'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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Be Inspired in 2008

As 2007 draws to a close, many of you will be reflecting on the year, and thinking about ways to change your lives in 2008.
So, I have found a couple of quotes, that hopefully will inspire everyone to fulfill their resolutions:

"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude."
Thomas Jefferson


"Simply seek happiness, and you are not likely to find it. Seek to create and love without regard to your happiness, and you will likely be happy much of the time."
Dr.M.Scott Peck - American psychiatrist.

We have an exciting, and challenging, year ahead.
Exciting in that there are a lot of projects underway, which will be revealed as the year goes on, but challenging as we face long periods of time apart, with Robin travelling to far flung places.
You'll have to keep checking in to find out where he is, and what he is up to, but for now, we wish you all a very happy and healthy New Year.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Barrios, Miss Bimps and Milly, the Musical Dogs

We have decided that we have very musical dogs.
It isn't surprising really, since puppy hood they have grown up surrounded with all types of music.
This morning was a prime example.
Robin was practising in the music room and my faithful friends were by my side as I worked.
The music stopped, the dogs pricked their ears up, then Robin appeared, with guitar and sat down.
The dogs sat down.
Robin started to play.
He wanted to run through 'La Catedral' by Agustin Barrios, to an audience of one (which was me) and two Labradors.
Miss Bimps and Milly put their heads on their paws resigned to the fact that their morning walk was about to be delayed.

La Catedral is in three movements, Preludio, Andante Religioso and Allegre Solemne.
At the end of the fist movement I was spellbound and the dogs didn't move.
The second movement, still nothing.
At the end of the final movement both dogs got up, and did the nearest they could to clapping their paws, by wagging their tails and circling Robin as if they were rounding up a flock of sheep.
As they used to power of positive thinking to stalk their prey, Robin gave in to the pressure, put his guitar away, and took them for a walk.
But how did they know the piece had finished?
I can only assume that we have very knowledgeable and musical hounds...

Here they are, Miss Bimps:

and Milly:

Friday, December 28, 2007

The iPod nano and the Rehydrated Alien...

I hope you have all had a lovely Christmas and are enjoying the lull before the New Year festivities get under way.
We have had a great time and enjoyed a relaxing break, spending time with the family, and playing with all the new toys that have accumulated around the house.
Son number one is now the proud owner of an iPod nano, and I must say that I have been delighted with his choice of music.

As you would expect he has added the soundtrack for 'Doctor Who' and 'The Simpsons Movie', but, there are also many fantastic tracks, that I'm proud to say he has chosen.
The artists are diverse, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Cecilia Bartoli, Genesis, Green day, Santana, Tower of Power, Van Morrison and John Rutter, to name a few.
But I happened to notice one piece that has found its way on to the iPod, much to son's amusement, John Cooper Clarke, 'Evidently Chickentown', which, whilst not particularly suitable for a boy of 10, (although it is the cut version) it is an incredible poetic accomplishment.

Today alone he has requested 'Walton: Crown Imperial', oh, and of course, not only his Dad's 'Virtuoso', but, also his 'Concerto Primavera', but then it was composed for him.

We have also been enjoying a very generous gift of a voucher for iTunes. So far, Flora Purim has made her way to our collection, and we are enjoying the sound immensely.

Whilst we listen to 'the beats' as son number one now refers to his music..., I can also report that son number two received a triangle, which he did request on his Christmas list, and is now practicing daily...for lengthy periods.....

But now, I have to rehydrate an alien that we are currently growing in a test tube, another Christmas gift....

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sleigh Ride - Robin Hill

I'm taking a few days off over the Christmas period to spend some time with the family.
So, here is a Robin Hill special.
It's a jovial arrangement of 'Sleigh Ride' for your amusement.
Thank you to everyone, from all over the world, for your support over the last year, and, everyone at Hillhouse wishes you a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Descant Singing - Hark The Herald...

Since I wrote this post a couple of days ago, I have had a lot of people searching for the descant voices in, 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!'.

So, I've had a look around YouTube, and found this rather nice version, with 'St.Paul's Cathedral Choir', to get you all in the festive mood.
The descant voices appear in the third verse, about 2 minutes 24 seconds in.

Enjoy and feel free to sing along.

Hark the Herald Angels sing

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Unusual Google Searches for Robin Hill

Robin has decided to start his Christmas shopping.
I wish him the very best of luck as he fights his way through the bear garden that any town and city will be today.
No, I really do wish him luck, as the only person he has to buy for, is me...

So, whilst he is out, I decided to make a list of 10 of the most unusual ways that people have come across this site, through google searches.
As I have written them is exactly as they appeared in the search, it amazes me that some of them found their way here!

In no particular order:

1) Mozart's dog
2) Pump it or dump it
3) Fava soup
4) Musicians have larger brains
5) Cat called Lovejoy
6) Jeckyll & Hill
7) Thatcher idiosyncrasies
8) If you can keep your head
9) Albert Einstein daydream theory of relativity
10)Home improvement blogspot

Strange but true, all these searches arrived at 'Life of a Musician' one way or another!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dowland and Dickens

We have now reached Friday and John Dowland continues to ring through the house. At least we have progressed from one or two bars to the entire piece.
I'm still at the stage of enjoying it, which is a relief, but then, I haven't actually been around much to hear it...

As far as the recording in the music room goes, it hasn't been the children that are the problem, but me.
Why is it that when you really try to do something quietly it just doesn't happen?
There I was walking past the room, or rather creeping, (I can tell the difference between practice and recording sounds coming from the room) when I dropped the 'phone and there was a dreadful clattering sound followed by silence from the music room.
The music just stopped.
The silence more deafening and menacing than any noise, so I beat a hasty retreat.
Only to find the same 'phone rang a total of three times in the next 20 minutes....

I think at this point Robin realised that he may have to revert to plan A and move the equipment back upstairs.

Meanwhile we have allowed ourselves some time to relax and have been thoroughly enjoying the BBC adaption of 'Oliver Twist'.
We have been so surprised to read a couple of highly critical reviews. As far as we are concerned the casting is excellent, with all the characters truly convincing.
The filming is beautifully done and one of its greatest strengths is the squalor, filth and general dinginess of Fagin's place, in contrast to the opulent radiance of Mr.Brownlow's Georgian town house.
The music also works very well, who would have thought of using an accordion and banjo, together, in a Dicken's drama?
The reason I'm mentioning it is that I feel it is easy to be critical, yet difficult to achieve such high standards, and in our opinion, the story has been vividly realised and is a welcome change to the mind numbing drivel that is usually on T.V.

We are also in the process of preparing a Christmas treat for you all, so, watch this space.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

John Dowland and a Man Possessed

Robin has become a man possessed.
He has re-found the music for a beautiful piece by John Dowland (1563-1626), 'Sir Henry Gifford's Almaine'.

The piece itself is superb, inspired, and has some very difficult acrobatic work, for the left hand in particular.
Anyone who can conceive of such a piece must have been an outstanding player.

Dowland was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and you can get a real sense of the times whist listening to it.

Some of the ideas in the variations on the theme are very adventurous harmonically, and would have originally been played on the lute.
To achieve a similar effect, Robin plays with a capo at the third fret.

When I say possessed, I do mean possessed.
I can't walk past the music room without him calling out, "Come and listen to this bit", and as I try to sidle past unnoticed, he adds, "I know you're there".

This is what happens to a musician when they fall in love with a piece of music all over again.
Every note is analysed, and a process of interpreting the music commences.
Then there's the fingering.
"Does this sound better, or this?"

Many hours are given over to finding the most economical positioning to enable the piece to flow smoothly.

Meanwhile, the rest of us in the house, have a crash course in Dowland and all things connected.
But that's OK, it's all very interesting, and luckily I love the music of Dowland.
Ask me again by the end of the week though, when I've heard the same piece for 3 days, and none of the pre-Christmas jobs have been dealt with as Dowland has intervened....

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Digital World

I came across this article, 'Diving into the digital', by George Varga of 'The San Diego Union Tribune'.

It's an interesting read for us, particularly today, as I have been preparing a new CD, of Robin with his jazz quartet, to be released on CD Baby very soon. More details will follow shortly.

The article discusses the changing face of music distribution, for both the industry itself, and for musicians.
There has been such a change over the last few years that at times it's hard to keep up with it all.
Sites such as CD Baby, iTunes, YouTube, MySpace, and many others, have resulted in a lifestyle change for listeners, and for the artists.

Musicians can no longer rely on record companies to distribute their music, and have to nurture their fan base in a very different way.

The article has many interesting points and it's worth having a look, plus, there are a few thoughts from Sir Paul McCartney.

In some ways digital downloads make life easier for the musician, but, caution is required.
Radiohead's recent experience is rather frightening.
1 million fans ordered their new album in the 10 days prior to release, but paid nothing. Whilst 500 000 fans downloaded it for free from illegal sites, even though they could get it free from Radiohead's own site.
This is a disturbing situation.

Maybe this is a reflection of society.
Everyone wants something for nothing, but we should beware.
Musicians need to make a living.
If their music continues to be 'stolen' in this way, then how are they supposed to survive?

We have had this conversation with many people over the years. It's surprising how frequently people really don't think they are doing anything wrong.
When we have tried to explain, they often reply, "Well, I'm a student, I don't have much money", to which our response is, "Is that what you would say in a shop as you helped yourself to their wares?"

Whatever their reasoning, the general public need to realise that the music they listen to, is created by someone, who needs to pay the bills in just the same way that they do...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

It has been a busy and very festive week here.
As son number two has now started school, we had a nativity to attend, in which he played a very brightly shining star.
Son number one has also had a busy schedule with the school choir.
Nerves were in tatters as we waited for his junior school concert, as he was reserve soloist for 'Once in Royal David's City'.
We watched the health of the main chorister over the week, and as it became apparent that he was fit and well, son number one could relax.
It did mean we had excellent seats for the performance though, and it was a wonderful evening.

Also, the same son had been asked, with a number of other choir members, to join the senior school this year for their Christmas service, in order to supplement the descant section.
Again, this was a fantastic event, there's nothing like good choir singing beautifully to really get you in the festive mood.

The descant voices came into their own in 'Hark! The Herold Angels Sing!', in one of the most popular arrangements of this piece by Sir David Willcocks in which the descants are added in the third verse.
Originally the lyrics were written by Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church in 1739.
But initially it was sung to a different tune, and it wasn't until 100 years later that Felix Mendelssohn composed a Cantata, in 1840, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press.
The English musician William Cummings then adapted the music to fit the lyrics already written.

Strange really, as Mendelssohn had requested the music not be used for any religious events, but, as was practice at the time, his wishes were obviously ignored!
I'm very pleased they were, as it is such a moving occasion to observe all those freshly scrubbed, youthful and innocent faces, singing so enthusiastically.

Then there was the Christmas Fair, and, not to mention helping out at the infants Christmas party, in which 200 very excited, and very loud, small children awaited the arrival of one 'Father Christmas'...

Whilst all this has been going on Robin has continued with his recording. He has, however, made a change to his positioning.
He has moved from the studio, which is quite separate from the rest of the house, to try out the music room.
The sound is better, and warmer, but the concern is that this is on the ground floor of the house, opposite the front door, next to the kitchen, and not far from the lounge.
School breaks up on Tuesday, so this could make for some interesting recording...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Listen To The Music

Ivan Hewett has written an interesting article, 'Open your ears and let the magic in', which is worth reading.
The general gist is highlighting the importance of really listening to music and giving it our full attention.

The report was prompted after 'hearing' some youths 'listening' to music through their mobile 'phones, and realising just how dreadful the sound actually is.

As Hewett says, "When listening intently sounds and music take on a special glow. When mingled with the world's noise and bustle, they shrink down to just another annoying distraction that has to be filtered out if we want to hang on to our sanity." Well said.

From a musician's point of view, sound quality is all important. Such a lot of time and effort goes into creating the best possible sound from your instrument, which isn't an easy process in the recording studio, especially for the guitar.

Listening to music intently is something we are very used to in our house.
Especially at the moment.
As Robin records another track for the new CD, each piece is scrutinized and agonized over.
Has the sound been captured?
Does it have the right feel?
Are there any extraneous noises?

This is a long process which requires many, many takes of each track to get it just as Robin wants it.
I'm sure it is the same for most musicians.

People listen to music in different ways.
They may have sit down purely to listen, or, in the background whilst socialising.
For Robin, a life time of dedication to music makes it very difficult for him to join in a conversation when music is on in the background, as his ear is naturally drawn to the music.
If we play music at home it is to listen to, not to supplement an atmosphere. If we have friends round for a meal, naturally we will play music, but invariably the conversation is drawn to the piece currently playing.
Years of intense listening seem to have affected our ability to 'filter out' the sound.

But we do realise that often people want to listen in this way and that is fine.
But do take the time to sit back and 'really' listen to music. The benefits are incredible.
You will 'hear' so much more than you initially realised was there.
Apart from that, we owe it to our musicians to listen to the music in which they have invested so much time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Who is the Mystery Blogger?

So far there has been a lot of interest in the new 'Robin Hill' site which is excellent news.
We have even had a comment in the guest book.

I have also had an email requesting a wedding photo to be added to the gallery as no-one out there knows what I look like.

So who is this mystery blogger?
Lets look at the facts.
You know my name is Anna.
You know I'm the wife of a musician.
You can even see my legs in this previous blog, 'Dogged Devotion to J.S.Bach', when I was going through a Hitchcockian phase.

But am I ready to reveal the true identity of the mysterious 'wife of a musician'?
Well, OK, here's a picture of me taken a few months ago:

I should explain that at the time of this picture I was feeling a little ratty.....

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Robin Hill's New Site - Download Sheet Music for 'Return to Islay'

We are very pleased to announce the launch of a new site today, 'Robin Hill', which has many exciting features.

You can access this blog, read all about Robin in his biography, look at a few pictures in the gallery, watch some videos, and, feel free to leave a message in the guest book!

One of the most exciting aspects is the store.
For more than 30 years Robin has arranged, and composed, many pieces for solo guitar, duo guitar, guitar and flute, orchestra and original compositions.
We have literally hundreds of scores to hand.
So, we have decided to gradually add them to the site, so any aspiring guitarists can download the piece of their choice, and start some serious practice.

This will be a gradual process and I'll update as we go along and inform you of any new pieces we have added.

We have started with one of Robin's most popular solo guitar pieces, 'Return to Islay', so the sheet music is now available to download. In fact, in various parts of the world, people have already done so!

We are often asked if Robin's music is available in tablature form. So, due to popular demand, he is arranging each piece, so you will have normal notation, with fingering, and tablature.
That's why the pieces will be appearing gradually, but you can't play them all at once anyway...

As I have severe technophobic tendencies, I would like to add that all this couldn't have been achieved without the help of our friend, Andre.
So thank you Andre!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Led Zeppelin Review and Robin Hill on Electric Guitar

Led Zeppelin have reformed for a 'one off' reunion gig which has gone down a storm.
So successful was it that there are rumours that more will follow.
To read an ecstatic review, by David Cheal, of their concert at the O2 arena, here it is, 'Led Zeppelin: Then it got better still'.

This was enough to prompt us to play 'Good Times Bad Times', from Led Zeppelin 1, a favourite of Robin's as it has Jimmy Page playing some triplet scales, ascending and descending, which was quite unusual at the time it was recorded.
We thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and I hope our neighbours did too...

If you have found yourself on this site due to the references to Led Zeppelin, then you may be interested to see that some classical musicians do have the ability to play rock.
Check out these links from previous blog entries I have made of Robin playing electric guitar with various groups over the years.
First, 'Palace of the Kings', with Ian Paice, Jon Lord, Maggie Bell and Paul Martinez.

Then there's, 'Wizard of Waukesha' with his band 'Hooper'.

Or maybe, 'Fast Forward', again with 'Hooper', this time playing his Travis Bean guitar.

Finally, there's another band of Robin's, 'Force 10', here you can read all about them and follow the links for more playing.

So, some players have many facets to their musical character...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Robin Hill plays Agustin Barrios

The final track to discuss on 'Virtuoso' is track 16, 'Villancico de Navidad' , by Agustin Barrios.
I saved this one until the end to get you all in a festive mood as it is an arrangement of a Paraguayan Christmas song.

Agustin Barrios (1885-1944) was born in San Bautista de las Misiones, Paraguay, and was a guitarist and composer.
In 1910 he left Paraguay for a week of concerts in Argentina but was so successful that he was away for 14 years playing in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.
I do hope that Robin doesn't do the same thing...

By 1934 Barrios travelled to Europe where he gave concerts in Brussels, Germany and Spain, and in 1936 he returned to Latin America where he taught in the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica, San Salvador.

Barrios composed over 100 works, many attributed to obscure European composers, as he believed they would be taken more seriously.
He's not alone in this practice, somewhere out there is a piece of music played on two guitars, by the composer 'Anna Naneek'.
I'll give you a clue, my maiden name was Keenan, and so far, only one person has spotted this...

Barrios is thought to be the first classical guitarist to make a record, in 1910, and also to have played a complete Bach Suite (Lute Suite No.1).
He was quite a character and in the later stages of his career he reinvented himself as 'Nitsuga Barrios Mangore', the Paganini from the jungles of Paraguay, and appeared on stage in full South American Indian costume!

Thankfully, as Robin is from Huddersfield, I can't think of any national dress that he may choose to wear on stage, and anyway my needlework skills would probably not be up to it.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Stockhausen, Stravinsky and Danza Brasilera

The influential yet controversial German Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen has died. You can read about his life, in one of many obituaries, here.

On a lighter note we enjoyed a fabulous evening yesterday watching the London Symphony Orchestra, with their Principle conductor, Valery Gergiev.
Unfortunately we weren't actually there but BBC4 aired the first of three concerts by the LSO.
It was a fantastic programme with classic works by Debussy and Prokofiev, but the highlight of the evening was Stravinsky's, 'The Rite of Spring'.
Gergiev is a flamboyant conductor and a delight to observe, and he managed to get every last ounce (or should that be milligramme?) out of each and every musician.

If you get the chance to see him at work be sure to take it.

'Danza Brasilera', is track 6 on 'Virtuoso', and is a wonderful samba by the Argentinian guitarist and composer, Jorge Morel.
Robin has added his own introduction but the rest of the piece is as the original.

Friday, December 07, 2007

"The Divine Giuliani" - Beethoven

Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) was born near Bari and was an Italian guitar virtuoso and composer.
He studied the cello and counterpoint, but the six-string guitar became his principle instrument early in life.
Earlier the five string guitar, known as a 'French guitar' was popular, but the instrument lagged behind the more popular lute and mandora. Once the sixth string was added, bottom E, the 'modern' guitar could at last reach the rank that the mandora had held in the musical world.

There were many fine guitarists in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century (Agliati, Carulli, Gragnani, Nava, etc), but many moved north in order to make a living.
Public interest at the time lay with opera and the guitar was seen as an accompaniment instrument. Giuliani did in fact write many works for voice and guitar throughout his life.
At this stage Italy didn't reward the talented individuals who chose to play the guitar as a solo chamber instrument.
Also, the sound level of a classical guitar circa 1800 was diminutive compared to other contemporary instruments, therefore making it difficult to be heard in the typical Italian theatre.
There was also widespread political instability at the time causing many conservatories to close, and along with a lack of competent publishing houses, there were enough reasons for Giuliani, and many others, to leave.
He settled in Vienna in 1806 and quickly became famous as the greatest living guitarist and a notable composer.

In 1808 Giuliani gave the premiere of his guitar concerto, with full orchestra, to great public acclaim.
From then on he led the classical guitar movement in Vienna, teaching, performing and composing a huge number of works for the guitar.

Giuliani moved in elite circles, in 1813 he played the cello in the premiere of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, in the company of Hummel, Mayseder and Spohr.

Giuliani had two talented children, Michel, who became a 'professeur de chant' at the Paris Conservatoire, and Emilia, who was also a famous guitar virtuoso and composer.

'Esercizio' by Giuliani, track 20 on 'Virtuoso', is, as it says, an exercise, or study. But like all the best studies it has huge musical value and isn't purely concerned with the mechanical aspects of playing the guitar.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

It is a rare threat that Robin is home at the moment especially as it is our wedding anniversary today.
Luckily we appear to have a more positive approach to marriage than Gustav Mahler. He was quoted as saying:

"Both my marriages were failures! Number one departed and number two stayed."

After 16 years I think you can safely say we know each other pretty well.
I knew from the beginning that the guitar would always play a major part in our lives, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
As Leo Brouwer has said:

"The guitar is a jealous mistress, she will not love you if you don't spend time with her."

Fortunately I love the guitar as much as Robin - nearly, and the time he spends in practice has never been an issue.
The art of living with a musician is something I have frequently been asked about, and, over the last few months had a number of emails.
So I am currently working on a series of blogs for the near future to cover this area.
But for now we shall just celebrate the day.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Yesterday' and Robin Hill

'Yesterday' by Lennon and McCartney has to be one of the most well known songs ever recorded.
The song was written by Paul McCartney after the music came to him in a dream. He then used the words 'scrambled eggs' until he later worked out the lyrics!

This version of 'Yesterday', is an arrangement of Robin's, for two guitars, and is track 9 on Virtuoso.
Over the years the Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo have recorded many Beatles tracks, which they always arranged themselves.
Often they would add little musical quotes from other well known songs, somewhere in the arrangement, and we have often wondered if anyone noticed them. Some are more obvious than others, and they aren't necessarily from other Beatles songs.

There is in fact one in 'Yesterday', but you would have to hear the whole track, to see if you could identify the musical quip.
Can anyone spot it?

Other news, there was an interesting article in the Telegraph today, by Simon Heffer.
Heffer gives an excellent review of a new film about the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It sounds like it will be well worth watching, and you can see it in the UK on Channel 5 on January 1st. As the film is three hours long it should give you plenty of time to recover from any overindulgence the night before.
If you can't wait until then to see it, it's available on DVD form tomorrow, at,

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Xodo da Baiana - Dilermando Reis

'Xodo da Baiana' by Dilermando Reis is another piece on Virtuoso, track 19, with a truly South American feel.

Dilermando Reis, (1916-1977) was a Brazilian guitarist born in Sao Paulo. He studied the guitar from an early age with his father, Francisco Reis, and by the age of 15, Dilermando was already known as the best guitarist in Sao Paulo.

By 1933 Reis had moved to Rio de Janeiro, where he lived for most of his life, and was prolific in recording over 40 albums.
He enjoyed many kinds of music and recorded pieces from composers as diverse as Bach, Barrios, Tarrega and Gnatalli, among others.
However his first love was for the traditional Brazilian style of music, featuring mainly waltzes and choros full of melodic invention, syncopated rhythms and pleasing modulations.

He was equally prolific as a composer with over 100 of his own compositions, many of which have become standards of Brazilian guitar playing.

'Xodo da Baiana' is typical of his style.
The use of pizzicato in the opening section is highly effective and overall the piece combines melodic and rhythmic invention.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Robin Hill and 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra'

'Recuerdos de la Alhambra' is the 18th track on 'Virtuoso' and was composed by Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909).
Tarrega was born in Villarreal, Spain, but as a child had an accident, fell into an irrigation channel and permanently damaged his eyes.
His parents were concerned that he may loose his sight completely, so, they moved to Castellon, so that Francisco could take music lessons and would therefore be able to work as a musician if he did go blind.
Thankfully he didn't lose his sight but he did become a highly influential musician.

When Tarrega began his studies on the guitar, the instrument was at a low ebb throughout Europe, overshadowed by the louder and more resonant piano.
So Tarrega's father insisted he learn both instruments, in which he quickly became accomplished, in order to keep his options open.

It was in 1869 when Tarrega acquired an unusually loud and resonant guitar, made by Antonio Torres, the famous luthier, that Tarrega was able to prepare the way for the rebirth of the guitar in the 20th Century.

Tarrega transcribed many works for guitar by Spanish composers Albeniz and Granados, along with adapting movements from Beethoven's piano sonatas and many preludes of Chopin.
In all, Tarrega composed approximately 78 original works and 120 transcriptions for solo guitar, along with 21 transcriptions for two guitars. He also composed many varied and extremely taxing exercises which have tormented generations of guitarists ever since but which are extremely effective in the development of technique.

Recuerdos de la Alhambra was composed around the turn of the century. The theme was conceived on a visit to Grenada and the music is evocative of the famous Moorish palace there.
The piece is a tremelo study which requires great technical ability. To maintain a fluent and smooth tremelo, whilst executing clear accompanying notes, and also conveying the emotion of the piece, is not an easy task.

Robin is often asked if his hands ache after playing a piece like this. But years of right and left hand exercises have ensured he is quite able to maintain the tremelo for the required 3 minutes and 16 seconds on this recording. In fact, just like any athlete, the training is all important, so when it comes to the event itself, you really don't consider finger fatigue!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Genius...a Bit of Fun

Well our busy weekend has nearly come to an end, and, as expected, I have had to put on my 'kid gloves' to deal with the younger generation in Hillhouse...
We have survived though, and, Robin has been working hard, so we shouldn't complain.

A lot of blogs have been taking the 'blog readability' test, which up to now I hadn't got round to.
But, last night, whilst waiting for Robin to come home, I decided to have a go.
This is what it came up with:

cash advance

So congratulations to all our regular readers for being so intelligent!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

'Rakes of Kildare' - Robin Hill

Track 17 on 'Virtuoso' is 'Rakes of Kildare', which is a traditional, lively and well known Irish jig.
It is difficult to know for sure the background of the piece and title, but, 'Rakes' could be short for 'rakehell' which stems from the Icelandic word 'reikall' meaning 'wandering or unsettled'.
But 'Rakes' also refers to stylish and spirited young men, whilst 'Kildare' can mean 'Church of the Oaks'.

Whatever the meaning of the title, the piece is a double jig in the Dorian mode.
The version heard here is for guitar and orchestra, one of the movements from Robin's 'Celtic Concerto'.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Robin Hill Plays Romanza

Romanza is a traditional piece of music, and the composer is unknown, but it is one of the most famous of all guitar solos, and loved by audiences everywhere.
It was used in the film, 'Jeux Interdits' (1952), which means 'Forbidden Games', which went on to receive many awards and the music was described as, "haunting score that will be with you forever".

The film is about two French children who become friends during the traumas of World War II, and is a moving and emotional tale of their experiences.
According to Brigitte Fossey who played the little girl, 'Paulette', the film was originally made as a short, and then later extended to a feature length film.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, she had lost her milk teeth, and, Georges Poujouly, who plays the boy Michel, had had his hair cut for another role, so in many of the scenes Paulette has false teeth and Michel is wearing a wig!

In Robin's arrangement of this well known classic, 'Romanza', track 13, starts with a short improvised introduction before playing the melody on the second string and not the first which is more usual. This slight reworking, he felt, made the music more expressive.

I'm bracing myself for a busy weekend.
Robin is playing at three different private functions, son number one has a sleepover party at a friends house, and son number two also has a party...
My role - to make sure they are all in the right place at the right time with the right equipment, (we don't want Robin arriving to play with a sleeping bag, and son trying to sleep in a guitar case), feed, water, and hold all their hands when we arrive at Sunday evening with three exhausted males in the house.......

Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Gymnopedie' by Erik Satie - Performed by Robin Hill

Erik Satie (1866-1925) was a French composer best remembered for composing deliberately modest music, however, he was a harmonic innovator, especially in his earlier pieces.
His work influenced many other composers, such as, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Cage.

Satie had a turbulent childhood, his mother died when he was young and he was sent to live with his grandmother, who, shortly after, also died.
He returned to Paris to be with his father, but his father soon remarried, the pianist and Romantic composer, Eugenie Barnetsche, whom Eric disliked.

In 1879 Satie entered the Paris Conservatoire, but he wasn't a good student. He was certainly gifted, but records report him as 'lazy' and 'often absent'. He left the conservatoire early, but did continue to study music through harmony, and then piano classes.
In 1887 Satie wrote three Sarabandes, which probably influenced the Sarabande of Debussy, 'Pour le piano', and, it was in the following year that he wrote the 'Gymnopedies'.

By the early 1890's Satie had joined the flamboyant 'Rose + Croix' artistic movement of which Satie was the official composer. It was during this time that Satie met, and became life long friends with, Debussy.
In 1895 two Gymnopedies were published, on the recommendation of Debussy, who also orchestrated a pair the following year.

Today you can hear Robin's arrangement of this calm and haunting, 'Gymnopedie No.1', which paradoxically is both simple yet highly spiritual and profound.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Robin Hill plays 'El Noy de la Mare' by Miguel Llobet

The classical guitarist and composer Miguel Llobet (1878-1938) started to learn the instrument at the age of 11, and later studied with one of the fathers of modern guitar technique, Francisco Tarrega.
From the 1900's Llobet was in constant demand for recitals and toured extensively in Europe and North and South America.

Whilst in Buenos Aires Llobet formed a guitar duo with Maria Luisa Anido and, for this ensemble, he arranged numerous classical and romantic works.
Llobet's solo transcriptions and arrangements, were a landmark in guitar writing, showing his great understanding of the guitar's capabilities.

He was well respected by other musicians and in fact Falla's tribute to Debussy, 'Homenaje', was composed for Llobet.

Llobet is considered by some to be the teacher of Segovia, however, this has proved quite controversial, and debate continues today.
But Segovia himself frequently mentions Llobet in his autobiography, referring to him as a friend, but also, describing sessions when Llobet taught Segovia, amongst others, pieces, phrase by phrase, as he hadn't yet comitted them to manuscript.
Segovia was still a young man at this stage and I feel sure he must have picked up many practical aspects of Llobet's technique as well as merely learning the notes.

By the end of his career, Llobet had produced more than 100 works for the guitar.
Today you can hear, 'El Noy de la Mare' (The Mother's child/Our lady's child), track 11, which is a traditional Catalan Christmas carol, arranged by Llobet.
This has long been a favourite of guitarists, and Segovia used to frequently perform it as an encore.
Robin has also been performing it for some time and it's beautiful melody never fails to move audiences.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Asturias - Isaac Albeniz (1860 - 1909)

'Asturias' is a very special piece of music to Robin, as it was one of the first pieces he heard played on the classical guitar, and, one of his main motivations to learn the instrument.
This occurred whilst listening to the radio, when about 14 years old, and John Peel played The Doors, 'Spanish Caravan'.
Peel then explained that the song starts with the theme from Asturias, and went on to play Segovia performing the piece, which was Robin's inspiration.

Isaac Albeniz was a Spanish pianist and composer who started as a child prodigy.
He gave his first performance at 4 and rumour has it that he was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 7, but he broke a window with a ball he was playing with, so was denied admission.

It was Felipe Pedrell who inspired Albeniz to write Spanish music, such as, Suite Espanola, Op.47. of which Asturias (Leyenda) is the 5th movement. Despite originally being composed for piano, it is a very guitaristic piece, and was transcribed for guitar by Tarrega, along with many other pieces.
Albeniz is known to have preferred many of his pieces played on the guitar and Asturias is probably one if the most famous which now has an important position in the classical guitar repertoire.

This is one of my favourite versions of Asturias. The atmospheric build up to the triplets in the first section is incredible, and the dramatic punctuation by the powerful chords really heightens the tension before the calm of the more reflective middle section. The first section is then repeated with a beautiful coda section to complete the movement.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Professor Calls and 'Luna Bianco'

A little light relief for a cold November day.
My grandmother came to spend the day with us here at the weekend.
Over lunch Robin announced that a rather eccentric Professor of music was calling round later in the afternoon.
'Friederich', the prof, specialises in old manuscripts, and had some pieces that he wanted Robin to take a look at.
My grandmother was very excited about this. She worked at a university for many years and has always enjoyed stimulating conversations.

Robin stressed that Friederich was quite a character, and, prone to arriving early for appointments.
He then made a big deal of preparing to take the dogs for a walk, whilst in reality he shut the poor canines in the kitchen, and hid upstairs.

Some time later the doorbell rang and son number one dutifully answered it, making polite conversation with the Professor in the hallway, before bringing him into the lounge and introducing 'Friederich' to 'Gran'.

After initial introductions, the professor pulled out the precious manuscripts from his battered briefcase and proceeded to extol the virtues of this fabulous music.

By this time I had also entered the room, and the prof excitedly pointed out bar 25, and started to sing along as he followed the music with his finger. All done very loudly and with rather eccentric hand gestures.

I left the room as the professor asked my grandmother, "Do you love ze muzic of Ludwig Van Beethoven?"
"Oh yes", she replied.

"Iz ze maestro returned from his valk yet?"
"No, not yet", was my response from the hall where I was taking refuge.

After further small talk and manic gesticulation from the professor, he announced that he needed to play this, 'sublime phrase' on the piano, and left the room.

Poor grandmother was looking decidedly bemused by the whole experience and asked son number one if the Professor was alright.
To which he replied, "Yes, of course".

But we couldn't keep the illusion up any longer, and Robin reappeared, pulling off a wig and glasses as he entered.
Fortunately Gran took it all in the spirit it was intended and hasn't stopped chuckling about it since.

This is the Professor, in all his glory:

The wig was from the children's fancy dress box, and the shirt, well, that's a real 1970's shirt, a memento from a tour Robin did with Atarah Ben Tovim.
I'm just hoping that Robin hasn't taken this outfit over to Leeds University where he's teaching today...

It's also hard to believe that the same professor composed track 14 on Virtuoso.
'Luna Bianco' has a slow bossa nova groove with a short improvised solo in the middle.
The piece was inspired by the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, which Robin has long admired and loved.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Canarios and Cunard's 'Queen Victoria'

Canarios is a lively and optimistic piece of music which, as the title suggests, hails from the Canary Islands.
Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710) was a dominant figure of Spanish baroque music, and Canarios is taken from Sanz's 'Suite Espagnole'.

Many people will recognise the theme from Joaquin Rodrigo's, 'Fantasia Para Una Gentilhombre', which was composed for Andres Segovia in 1953.

Canarios is such a happy piece that Robin frequently performs it as an encore, which is always very popular.
You can hear Robin playing it here, track 10.

There was an interesting article in the paper today, for anyone of a nautical persuasion, 'Cunard adds 'Queen Victoria' to its fleet', by Richard Grey.
Judging by the pictures and the descriptions on Cunard's site, the Queen Victoria is certainly luxurious.
The Royal Court Theatre looks incredible, with three levels to create a grand auditorium, including private boxes.
The theatre seats over 800, and in early January Robin will be performing a couple of concerts on board.
Still, one of the 352,000 bottles of champagne that are expected to be drunk next year, should help to calm any post concert nerves....

Thursday, November 22, 2007

'Return to Islay' and the Need to Promote Classical Music...

Return to Islay, track 7 on 'Virtuoso', was inspired during a visit to this remote Hebridean island, when Robin was performing there with Peter Wiltschinsky, as the Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo.
Although Robin had never been to the island before he felt the place was strangely familiar, and on his return home, set about composing this solo guitar piece.

The music reflects the calm serenity of the terrain and Robin wanted to write something very simple. The paradox is that effective simplicity is difficult to achieve!

I hope that you will agree that Robin managed to evoke the spirit of this beautiful island in his piece, 'Return to Islay'.

Encouraging children to listen to all types of music is, once again, something we need to address.
There was an interesting article in the 'Telegraph' the other day, by Graeme Paton, Traditional musical instruments 'in decline'.

The research, led by Professor Susan Hallam, was carried out on young children in school.
The popularity of the violin, recorder, flute and clarinet has declined over the last two years, but the number of pupils learning the guitar and drums has increased.
In fact, Hallam predicts that the acoustic guitar will overtake the violin as the most widely taught instrument.

That's good news for us!

Coincidentally, I spent last night at son number one's, 'Year 6 concert', from which I can report a healthy interest in musical instruments.
Over the evening the audience enjoyed 48 performances by enthusiastic 10 year olds.
The instruments, in order of number of appearances, were,
1st place - Piano
2nd - Guitar
3rd - Drums
4/5 (joint) - vocal & trumpet
7/8/9/10/11 (joint) violin, cornet, flute, glockenspiel and saxophone

For good measure there was also a demonstration of Irish and Tap Dancing.

The most important point is exposure.
All children need to hear classical music in order to fuel their desire to learn a classical instrument.
We are lucky, our school has a very positive approach, but that certainly isn't always the case.
As the report points out, children want to emulate the music they see.
So why aren't we able to see and hear more classical music on T.V.?
We know it will help our children in so many ways, yet seem happy to let a few generations 'fall by the wayside' before we redress the balance.

The point is highlighted again today, in an article by Jasper Rees, 'Loving music - with no strings attached'.
Rees is currently enjoying a return to horn playing after a 22 year break, and stresses that the rewards of learning an instrument as a child are incalculable. The legacy of the skills acquired are like a 'deposit on your culture future'.

We know that learning an instrument develops skills such as team work, memory, vocabulary and increase of confidence, it also appears that those skills remain with us into adulthood.
So the current Government plan to boost music in primary schools should be encouraged wholeheartedly.

I learnt the guitar for many years as a child and look what happened to me. I married a classical guitarist and the skills I learnt have proved invaluable in understanding the man and his music.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Arrival on iTunes and Eternal Dance - Robin Hill

We were very excited to find that 'Virtuoso' has now arrived on iTunes, and spent the evening looking at the stores around the world, which gave us quite a buzz!

One of the pieces we were listening to was 'Eternal Dance', by Robin, so I decided to jump to track 8 today, and tell you more about it.
'Eternal Dance' is the first movement from a suite of pieces for guitar and orchestra called, 'Eternal Dances'
I must say that it is one of my favourites as the piece captures the imagination immediately with its unusual, but highly rhythmic, time signature of 5/8 with occasional bars of 7/8.

The piece also features a scordatura tuning, with bottom E down to C, and, A down to G. The key is C minor.

Throughout the movement there is much use of percussion with the initial theme stated on solo guitar, then taken up by the orchestra.

Rasgueados are then featured, which reinforce the driving rhythms, and impel the movement forward to greet the appearance of the French horn. The horn then states a secondary theme, whilst the strings continue the rhythm, accompanying with an agitated nervous energy.

A beautiful, soaring solo violin passage then appears with guitar accompaniment and the unrelenting pulse continues.

As the piece returns to solo guitar with the main theme, it is punctuated by the orchestra, before the flourish of a cadenza from the guitar.

The orchestra then restates the theme before fading into the distance, with the final statement, once again, on solo guitar.

The whole movement lasts for 5 minutes and 59 seconds and someone once told me that they always had an image of Roman Legions on the march whenever they listened to it! It is certainly a powerful and visceral piece of music.
Go and hear for yourself , or, if you don't have Apple iTunes software installed, here, and make your own decision.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Track 5: 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' - Handel and Cecilia Bartoli's 'Maria'

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) began composing at the age of 9 having already shown considerable musical talent on the harpsichord and pipe organ.

He had a turbulent relationship with his father who insisted he studied law in 1702. However, after his father's death, Handel abandoned law for music.

He lived for some time in London, at 25 Brook Street, which is currently the 'Handel House Museum'.
I know that this is well worth a visit, as Robin went a few years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed a personal tour by a very knowledgeable guide. He came home inspired by his visit and full of numerous anecdotes. He was doubly delighted to find that Jimi Hendrix had lived in the house next door!

Handel was a composer that was, and is, held in high esteem by fellow composers.
In 1824 Beethoven is quoted as saying:

"Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived. I would bare my head and kneel at his grave."


"Handel is the only person I would wish to see before I die, and the only person I would wish to be, were I not Bach."


"Handel understands effect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt."

Really you can let the music speak for itself.

Robin originally recorded his own arrangement of 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' with Peter Wiltschinsky on their album, 'Virtuoso Music for Two Guitars' on the Hyperion label.
I was interested to find that details of this album are held in the 'International Guitar Research Archive', in the Oviatt Library on the campus of California State University.

Today's version of the 'Arrival of the Queen of Sheba', which comes from the oratario, 'Solomon', is a solo guitar and orchestra arrangement. The piece is eminently suited to performance on the guitar with its rapid scales and arpeggios, the original dialogue between two oboes being replaced by guitar and recorder.

When you have finished downloading this piece, I strongly recommend you go over to iTunes and download Cecilia Bartoli's new album, 'Maria'.
It's fantastic, and you can read all about Cecilia's passion for the Spanish mezzo-soprano, Maria Malibran, here, in an article by Rupert Christiansen.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Halle Orchestra, Sarah Connolly and a Meeting with Mark Elder

I was lucky enough to be given a ticket to the Bridgewater Hall last night to see the Halle Orchestra perform a wonderful programme.

They started with Bedrich Smetana's (1824-1884) 'Polka and Overture' from The Bartered Bride.

This is probably one of Smetana's best known operas, full of humour, which doesn't reflect any of the tragic circumstances which occurred during his troubled life.
The high-spirited Polka, danced by the villagers in Act 1 of the opera, depicts the mass merrymaking of Bohemian village life as Smetana would himself have experienced during his childhood.
The incredible energy of the string section was inspiring and the power of an exceptional orchestra never ceases to amaze me.

The Overture, to quote the programme notes, "Opens with a breathtaking whirl of rustic exuberance, which subsides into a chattering murmur suggestive of idle village gossip. A sudden crescendo then leads into a second, more dance-like theme ... towards the end Smetana introduces a more reflective theme but this is soon swept away by a final burst of madcap vitality."

Mark Elder showed complete mastery of the orchestra, bringing out the best of each section, with a fantastic performance.

Next, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Five Songs to poems by Fredrich Ruckert.

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly joined the stage to give an exquisite performance.
I have only recently come to appreciate the soprano voice, and this was such a moving interpretation which held audience spellbound.
Sarah Conolly's stage presence was enhanced by her beautiful white dress, which Elder later told me, reminded him of a Greek Goddess!
The five songs:
1) Um Mitternacht (At midnight)
2) Liebst du um Schonheit (If you love for beauty)
3) Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder (Do not spy on my songs)
4) Ict atmet' einen linden Duft (I breathed a gentle scent)
5) Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world)

were sung out of order, which allowed for much discussion in the interval, and an apology from Elder at the beginning of the second half for forgetting to mention it!
All was forgiven as the delicate orchestral texture left the audience entranced.

After the interval, Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), Symphony No.6 in D major, op.60.
As Dvorak's Sixth Symphony was commissioned by the one-time Halle conductor, Hans Richter, it seemed appropriate to hear it for the first time in this setting.
The Symphony exhibits the musical influences of his friend Brahms and he would have been proud to have composed this piece himself I am sure.
The four movements:
Allegro non tanto
Scherzo (Furiant):Presto
Finale: Allegro con spirito

were all conducted from memory by Mark Elder. His obvious enthusiasm of the piece was captured and brought to life via the conduit of the orchestra.
I often find it difficult to follow a conductor, but not so in this case, Elder's clear conducting and precision timing brought the best out of the Halle.

I had attended the concert with a small group of players from a local youth orchestra, and we were lucky enough to go back stage and have refreshments with Mark Elder, after the performance.
I was very impressed with his genuine delight at seeing these impressionable young performers and the interest he showed to each of them and their chosen instrument.
This is just the sort of exercise that all orchestras should undertake to nurture our young people into the fantastic world of classical music, and, one in which I have discussed many times on this blog.

Elder chatted happily in a relaxed manner, took many questions from the group, and gave thoughtful answers. He was very enthusiastic when one young man admitted that it was his first time at an orchestral concert, and Elder was delighted to have been such an inspiration to him.

The topic of applause, during or between movements, was raised. This is a controversial area, but Elder had no hesitation in voicing his opinion.
"Never be afraid to show your emotion, applaud when you feel like you want to", was the general consensus.
Elder pointed out that Dvorak would have been most upset if people didn't applaud between movements and that the modern day approach is certainly not one that Elder advocates. He likes to know that the audience are enjoying themselves and the feedback is good for both him and his orchestra. (Haven't I said this so many times...)

I also discovered that Elder loves the classical guitar and he asked about the various nail problems that guitarists are doomed to endure.
Now I know he likes the guitar, maybe I should send him a couple of Robin's concerti...After all, the Liverpool Philharmonic have played one, maybe it's now time for the Halle.
As for Robin, I'm afraid he missed it all - he was at home looking after the children!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Track 4: Canzone - Robin Hill

The fourth track on the CD 'Virtuoso' is 'Canzone', an original Hill composition.
This piece was initially composed for two guitars, the central movement from 'Tre Esercizi', which has been performed many times.
Tre Esercizi is a formidable piece, especially the final movement, which Peter Wiltschinsky always introduced as, 'One of the most difficult pieces the duo plays!'
Robin certainly didn't make life easy for them.

Canzone was therfore the 'calm before the storm' of the final movement...

In fact the piece was inspired by the movement of waves, which is easily visualised with the ebb and flow of the opening phrases of the piece, and, is dedicated to Robin's friend, the Italian guitarist, composer and teacher, Mario Gangi.

Robin later arranged 'Canzone' for solo guitar and it has been very popular with audiences around the world ever since.

The original idea for Canzone was composed whilst on honeymoon in Antigua, sitting on the white sand beach, enjoying the peace and tranquility, as the warm water lapped at our feet.
Those were the days.....

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Track 3: Sons de Carilhoes - Joao Pernambuco

The third track is 'Sons de Carilhoes' by Joao Pernambuco.
Pernambuco was born on the 2nd November 1883, in Jatoba, Pernambuco, Brazil, and named, Joao Texeira Guimaraes.
After moving to Rio he told so many stories about his home state that he quickly became known as 'Joao Pernambuco'.

Pernambuco came from a poor family but learnt the guitar from an early age.
Whilst living in Recife, and then Rio, he had to supplement his composing and playing by working as a blacksmith and then as a labourer.

As he was illiterate he used to have to ask others to write his compositions down, and sadly, several were stolen.

An example of this is, 'Catulo da Paixao Cearense' which was transformed into 'Lunar do Sertao' and then became the unofficial Brazilian anthem. Unfortunately it was credited only to Catulo, and only recently has been properly acknowledged as Permanbuco's composition.

Between 1914 and 1919 Pernambuco became extremely popular and Villa-Lobos helped by transcribing and registering several of Pernambuco's songs to prevent any further loses.

Pernambuco was an important Belle Epoque composer of seminal choros, jangos, valses, toadas, and cancoes.

'Sons de Carilhoes' is a beautifully melodic and rhythmic piece which is closely related to the samba (which we discussed yesterday).

It has long been a favourite of Robin's and, despite the problems that Pernambuco faced as a composer, is one of the most optimistic pieces which Robin plays.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Track 2: Dolor de Muelas and Manic Management...

The second track that we are going to look at is called, 'Dolor de Muelas'.
In case you are bemused about the title, I should explain that when translated it means, toothache.
The reason being that it was composed and recorded when Robin was suffering from a particularly painful bout of toothache!
However, that isn't apparent in the music, as the piece is in a freewheeling samba groove, with much improvisation.

The Samba is one of the most popular forms of music in Brazil, and surprisingly also in Japan. The genre combines several different cultures, especially the musical aspects of African and Latino heritage, and continues to evolve within Brazilian culture today.

Originally the Samba was a generic term depicting the choreography of 'circle-dances' imported from Angola and the Congo.
A characteristic element of the Samba is the 'umbigada', which is an, 'invitation to dance', by the touching of the couple's navels!
Gradually, by the late 19th Century, the dance became urbanized, with the urban versions differing substantially from the rural folk sambas.

The Samba continued to gain notoriety as a distinctive kind of music, at the beginning of the 20th Century, in Rio de Janeiro.

On this recording Robin is also playing some of the percussion. So feel free to get into the Samba groove and dance along...

Today I am calming down after a particularly stressful couple of days.
On Wednesday evening I took a call from our London agent asking if Robin would be able to get to India by Monday.
The dates were fine, but, a visa is required for entry to India.
I consequently spent most of Wednesday evening, and all of Thursday, trying to resolve the problem.
After many 'phone calls between me, London and America, the only way forward would be to extend the trip and unfortunately due to previous commitments we were unable to do so.
I certainly couldn't expect Robin to arrive home from an overnight flight and perform the same day.
So despite our best efforts, on this occasion we had to concede defeat.
Still, you can't say we didn't try.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Track 1: Malaguena and 'Classical Star'

So, here we have the first in the series of liner notes for 'Virtuoso'.
The track is 'Malaguena'.

The word Malaguena can mean many things, literally it's meaning is 'A woman living in the Spanish port city of Malaga'.
However, it is also commonly used in the music world as being 'a traditional flamenco song of Malaga'.

In this case, Malaguena is a traditional, fast and exuberant flamenco style piece, which has evolved from the sevillana and the fandango.
Originally Malaguenas were sung and played at high speed, with rhythmic patterns in 6/8 time, to accompany dance.

However, towards the end of the 19th Century the Malaguena developed further incorporating more from 'real' flamenco.
The music was slowed down, and the melody enriched with flourishes and ornaments, as the number of performers was reduced to a single guitar.

Virtuoso techniques were gradually incorporated, such as the rapid arpeggio, scales and the tremolo, which then created a much more varied palette.

Whilst the Malaguena had always derived from local fandangos, with regional variations, it was the guitar that allowed for the independence of the malaguena from the fandango, due to the changes in character of the playing with solo guitar and an ability to produce a sharper and richer sound.

For this recording, Robin decided to start the CD with Malaguena as the idea was to market to a wide range of audience, and this particular piece is always popular in concert. Most people instantly recognise the main theme, and it's always good to start with something very exciting and , at the same time, familiar!
The main theme is stated in the bass which is then followed by a rapid variation section and the theme is then repeated with an accompanying tremelo in the treble. The piece then modulates from E major to C major maintaining the tremelo. A slow expressive section in C major ensues..this section being reminiscent of the canto libre style....a rapid scale flourish re-introduces the main theme and the first section is then repeated.
So I hope that you enjoy it!

On another subject, yes, we did watch 'Classical Star' last night, and I did make it through the whole day without finding out who had won!
It was exciting to watch and nerve wracking waiting to hear the final results.
At the risk of sounding too politically correct, I do think they all did very well.
The stress of performing a concerto is something most people will never experience. There's a huge pressure to get it right and the thrill of an orchestra playing behind you is incredible.

Sophie did very well with an incredibly difficult piece, and it will be interesting to see how her career develops now that she has won the competition.

Karen took the bassoon onto another level. Whatever the outcome of the competition, she has done herself and her chosen instrument an huge favour. I'm sure we will be hearing more of her in the future.

Ian, well, I'm not surprised that he didn't win, but he was up against some very strong competition.
He also has youth on his side and I feel that he can, and will, improve his interpretive skills as he matures. As I have already said, technically he is very good, but he needs to learn to add more soul and emotion. Even in the brief clips we saw and heard on the programme his improvement was evident.

'Concierto de Aranjuez' is a formidable piece for any guitarist to undertake. It is deceptively difficult throughout all three movements.
I always remember watching a video of Julian Bream performing the piece and he can clearly be seen to mouth the words, "It's a bugger", to the conductor!

From personal experience, Robin first performed the concerto with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, with the conductor, Carl Davis. He had a couple of months to prepare the piece and practised it so much that our young son used to sing the main theme in his cot as he went to sleep!
No guitarist takes this piece for granted and we discussed it with Paco Pena, who was on the same programme.
Robin asked him if he would contemplate recording it, as Paco de Lucia had just recorded and performed it, and Paco's reply was that he may do one day but would need at least a year to prepare.

So, it was a very brave move to play this piece, however an understandable one. It is by far, and quite desevedly, the most well known classical guitar concerto.

'Star' quality also incorporates an artists ability to communicate with the audience, and Ian certainly seemed able to do that. His comments about tuning the guitar could have come from an 'old' pro!

So to sum up, Ian did very well given his age and I'm sure we will hear more of him as he develops as a person and as a player.
As for the programme itself, well, the classical music world is full of competitions, and all the stresses, strains and tears that go along with them.
At least on this occasion the criticisms were always constructive and delivered in a positive way, and I'm sure that all the participants have therefore benefited from the experience.
Also, the exposure of classical music on mainstream T.V. can only be a good thing. If there's another series, it would be nice to hear longer extracts, or even whole performances, so that those of us at home can evaluate each student, rather than basing our decisions on edited highlights.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Liner Notes for 'Virtuoso' and Classical Star...Don't Tell Me Who Won...

In the early hours of this morning I had an idea which was prompted by some recent posts by Ben over on 'Classical Convert'.
He has recently been discussing the need for liner notes to accompany digital music, as he wants to learn more about the music he is listening to, its structure, key, harmonies etc.
You can read his two related posts here and here.

Whilst not exactly what Ben is after, I decided that over the next few weeks I shall take each track from 'Virtuoso' and discuss it in more detail.
Not just the technical aspects of the music but also any situations which arose during the recording of that particular piece.
For those interested, they can download the music, and then read all about it, as they listen.
Hopefully, for those who don't actually want to purchase the music, they will find it interesting anyway.

I will,of course, still be adding any day to day happenings in Hillhouse, so, even if you are not reading out of 'technical' interest, I hope there will still be something for you.

This will, hopefully, start tomorrow.
As for today, well I am spending most of it avoiding reading any newspapers, blogs (especially UK ones) and generally walking around with my fingers in my ears.
The reason.
'Classical Star' finals was on last night on BBC2, and, as yet, we haven't watched it.
I know there are people out there waiting for some comment about the last programme in the series, as within 15 minutes of the show ending, my statcounter told me of a number of visits, but, I'm afraid you will have to wait until tomorrow.

The reality of living with a musician is the unpredictable nature of life.
Today is a concert day, and consequently last night Robin remained in his music room, hard at work, until late.
So we didn't get to watch the programme.
We will though, and until then, I shall be avoiding anyone who may tell me who has won. (Although I suspect I already know...)

Oh, yes, the concert.
Robin has returned and had an eventful lunch time recital.
Whilst warming up, there was a knock at the dressing room door, and the caretaker asked where Robin had parked his car. A traffic warden was circling and waiting to pounce.
Luckily all that was required was an 'Artists Permit' which Robin was then issued, and after his car keys had been located, (He'd left them in the toilet and the same caretaker found them) Robin was able to continue with his warm up exercises.

The hall was full, the audience appreciative, and the music played well.
Robin had been concerned about the opening piece as he hadn't played it before.
It was one of his own compositions, 'Fiesta', which is a lively flamenco style piece.
He needn't have worried, it went very well, as did the rest of the performance.

All that and home in time for tea!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Announcing CD Baby's New Baby - Robin Hill's 'Virtuoso'

It is an exciting day here, and for all those people who have asked when they can download Robin's 'Virtuoso' CD, or buy a hard copy, well, now you can.

We are working in partnership with CD Baby, and as of today the entire CD, or selected tracks, can be purchased through our page, 'Robin Hill - Virtuoso'.

CD Baby are one of the largest distributors of music to Apple iTunes, Napster, and many other retailers, so over the next few weeks you will see the CD appearing in many different places.

'Virtuoso' includes many pieces from the standard classical guitar repertoire, alongside new compositions and even an Irish Jig!

Personal favourites, well, that's very difficult to say.
I do love 'Asturias' by Albeniz, and 'Eternal Dance', which is the first movement from a work for guitar and orchestra, composed by Robin himself, both are certainly at the top of my list.
But then 'Danza Brasilera', by Jorge Morel has long been a favourite of mine, as has 'Xodo da Baiana' by Dilermando Reis.

Robin's own compositions are always very popular in concert, but if you want Handel, Gaspar Sanz, Eric Satie, Agustin Barrios, Francisco Tarrega or Mauro Giuliani, then they are all there.

The best thing to do is go over to the site, have a look, and a listen, and of course, feel free to buy!

Over the coming months many more Cd's will become available and I shall update you as we go along.
But for now, enjoy...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Notes on a Recorder to Notes on a Scandal

Robin has been consumed by composition.
Not for the guitar, or, the piano.
Not for a band or electric guitar.
But for the recorder.

Son number one innocently remarked that he may like to play 'Over the Sea to Skye', in the school concert, with his friend.
"I'll do an arrangement for you then", was Robin's reply.

Two hours later we had a fantastic arrangement, and a 'Von Trapp' family moment, as we played through the piece.
As we only had one descant recorder in the house I had to dig out my old tenor recorder and we were then able to play through the piece.

Robin wasn't satisfied so off he went again to make some alterations.
By the time he reappeared the piece had now gained triangle and sleigh bells....
Son number one was beginning to look very worried.

Who knows what the outcome will be...

Meanwhile, while Robin went back to his music, I read an interesting and detailed account of the Joyce Hatto fiasco, by Mark Singer.
You can read Singer's, 'Notes on a scandal' here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

'Stay' for lunch With The Hollies, Barrios and Dyens...

Robin had a nostalgic moment at lunchtime today.
He suddenly recalled the memory of Saturday afternoons as a child, and one day in particular.
He was a small boy, just home from a shopping spree in his local town, where he had purchased the latest hit single, 'Stay' by 'The Hollies'.
The recollection he had was one of sheer pleasure.
Playing the freshly purchased single over and over again whilst eating spaghetti bolognese, with a feeling of pure happiness!
This was November 1963.
I wish my memory for past events was so clear.
Mind you, I wasn't born then...

I'm also full of admiration for Robin's parents. Not only did they allow the repeated playing of a song whilst they sat down to eat, (his mama and papa didn't mind...), but, they also prepared a main meal in the middle of the day.

I wonder if our two boys will have any similar memories in the future?
If I take this morning as the norm, then they could well be explaining to their children that Saturday morning was swimming, followed by beans on toast, accompanied by 'La Catedral' by Agustin Barrios, or, perhaps, 'Tango en Skai' by Roland Dyens, played by Robin of course.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Go For The Juggler (Brylcreem Effortless TV Ad)

Here's something incredible.
This is the Brylcreem advert, 'Effortless', which I think will amaze you.
The artist is Sam Veale, a comedian and juggler, who Robin spent some time with recently on one of his foreign trips.
They got on very well and have stayed in touch since their return.

As you watch, bear in mind that the whole sequence was taken in one continuous shot.
That is a remarkable achievement, and I'm sure you will agree that this is a virtuoso performance by Sam.
You can read more about Sam and his work over on his site, here.
Enjoy, and look out for the tortoise...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Recording: Listen and Learn

Recording of Robin's latest classical guitar CD is getting under way here and he disappears for hours at a time.
When he does venture out of the studio he is usually armed with his latest 'take'.
We then settle down and listen through a number of times.
There are so many aspects to recording, not just the technical side of things, but one of the areas that I'm most involved in is the listening.

I don't mean just listening but really scrutinising every last note.
When we listen to playbacks we are not only checking that the notes are all fine, but the sound quality, tone, flow of the piece and generally that the interpretation is the one that Robin is trying to achieve.
Fortunately, we both have very clear ideas as to the way most pieces should be performed, and luckily they are the same.
This makes the whole process of listening back a much easier one.

Robin learns so much more about a piece as he records it.

As Glenn Gould once said:

"The tape recorder is the finest teacher."

He should know, he abandoned his concert career in his early thirties to concentrate exclusively on recording until his death aged 51.

I can understand that.
A completely different frame of mind is required for recording than is needed for live performance.

Good preparation is essential.
The music has to be learnt and memorised but the learning process doesn't end there.
The more a piece is recorded, the more it is understood, and, hopefully, a close approximation of an ideal is achieved.

I was also very pleased to have positive feedback.
After listening for some time to a Barrios piece Robin commented that my input was invaluable as I could bring extra objectivity to the whole process.
One of the problems with recording is that it is very easy to become so engrossed in the minutiae that the overall picture is lost.
As I generally am out of the way for the recording part I'm able to keep that distance.

I did manage to get insulted at one point though.
Robin announced that he had emailed me an mp3 of the latest movement so that he could hear what it sounded like on my 'tinny' computer!
Well, we can't all have the latest technology can we...?

Recording will be interrupted as of tomorrow, but, only for a few days, as Robin has to prepare for a concert.
Next week, on Wednesday 14th November, Robin is performing at Dewsbury Town Hall as part of the 'Lunchtime Chamber Concerts' series.
This is a rare chance to see Robin play in the UK, so anyone interested and able to get there, doors open at 11.30, the concert starts at 12.30, and will finish at 1,30.
Contact the box office on 01484 22 32 00 for more details.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Classical Star - Revisited

Once again we found ourselves watching 'Classical Star', on BBC2, as it enters the penultimate week.

With only five students remaining, it was always going to be a challenge to reduce the number to three, for the final.
Collaboration was the focus of attention this week.
It's an essential requirement for a musician to be able to perform with other musicians.
Not only because it is nearly always necessary at some point in a musical career, but also, because it is a highly desirable stage in a musician's development to experience the synergy and joy of being a team member.

The Academy set up a blues masterclass with jazz star Julian Joseph, and it was within this setting that the students were required to learn the art of collaboration and improvisation.
All the participants entered into the spirit of the challenge with enthusiasm, some realising their limitations more than others, but it must be said that most were uncomfortable in this environment.

All the candidates have undoubtedly worked very hard to achieve their levels of skill on their chosen instruments, but, the ability to cross genres convincingly is achieved by very few.(Chick Corea, Benny Goodman and Wynton Marsalis come to mind).
Most classical musicians are ill at ease with other genres but some will learn over time to be more comfortable.

It's one thing to have the ability to play notes in the right places but another thing completely to feel the music and, of course, to improvise.

However, I'm sure they all gained a lot from the experience, which, after all, is what a masterclass is all about.

The challenge for the week was a tough one.
To perform at London's Southbank Centre, with professional string players, in front of an illustrious audience comprising agents, critics and managers from within the classical music industry.
All credit to the candidates for maintaining their 'cool', given the importance of the situation.
Many a battle worn professional would have found the scenario a difficult one.

We were disappointed with the amount of airtime the classical guitarist Ian had for viewers at home to listen and make their judgement. It seemed less than the other soloists, but, that may have just been our need to hear more.

As I said last week, Ian displays excellent technical ability, and I feel that over time this will stand him in very good stead.
Last night he played Boccherini's 'Quintet No.4 in D Major', but the amount of footage seen was so limited it was difficult to assess his performance.
The majority of the part shown consisted of rasgueados, which showed his ensemble and listening skills, rather than the areas of the piece designed to show off his guitaristic skills.

I'm not sure if the finals have already taken place, but if they haven't, the advice I would give to Ian is to work on his sound and projection.
The concert guitar used, will obviously play a significant part in this, as will nail quality.
That's why nails are so often mentioned in this blog!

It will be interesting to see and hear his choice of concerto for the final.
What Ian has to do, whatever he is performing, is to play with every last ounce of energy he has, and inject that into his performance.
It's no coincidence that musicians come off stage exhilarated but drained.

Whilst in the Academy this week all the students were in the enviable position of observing one of the world's greatest pianists, Lang Lang.
Now that is the sort of stage presence and gravitas which Ian needs to achieve.

Ian does seem very receptive to all the advice in the Academy so far, so, lets hope he can hold Lang Lang's performance in his mind and use it to his advantage.
That's star quality.

So Ian, use that adrenaline to give a feisty and powerful performance, and the very best of luck...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Composers and their Idiosyncrasies

Composing music is a large part of life here and many people seem interested in the processes involved.
Some composers appear to need to be in the right environment for the muse to come upon them.

Khalil ibn Ahmen, (718-789) a poet and musician from Iraq, could only compose when street workers were making a noise outside.

Christoph Gluck, (1714-1787) the German composer is said to have insisted that he could only write his music when seated in the middle of a field. He did actually suffer a stroke whilst in a field and died a few days later. Who knows what piece he was working on at the time.

Robin doesn't appear to have any such foibles.
He tends to compose when the mood takes him, wherever that may be. Sometimes he wakes up in the morning, (and occasionally in the night) and an idea has been germinating whilst he sleeps. He will then act on it either at the guitar or the piano.
Other times he'll be playing a piece and a simple musical phrase will come to mind, and again, he'll leave what he was doing to work on the new idea.
Frequently an idea will surface when out walking.
Many times Robin has returned from a walk, and disappeared for hours, working on a piece that was created whilst walking the dogs.

In this case he has something in common with Ludwig van Beethoven.

He was apparently offered a salary by three Austrian noblemen that would guarantee him four thousand gulfen a year if he would walk each day from sunrise until noon, because he composed better while walking.
I don't know if he took them up on the offer but if there are any like minded noblemen, or anyone really, prepared to pay Robin to go out for a walk every day, then please feel free to contact us...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Daydreaming and the Theory of Relativity

For any of you readers that take the time to check out this blog, whilst at work, I have some good news.
I found an article in the 'Los Angeles Times' that could give you the power you need if your boss finds you surfing the internet.

The author, Eric Weiner, has written an article about the results of a survey carried out in America.
Apparently, the average American worker 'wastes' slightly more than two hours a day, not doing their job.
The number one culprit is surfing the internet and sending personal emails.

However, Weiner points out that Americans shouldn't feel guilty about this, as they lead the world in worker productivity.
He also says that as jobs are increasingly intruding on our leisure time that the 'blurring' of the work/play divide should become equally hazy.

Weiner uses an excellent example of how workers need time to dawdle and dream to be productive and creative.
In 1905 Albert Einstein worked as a clerk in a Swiss patent office, and was a self-confessed slacker, or, as he himself put it, "respectable federal ink pisser".
But it was whilst gazing out of the window that he had the insight that led to the 'special theory of relativity'.

So, according to Weiner, we shouldn't feel guilty about daydreaming and broadening our minds by distractions at work, as who knows where it will lead.

In fact, Weiner has a book out in January, published by 'TWELVE', 'The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World'.
I'll be getting a copy.
Anyone who tells me it's OK to take a coffee break, surf the net and daydream, are certainly worth investing in.

I'm not sure how that all equates to the UK work ethic,or anywhere else in the world for that matter, but I'm prepared to over look that minor detail as the theory fits in very nicely with my general way of thinking.

So whilst I have been gazing out of the window to fuel my creative tendencies, Robin has been over at Leeds University, working hard with a number of guitar students.
As far as I know, he hasn't been looking out of the window, but only because there aren't any in the teaching room he uses.

But now I'm off to gaze out of the window, surf the net and generally daydream in a completely guilt free manner.
Thank you Eric.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Robin Hill's Sunday Morning iPod Shuffle

What a beautiful morning it was here today.
As soon as we opened the curtains the sun streamed in and revealed a perfect Autumn day.
Robin's first words were:

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness'
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;"

He was of course quoting John Keats, 'Ode to Autumn', if you want to read the whole thing, it's here.

As I've said before, Sunday morning is a time to relax in our house.
We usually put the iPod on shuffle and see what happens.

Here's today's offering:

1) Santana
'No One to Depend On' from Santana lll (1971)

2) John McLaughlin
'The Way of the Pilgrim' with the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

3) Daniel Barenboim
Prelude from, 'The Well Tempered Clavier' by J.S.Bach

4) Spiderpig Theme Song
From 'The Simpsons Movie'. (caused much delight from sons numbers one and two....)

5) Joni Mitchell
'The Boho Dance' from 'The Hissing of Summer Lawn' (1975)

6) Andres Segovia
John Dowland - Song and Galliard

7) John McLaughlin (again!)
'Face to Face' from 'Natural Elements' (1977) Shakti

8) Julian Bream
Julian Bream and Peter Peers, 'What then is love', an Elizabethan song.

9) Pepe Romero
Pepe Romero with the 'Academy of St.Martin in the Field', Boccherini Guitar Quintet No.6 in G Major.

10) Jascha Heifetz
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concero: Canzonetta in D Major.

Just when we thought we had better get on with our day, the next item called up on the iPod was, 'Robin Hill's Eklectica: Claude Bolling's Concerto for Classic Guitar and Jazz Piano Trio, 3rd movement, 'Invention'.
What a fantastic way to start the day.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

An Evening with The Dakotas...

Last night we had a rare opportunity to catch up with some old friends.
The problem for musicians is that they tend to work, when most people are ready to relax, and enjoy the weekend.
Long periods of time away from home also make it difficult to see family and friends.

As is often the case for musicians, many of their friends are also musicians.
So trying to tally diaries and find an evening when all are available is pretty difficult.

However, last night we managed it.
Pete Hilton is one of Robin's oldest friends, they played together in a band called 'Spring', and collaborated on many other musical ventures.
Finally, yesterday, we manged to get together, and catch up with each other's news.
As you know, Robin is frequently away from home, and Pete also tours extensively with The Dakotas, so we had plenty to talk about.

It was also a chance for me to talk to Rose, a kindred spirit when it comes to understanding the life of a musician, and, of course, their wives.
This is an area I shall be talking about in more detail soon as I have had a number of e mails from various people around the world, asking not about musicians themselves, but about the life of a musician's wife.

It seems that I have inadvertantly got a following of people interested in my view of living with a musician.

So we enjoyed a lovely evening, had the chance to relax and talk, until finally, son number two put his rucksack of toys on his back, and asked, 'Is it was time to go home now?'
We stalled him a bit longer, but when he actually put himself in the car, and into his car seat, we felt we had better go!

I just hope that it won't be long before 'The Dakotas' have a night off and it coincides with Robin being at home...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Healing Powers of the Renaissance

It has been a stressful day for Robin.
Last week an old friend, and for some years agent, died.
This saddened us all, as Dave Barnes was such a nice man, and a complete classical guitar enthusiast.
Whenever he attended one of Robin's concerts his energy and enthusiasm was infectious, and on many occasions they would spend some time 'post concert' discussing details of the performance.

Today was Dave's funeral and his wife Chris asked Robin if he would play something.
He was very happy to do so, but I have rarely seen him as anxious before performing.
The situation is an unusual one, it requires playing 'cold' without the opportunity to warm up, and under very harrowing circumstances, also Robin was very keen to give Dave the performance he deserved, so, it made for a tense situation.

He deliberated on the choice of pieces, but was only required to play for a short time, after the eulogy.
Robin settled on a group of Italian Renaissance lute pieces as they had always been favourites of Dave's, and somehow seemed to possess the appropriate spirituality for the occasion without being mournful.

On a much lighter note, we are delighted to hear that Russell Watson has now been discharged from hospital.
It's amazing how quickly he has reached this point, and a sign of his strength of character.
I hope all the messages from his fans will help him maintain his energy through the coming months as he faces further treatment.

We are strong believers in the power of positive thinking.
The 16th century essayist, Michel de Montaigne, made these trenchant observations on writing about the sheer power of the imagination:

"There are some who from fear anticipate the executioner's hand; and there was one who, when they unbound his eyes so that his pardon might be read to him, was found to be stark dead on the scaffold, slain by no other stroke than that of the imagination."

If thoughts can have such a negative effect just imagine the power of positive thinking...