives a rough impression of the how the work sounds. We hope to record this piece for real in the very near future.. all we need is an orchestra and pianist...anybody out there?....

Listen, and I hope you enjoy. (Click on play and wait a few seconds for the piece to start)

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Guitarists and their nails....

The long trek down to the south of England didn't manage to resolve any nail issues.
Whilst the treatment did work, the sound wasn't quite right, and Robin is a very discerning customer!

I think that after years of trial and error he has devised a technique that serves him well, but, it's always good to try out something new.

He did, however, come home with a handy little device for soaking off glue.
It's a small pot with a rubber top, which you fill with polish remover, then immerse your finger nail into the sealed unit, until the glue dissolves.

Whilst this may sound trivial to you, for me, it's a huge advance. Our varnished wooden floors don't take kindly to spilt nail varnish remover....

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Guitarist nails to Elgar

You'll have to wait a little longer for the music as Robin is out of town and has his computer with him.
He has actually travelled the length of the country to visit a nail specialist, who spends her time sorting out guitarists nails, from all around the world.
This is an ongoing problem, that I suspect, all guitarists face. In fact, during a recent exchange of comments with Kenneth Woods, over on 'View from the podium', he pointed out, that he could have never been a classical guitarist for just this reason.
At least it's nice to know that others appreciate the problem.
Lets hope some solutions are found today. Ironically, Robin's nails were in pretty good shape, when he set off yesterday. However, he had to make the appointment when he was home long enough to attend!

Meanwhile, here, and at The Daily Telegraph, Elgar appreciation continues. A report by Simon Heffer discusses the 'meaning of Englishness', and as one critic once commented, 'Elgar wrote the soundtrack of the Empire', so it seems a good place to start.
It's so nice to find people that are able to admire and enjoy home grown talent, not a skill we are known for in the UK.
Heffer ends his article on Elgar, "He is a true landmark of our culture, a life-enhancer, but also, as all great men must be, a towering example."
Here, here.
Read it for yourself, 'Listen to Elgar and learn the meaning of greatness'.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From Concerto Premiere Coming Soon to The Zimmers: My Generation

I'm in the process of trying to bring you a world premiere, right here, on this site.
However, we have encountered a few technical difficulties, which we hope to overcome in the next few days.
Just to keep you all interested, it is a concerto that Robin composed about three years ago, and you will be able to listen to the second movement.
It's always a big decision to 'go public' with a piece, and one that isn't taken lightly. That may surprise a few people, but, musicians are actually very protective of their music!
So, I'll keep sorting out the problems, and you keep checking in.

I couldn't let this article in 'The Daily Telegraph' go without a mention. Especially as Robin composed a poem about 'The Who' only a few days ago.
Nigel Reynolds report, 'The Zimmers: Glad we didn't die before we got old', is rather amusing. A group of 40 senior citizens, with a combined age of more than 3000 years, have recorded a cover version of The Who's, 'My Generation'.
Check out the link, you can even hear it!

Monday, May 21, 2007

'The Top 52 Classical Music Blogs'

All weekend the blogosphere has been buzzing with the latest results from Scott Spiegelberg's, 'The Top 52 Classical Music Blogs'.
The comments have been flying in and out of various sites and it has taken quite some determination to keep up!
Apparently, once a year Scott gathers information from Technorati, and the top 50, or 52 this year, are ranked.
I was delighted to see many, but not all, my favourites, have made it onto the list, and found it encouraging that I'd discovered some of the 'best around', when I first started up.
There are also many other blogs listed that I haven't been aware of, and will take great delight in looking into.
This has come at a good time, as I will be organising my links section shortly, to be a little more user friendly.
I have added Scott's blog, 'Musical Perceptions', so you can refer back to it in the future, and discover some real gems.
After all, he deserves a few extra visits, after all his hard work!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Who Are You?

As requested, I did tape, 'The Seven Ages of Rock', on BBC2 last night, and when Robin got home, we settled down to watch.
It was great, full of fantastic vintage Hendrix footage, with comments from various musicians, journalists, biographers and the late Chas Chandler, Jimi's manager and former member of the Animals.
There were also some great clips of Cream, the Who, the Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beatles and many more.

By the time we had finished watching it was gone 1 am, so, Robin was banned from getting out his Stratocaster and blasting out 'Purple Haze', for fear of waking children and neighbours.
However, his sub-conscious must have been dwelling on all this as he slept, because this is a poem he wrote on waking this morning:


Messrs. Entwistle, Daltrey, Townsend and Moon,

Turn down a side street - the time is mid-June,

The 16 year old with huge head of hair,

Is calming himself with a pint of foam beer,

His heroes have finally come into town,

In a Ford Transit van of mighty renown,

In less than an hour they will be live on the stage,

At the end of their set they give vent to their rage,

Drum kits will fly, guitars they will splinter,

Is this in fact an artistic winter?

Not in the least - these guys are on top,

They're zeitgeist, their muse is unlikely to stop,

There's no substitute for my generation,

No wonder we hold them in great veneration.


* When Robin was 16 the Who performed at what was then the Casino Club (it's currently a Quick Save supermarket....) on Crompton Way in Bolton. He still occasionally drives past the side street they would have taken to get to the stage door, and always looks, and remembers, their concert.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mutual Appreciation - Jimi Hendix and Force 10

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." Oscar Wilde

There's some mutual appreciation going on between me, here, and 'Guitarist Widow', over the the US.
Read 'Traits of a Guitar Widow' to see what I mean.

I must say, I was very touched, and also delighted, to find that there is someone else in the world, that truly understands what it takes to be 'behind the scenes', of a musician.
Some of the observations made are so accurate, it's almost as if they have been following me around for the last 15 years!
Yes, you do have to recognise the love and passion that your 'man' has for his music.
Yes, the guitar is another member of the family, and probably the most demanding one.
Yes, you do have to give over your home to guitars, music and associated paraphernalia. (Do you remember an entry I made about finding music stored in a disused fridge...)
Yes, you do travel with them as much as you can.
For many years I got to see some fantastic countries and places all over the world. It isn't as easy these days with young children, but, I'm always there on the end of a 'phone, or computer in the really far flung places.
And, yes, you do wonder what goes on when you're not able to be there. However, I got over that a long time ago. Luckily, Robin does appreciate that the true 'guitar widow' is an extremely rare breed.

All that said, it is a very nice feeling to know that somewhere out there, are others that understand the sacrifices that are made, to enable this exciting, fascinating, unusual, musical journey that we are taking.

Whilst on the subject of the back up I provide for Robin, I'm under strict instructions to tape a programme for him this evening.
Neil McCormick explains in this article, 'Turn on, tune in - but who's dropped out?

So, I'd better prepare for a late night, as once Robin has returned, and we have watched this programme, I feel sure that he will be getting out his Fender Stratocaster, and playing along with Jimi Hendrix.
To hear some examples of Robin playing electric guitar you can revisit this post, 'Force Ten to be Reckoned With...'.

Friday, May 18, 2007

From 'Tango en skai' to the 'Enigma Variations'.

I can now reveal to you one of the pieces that Robin started working on yesterday.
It's 'Tango en skai', composed by Roland Dyens in 1978, and published in 1985.
Coincidentally, a comment was left on our YouTube site, by someone calling themselves, 'EnSkai', from Singapore, only yesterday.
I know that Robin has made huge progress with the piece, as he is now playing it right the way through, and, in fact, is doing so from memory.
This I can prove, as I have the music in front of me, in order to read the composer's notes, and Robin, continues to play in the music room.

The piece is a Tango, and as Dyens states, "The tango is a sensual, even erotic dance of the underworld, whose rhythm, by definition, must be constant from the opening harmonic to the final chord".

One criticism Dyen's has of the many performances and recordings that he has heard, is that they are, "dominated by an extremely classical, 'bow tie and tails' approach, accompanied by streams of misplaced rubatos and, all too often, strategically positioned rallentandos".

He helpfully suggests that, "instead of the elegant, manicured approach, it would be more appropriate to lose one's soul in the rough criminal suburbs of Buenos Aires".
Dyens also, generously states, that if some extra, unwritten notes should stray uninvited into this tango, that he would welcome them with open arms.

With all this in mind, Robin picked up his guitar, and set to work.
This type of piece is an excellent example of the benefits of not coming solely from a classical background.
Having played electric guitar for many years, with some incredible bands, and as a well respected session musician, Robin has the advantage of being a very 'loose', and relaxed player.
It's certainly helping him here, especially as it isn't an easy piece to play.
I think it may even find its way onto the next CD if we ever resolve the microphone issue.

For the last in the series of 'Elgar week', Geoffrey Norris examines the mystery of the 'Enigma Variations', with this fascinating article, 'Puzzle or publicity stunt?'
It makes you want to don your deerstalker and try to unravel the mystery...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

From Learning New Pieces to Julian Lloyd Webber and Elgar

As Robin is home for a few weeks, it is a chance to try out new pieces and revisit old ones, to keep up with the eternally evolving programme.
Robin was waiting patiently for the postman to deliver a package containing two pieces he wanted to look at.
Mid morning they arrived and he has shut himself away in the music room.
At this stage it's hard to identify exactly what they are.
There's a reason for this. Read this quote:

'I always practice the technically difficult passages first - separately and slowly - so that I learn to control and phrase them. One must resist the temptation to try out the right tempo until one has perfect control at the slower tempo. I never play such passages mechanically with the intention of adding the phrasing later. A technically difficult passage needs to be played more slowly until you learn to control it - but with the right musical expression. To separate the technical from the expressive side in music is like separating the body from the soul.'

Daniel Barenboim

Robin used this quote in his book, 'The Guitar Gymnasium', when discussing his approach to new pieces, and his own interpretation is:

'We are all impatient to play the piece up to tempo, or beyond, but, unless the firm technical and musical foundation has been laid, we will not gain mastery over the music.'

Robin Hill

So, for now, I'll have to listen to a phrase endlessly repeated, until I can identify the piece. I'll keep you posted...

Meanwhile in the newspaper, two interesting articles.
The first, by Ivan Hewett, 'Time for a ceasefire in the classical 'class' war', which has some great points, and, for Elgar week, Julian Lloyd Webber explains how Elgar's Cello Concerto had an inspirational role in his career.
Happy reading.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Early Morning Music and Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'.

I was alerted to the fact that jet lag hasn't quite resolved itself, when I was woken at 5.30 this morning by the distant sound of music.
As I slowly 'came to', I realised it wasn't a dream, and that half of the bed was empty.
Drifting up from the music room was a beautifully performed version of 'Passage to New York', freshly composed on Robin's last visit there, only a few weeks ago.
It's a good job it is such a nice piece, otherwise, I may not have been quite so understanding. Especially as a sleepy son number one, appeared by my bed, and decided he may as well keep me company. Son number two sleeps through anything.
We did both get back to sleep, and Robin was still playing his guitar when I was awoken again at 7am, by the much more distressing sound of the alarm clock.

Continuing 'Elgar week' in The Daily Telegraph, there's a lovely article in which the mezzo-soprano Dame Janet Baker recalls singing the role of the Angel in Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius'.
Again, this is an edited extract from, 'Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait', published by Continuum on May 28th.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From the Missing Mobile to J.S.Bach to Elgar

OK, so it didn't go quite as planned.
Earlier in the day the car wouldn't start. The AA got it going but suggested we drive it straight to the garage. Coincidentally it was booked in today anyway.
Next problem, Robin is about 10 miles from home, but after 26,120 miles in the last three weeks, surely, this shouldn't be a problem.
Taxi home.
An hour later we get a call from an agent, he's been 'phoning Robin's mobile and all he can get is an Asian taxi driver, with a stammer, asking us to call our own mobile so he can return it.
We do.
The taxi drives back and delivers the 'phone, whilst removing some familiar sunglasses and saying, 'I think these are yours too...'
By now we'd given up on the idea of going out, and had paid the equivalent of a meal, to drive a lonely mobile around the north of England.

Meanwhile, son number one declares, 'It's less stressful going into school for my summer exams this week than it is living in this house'.
I think we've done him a favour there.
So, no car = no shopping = no food.
I'll just have to make some of my famous fava soup. Judging by the e mails I got last time I mentioned this dish, I should point out that 'fava', is in fact broad bean.

All was not lost though.
We discovered the 'Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin', if you like J.S.Bach, then you have to listen to them.
Such energy and vitality, just as you imagine it should sound.
A real treat and well worth missing out on a meal.

The next edited extract from, 'Elgar: An Anniversary Portrait', is by David Cannadine, and titled, 'Canny tycoon or tortured genius?'. Follow the link to read more about Elgar the man.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Happy Birthday Robin!

Yes, today is Robin's birthday.
However, he couldn't take the day off, as he had to go over to Leeds University, where his students are about to sit their exams. He needed to fit some lessons in after all his travels.
No need to worry though. A babysitter is in place so that we can go and have a celebratory meal this evening. Which will in fact also be a belated birthday meal for me.
It should be fun when we get home, as Robin has had a case of wine, and, the board game, 'Scrabble'. That should make for some interesting words...
That is supposing that he manages to stay awake. Jet lag is still playing havoc. He should be fine whilst teaching his guitar students, but I'm not too hopeful when it comes to this evening.

As Elgar had such a difficult time recently in the world of blogs, I'm delighted that 'The Daily Telegraph' are celebrating 'Elgar week', starting with an 'exploration of the composer's Englishness'.
This is an edited extract from a book by Nicholas Kenyon, 'An Anniversary Portrait', which is out on May 28th.
It's well worth reading.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hill is Home and Shakespeare Quotes

Robin is now home and in remarkably good spirits.
Just for the record, he ended up being away for 3 weeks and 13 1/2 hours, due to a delay from Heathrow.
So near yet so far.
This had the result of cranking up the tension even further in two small, excited, children, so by the time Robin finally emerged from the depths of Manchester Airport, the grand reunion brought a tear to even the most hardened of passing business men.

Robin was up with the lark and straight back into the swing of things.
There's guitar practice to be done, and the microphones that arrived whilst he was away, need to be tried out.

It's fantastic to have the 'sounds of music' drifting through the house once more.
Or, as Shakespeare put it:

"How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music creep in our ears."

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
The Merchant of Venice.

I have noticed though, that Robin has taken to practicing in the studio, rather than the music room.
This is on the 3rd floor of the house and therefore quite removed from day to day family life.
I wonder if he has got a little too used to his own company after three weeks...
We'll soon knock that out of him.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

And Now For the Science Bit....

So, Robin is still in the air, en route from Singapore. By the time he gets home tonight, he will have been away for 3 weeks and 12 1/2 hours. He will have been to six different countries, three times in the UK, and twice to Singapore. Ten different cities and travelled a total of 26,120 miles of which 5,954 were nautical.
He has been to Europe, The Americas and Asia.
Ohh, and whilst doing all this has performed five concerts.
I lost track of the time changes weeks ago.
As it can take 72 hours to adjust to a new time zone, Robin's serotonin levels, must be all over the place.
The higher the level, the more likely you are to sleep, which, judging by the messages I've been having, seems to be the case.

The up side, however, is that robin has visited some fantastic places and seen many beautiful and interesting things.
He loved Cochin, and I enjoyed listening to some exotic wildlife in the background, as we talked on the 'phone.
And, of course, he is doing a job that he loves, playing the guitar.
I think he'll need a lie in tomorrow though.....

Meanwhile, here at home, if you like Elgar, there's a great article in 'The Daily Telegraph', written by Michael Kennedy, the author of, 'The Life of Elgar'.
It marks the start of 'Elgar Week', as part of the composer's 150th birthday celebrations which culminate on June 2nd.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Cochin - India and Classic FM

Friday, so it must be Cochin, India. The good news is that it's also the day that Robin will start his journey home. Not that he gets here until Saturday evening, but at least he's on his way.
The last guitar concert on Crystal Symphony was yesterday, and the message that I got from Robin was that it had been fine. From many years experience, I know that this actually means that it went very well, and he had been pleased with the outcome.
He's always very critical of his own performances, so fine, means excellent.

I was very pleased to read Richard Alleyne's article today, 'Teens tune in to Classic FM'. Apparently, their initial interest in classical music stems from film scores, such as Star Wars, but they are now tuning in to help with their homework. For more details follow the link.

I have also discovered that 'On classical music', over in Finland are enjoying following Robin's life, so hello to everyone there!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

From Romanian Gipsy music to a Latin American Wedding

I read a piece in The Daily Telegraph today, by Peter Culshaw, about the Romanian band, 'Taraf de Haidouks'. Their new album covers 'gipsy' style versions of classical music, with composers ranging from De Falla, Albeniz, Khachaturian and Bartok.
It sounds interesting, after learning the classical pieces, they then added their own, 'wildly energetic flavour'.

The thought of all those musicians playing together and performing exciting and lively music, reminded me of our wedding day.
What entertainment does a musician put on for their guests in the evening?
Surely not a dreaded disco...
The only solution was live music.

Luckily, we knew Dave Hassell, and talked him, and his band, 'Apitos', into a riotous evening of Latin American music.
It was fabulous and had everyone up on the dance floor.
All except Robin.
How could he possible be in the same room as a bunch of musicians, most of whom he knew, and not join in.
It wasn't the guitar that caught his attention, it was the congo drums, which he proceeded to play for, well, hours.
If you are familiar with the congo drums, you will know that there's a certain way to play them, to prevent sore hands.
Robin was too excited by the whole day, and engrossed in what he was doing, to be bothered with all that.
Consequently, the following morning, his newly placed wedding ring had to be removed with soap/lubricant, to prevent damage to those 'precious' fingers.
Also, his hands were too swollen to carry the suitcases, as we set off on our honeymoon.
I should have realised then that being the 'wife of a musician' was not going to be easy.....

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

'Concierto de Aranjuez' on Crystal Symphony

A day at sea for Robin, again, but he was beamed live around the Crystal Symphony today!
He recorded an in-house T.V. interview yesterday, in which he talked for a while to the cruise director, and then performed part of Rodrigo's, 'Concierto de Aranjuez'. Obviously this was just a taster as he didn't have a full orchestra with him, unfortunately!
It was broadcast today to prepare the public for his final concert tomorrow.
At least we are now counting days, rather than weeks, before his return.

Meanwhile back at home, I have just found out that I've been linked to a site in America called, 'Guitarist Widow'. I had to check it out, after all, we have to stick together!
Whilst a different form of playing, there are some interesting, and funny, takes on life, with a husband who's obsessed by guitars.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

As if by Magic - The Bay of Bengal

As Robin left Myanmar he sent two further pictures.
The first is of this rather beautiful lady and her child. She explained that the face paint was made from wood pulp and worn mainly by the women and children. It's function is not only decorative, but also, to help protect from the vicious sun.

Secondly, an image of a lovely flower:

But now, Crystal Symphony is back at sea, crossing the Bay of Bengal on its way to India.
Robin left home so long ago that his return flight tickets weren't yet available.
I had to pass on a message that I found rather amusing.
When he arrived on board Symphony he had to find the magician, who was bringing out Robin's flight details and tickets, and as if by magic, he would be able to return home.
As it turned out, the magician, Brett, found him, and they immediately got on very well. They have enjoyed many evenings discussing music and found they have very similar tastes.
Robin has also been amazed by some late night, private viewing, of some spectacular card tricks.
His guitar practice will be stepping up a gear now as his second concert is on Thursday.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Robin Hill in Yangon

For those of you who still enjoy listening to cassette tapes, then, you need to start looking after the player. As Harry Wallop reports, many of the large electronic retailers in Britain are to stop selling cassette tapes, and, Christmas will be the last time hi-fi systems will have tape decks included.

We have hundreds, if not thousands, of tapes around the house. Most we don't listen to very often, but, are the result of a lifetimes devotion to music. Home recorded tracks of Robin as a young boy performing in bands, musical ideas and phrases, recorded, and often used, at a later date, etc.
So we will have to start treating our cassette player with a little more respect. At least until we get around to putting them all into digital format.

Meanwhile, over in Myanmar, Robin did leave his guitar practice and took a trip inland. He has found it one of the most different and interesting places that he has visited.

On an hour long journey into town they passed many of these temples:

A typical market stall:

Does anyone know what fruit this is?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

How to Boil an Egg - Sir John Barbirolli

Robin will spend the day taking in a few sights in Yangon, but mainly, will be on board practicing his guitar. Still, he can take comfort from the opulent surroundings.

I'm not sure if this is inside Crystal Symphony or Serenity, but, hey, looks alright to me.

As there is only me and son number two at home at the moment, I decided against the traditional Sunday lunch. Didn't seem worth it.
So, eggs it is, and here is how to make the perfect one:

"I always have a boiled egg. A three-minute egg. Do you know how I time it? I bring it to the boil and then conduct the overture to 'The Marriage of Figaro'. Three minutes exactly."

Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970)


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Yangon, Myanmar - Where's That...

Yesterday Robin did his first concert on board Crystal Symphony, which I assume went well, as I read a post on a cruise board that said they had, 'seen the classical guitar player who was wonderful'. That's OK then.
I can also report that the pianist made it off his elephant, and back on board, as he dined with Robin last night.
Today they are heading for Myanmar, (if like me, you are unsure where that is, then it used to be called Burma.)
This looks like an interesting place.
If you go to the tourist sites for Myanmar, there are lovely pictures, as you would imagine.
He is actually docking in Yangon, and again, that looks and sounds great.
However, if you check out 'Lonely Planet World Guide', then it appears that some caution is needed.
As Robin will be there for a few days, he will be able to assess it for himself.
After more than 30 years of travelling the globe, and many strange, and often rather frightening experiences, I'm sure that he'll handle this without any problems, and just enjoy the experience.

Frustratingly, a new microphone arrived yesterday, ready for testing. I'm sure the travel worn musician will be delighted to put it through its paces on his return.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Phucket to Shakespeare

A photo has arrived from Robin's trip into Phuket. Not the clearest of images, but, all I have at the moment.
Apparently the dog lying in the road is sleeping in the heat, and not, a casualty of one of the great cars!

A good time ashore was had by all, although nobody has seen the pianist, he was last spotted having an elephant ride. I hope he managed to make it back in time and isn't stuck on a rampaging elephant through Thailand.

Meanwhile here at home;

'Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school.'

William Shakespeare - from, 'Seven Ages of Man.'

Not the case for us this morning. Son number one had the shining face, and was rather snail like, but only because he was struggling to school carrying a huge rucksack as he heads off for cub camp!
The only whining was from me as I had to pack hat and gloves alongside sun cream and sunglasses as the weather is rather changeable!
Good job I'm an experienced packer...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thursday - Must be Thailand

Robin is in Thailand, or rather, was. Communication has been difficult today, and that combined with a large, and ever changing, time difference, is making life difficult.
However, after a short trip into Phuket, most of his time has been spent in practice.
All the musicians I know, find practicing in a hotel or cabin, a rather self-conscious affair.
Robin is always concerned how much the sound travels, and when you play a guitar as powerful as his, then it can often be heard quite a way off. Believe me, I've walked the corridors of many hotels around the world, and reported back if it can be heard in the lifts, bar, 2nd or 5th floor.
It isn't too bad if you are running through the concert itself, but the majority of practice, is actually scales and arpeggios.
They are something that most people don't really want to listen to, especially for 2-3 hours at a time.
The solution is a pair of socks.
To mute the sound has more than one benefit.
This quote sums it up:

'For these abstract exercises I mute the violin and put a piece of tissue under the strings. I could say that to practise with a heavy mute or, as I once did, with a soaped bow, saves my ear from being dulled with a surfeit of sound, and that this self-imposed continence makes the pleasure of performing aloud all the keener. Beyond that, however, mime obliges me to internalize the music until I can 'hear' it in my digits, muscles and joints, until the body becomes a sort of aural intelligence, an instrument perfectly tuned and playing independently of me, a pure voice.'
Yehudi Menuhin

I would, however, recommend that a clean pair of socks are used...

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Guitar is a Jealous Mistress...

Robin seems to have recovered from his journey and is now enjoying warm, sunny weather, out at sea, on his way to Thailand.
There's no time to relax though.
After losing, more or less, three full days in travel, he now has plenty of practice to do, in order to limber up those fingers ready for his concert on Friday.

As Leo Brouwer once said, "The guitar is a jealous mistress, she will not love you if you don't spend the time with her."

Keep that in mind as you read the following quote:

With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conqueror who could
Command both wire and wood
But as a man with a loved woman might,
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.

Frances Cornford (1886-1960)
'The Guitarist Tunes Up'

Good job I'm not the jealous type.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Singapore for Robin - Da Vinci Code Cracking for Me

Robin has now arrived in Singapore and is settling into his room on Crystal Symphony. His first, of two concerts, isn't for a few days, which is excellent news, as I'm sure he needs a few days to recover from the journey.
You would think he would lay down and relax for a while, but no, when I spoke to him he was repairing a nail.
Before he left America, Robin e mailed me a new piece he has composed called, 'A Passage to New York'.
Sight reading isn't really my thing, and despite Robin assuring me I would be fine with it, I feel some work is required.

Not as much as Thomas and Stuart Mitchell though.
They were intrigued by the markings on the arches of a chapel of a church featured in 'The Da Vinci Code'. Using their musical knowledge they have unlocked the notes of a piece of music that has been hidden for centuries. It's an interesting story by Richard Alleyne which you can read here.
I look forward to hearing it and many congratulations to them for their perseverance.

Meanwhile, I must get back to my own code cracking. I'm keen to hear this new piece of Robin's, especially as it's dedicated to me.
At least I have the luxury of playing through it on Robin's Miguel Rodriguez guitar. He has the 'Churchdoor' with him, but his other concert guitar is here with me.
If you happen to be in Singapore, on Crystal Symphony, don't tell him that I'm torturing his music on his precious guitar....