'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

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According to Brigitte Fossey who played the little girl, 'Paulette', the film was originally made as a short, and then later extended to a feature length film.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...