'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, June 30, 2008

Snow Patrol and Joaquin Rodrigo

The life of a musician is anything but ordinary.
Robin has been home for a few days now, after three weeks away.
As you can imagine, there are always a great many things for him to deal with on his return.
The success of our MySpace page has already put us in contact with many interesting, and accomplished musicians, some of whom have been forwarding music for Robin to listen to.
I'm currently trying to find a slot of time to sit him down and play him the various mp3's which have arrived from hopeful composers.

But he has to make time for his family.
Three weeks away from home is a particularly long time for young children.
In Robin's absence I have been aided in distracting them by many end of term activities.
There seem to have been an endless stream of parties over every weekend.
So, on Sunday, I casually pointed out to Robin that he may like to take our youngest son to a 'snow party' later that day.
He willingly agreed, it would be an ideal opportunity to spend some time with the little chap.
As I left the music room I then added, "Oh, yes, you'll be taking the twins too, OK," and beat a hasty retreat.

I must say I was a little anxious about this expedition.
Robin doesn't really 'do' snow. It's cold and his hands don't like cold.
However, he'd agreed, and I needed a break.
All credit to him, he had a great time, his three charges all had a great time, and I enjoyed a couple of hours of child free calm.

But the exciting thing about living with a musician is that everything can change with just one 'phone call.
I returned from yet another party to hear Robin practising Rodrigo's 'Concierto de Aranjuez'. This is a fabulous piece, and one I am very familiar with.
However I wasn't expecting Robin to be playing it.
I shall have to get used to it though, as he has been asked to play the concierto next year.
The last time he performed it was with the Liverpool Philharmonic and rehearsal at home was so intense that our son used to sing the theme to himself to get to sleep at night!
So, if there are any orcheatras out there that want to put on the 'Concierto de Aranjuez' sometime after March next year, now is the time to get in touch.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Captain Corelli Causes Chaos

Louis de Bernieres has a lot to answer for.
Only recently Robin finished reading 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', which is a fantastic book, and we also watched the film again, just before Robin went away.
This has partially caused the current mandolin mania...

Late last night I had an email from Robin, with what appeared to be, a simple request.
Could I find a particular book, (directions were issued to locate it within his vast library in the music room), and then look up how many concerti Hummel had composed for guitar and mandolin.
Also, whilst I was at it, did Giuliani compose anything for mandolin.

I found the book, 'The Guitar and Mandolin' by P.J.Bone, with great ease. It was exactly where Robin had said it would be.
I do like a man who knows his way around his own library.

I rather naively thought that I would be able to look up in the index, and find the answers to his questions.
I was wrong.
There were whole chapters on both Hummel, and on Giuliani.
My heart sank.
It was late, I had been working all day at the computer, and I was ready to switch off.
However, after browsing for only a few minutes, I became hooked.
What a fascinating period of time.
To think that Hummel actually lived with Mozart for two years, and whilst there, he did in fact compose many songs and arias with mandolin accompaniment.
At the age of 21 he also compose a concerto for orchestra and mandolin, in which the orchestra take the introductory theme for the first 45 bars. (This 45 bars rest is beautifully depicted in the film, 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin', which if you haven't seen, then you should go and get, now.)
He also composed 'Grand Sonata' for mandolin and piano, which was sometimes played on guitar.

Mauro Giuliani on the other hand, didn't appear to write for mandolin, although he was undoubtedly frequently exposed to the instrument. As Giuliani was such a prolific writer I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is a 'lost' manuscript hidden in someones attic, specifically for the mandolin.

Giuliani was a particularly common name amongst musicians, and this caused some confusion on a number of occasions.
In fact, many thought that Mauro Giuliani had died, when it was reported that the guitarist M.Giuliani was dead. It was actually one Michele Giuliani that had met his demise, and the world was to have the pleasure of Mauro for a few more years.
But another Giuliani, Giovanni Francesco, did actually compose four quartets for mandolin, viola, cello and lute.

Whilst this is only a short, and potted history of the era, of which I have only briefly researched, (late last night if you remember), it must have been an incredible time to be alive.
Hummel living with Mozart, friends with Giuliani, Diabelli and Sor.
These names are so familiar to me, and it's very exciting to think of them all sitting around together, 'talking music'.
Thank goodness there was no television at the time. Can you imagine if all these wonderful musicians had been distracted by some awful reality T.V. show...
The world would be a poorer place.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Mystery of the Mandolin

Today Robin is in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, but I am going to tell you about exciting developments, on the mandolin front, that occurred over the weekend.

Little over 4 weeks ago Robin was in Sorrento.
Whilst walking the streets, he found a very nice antique shop, and in the window was a beautiful Mandolin.
If you remember, I blogged about it at the time, 'Sorrento a Mandolin and a Music Box'.

Well, on his return from that particular trip, Robin was furious with himself for not buying the magnificent instrument.
The more we researched the luthier Nicola Spoto, the more we realised that an opportunity had been missed.

But then we started looking at the various photographs that Robin had taken whilst away.
Sure enough, there was one of the mandolin, in the shop window.
Unfortunately neither the name of the shop, or the street, were in the image.
We were very frustrated.
As we zoomed in, and out of the picture, I noticed a parasol, shading a table, which must have been from a cafe or restaurant...
We zoomed in further.
Sure enough, it was, and it had the name of the restaurant, printed on it.
So, we then found the telephone number for the restaurant, on the same street, as the antique shop, that housed the mandolin.

The next part I left up to Robin.
He called the number.
Now Robin does speak a little Italian, enough to get by on holiday, or to buy basic provisions.
However, this conversation was way beyond your average Italian phrase book:

"Hello, I'm calling from England. Do you know if there is an antique shop on your road with a mandolin in the window?"
Ermm, we didn't really get very far, although they did exchange email addresses, as one of the employees, due in later in that day, spoke a little English.

Next step, call the tourist board.
Here we had a little more luck.
We were able to make ourselves understood, and even sent the picture of the shop that we had been studying so closely, to help them identify the area.
We also told them that if they did find this place, to tell the man that Robin would be back in Sorrento on June 21st, and ask him to keep the mandolin for him.

For a few days there was no further news, and we beginning to think that the poor people of Sorrento had humoured us, then gone away thinking the English are crazy.
But then a message.
The man at the tourist board had located the shop, and told the owner when Robin would be in. He also said that another local man had been in saying the same thing! (Obviously the chap at the restaurant had been as good as his word.)

By now we were beginning to feel hopeful.
But also, concerned the the antique dealer would start thinking that there seemed to be a lot of interest in this instrument, and maybe he should put the price up. Inadvertently we may have created a demand.

So, it has been with increasing anxiety that Robin arrived in Naples on Saturday. He got up early and went ashore.
He then caught the first ferry around the coast to Sorrento, which is a journey of 40 minutes.
As he retraced his steps through the lovely streets he was still not quite sure whether the instrument would still be there.

He found the shop.
No mandolin in the window.
He went inside and introduced himself.
The owner beamed, opened a drawer, and pulled out the beautiful instrument, still in its original case.
But he still had to examine it closely for any damage, warped neck, that sort of thing.
As he played it, two passing tourists came in the shop and said they had been drawn in to see where the lovely sound was coming from. They also added that he would never regret buying it.
Inspection complete, Robin was very pleased to find that it was in near perfect condition.
Made in 1888 and kept in the same family for generations.
Until now.
The deal was done and a very happy Robin left the shop.

As he had a couple of hours to wait for his return trip to Naples, he found a quiet park, sat on a bench, and played away.
I suspect I shall be hearing a lot more of the mandolin on his return home.
Once back on board the QM2, he was able to send me a photograph.
As you can see it is a very ornate instrument:

Although I don't as yet have one of the case, this is its protective cloth:

So now I have to wait a few more days until I see it for myself.
But my faith in human nature has been restored.
The fact that 3 complete strangers were prepared to put themselves out for a rather odd request, is a wonderful thing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Fernando Sor in the Welsh Mountains

Whilst Robin spent the day in Civitavecchia, Italy, I have been working at home.
It was as I sat at my desk that I had a 'phone call from my Mum and David as they drove through the Welsh mountains.
What prompted the call?
Well, the scenery was gorgeous, the weather beautiful, and they wanted to share with me the mood of the moment.

To enhance the experience they were listening to a Hill/Wiltschinsky CD, 'Les Deux Amis', recorded back in 1988 for Teldec Classics.
As we spoke I identified the piece as 'Fernando Sor: Les Deux Amis, op.41'. This famous work, subtitled "Fantaisie pour deux Guitares", was dedicated to Sor's friend, Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849).
The two guitar parts are actually marked "Sor" and "Aguado" rather than the usual "Guitar 1" and "Guitar 2", which offers a little insight into the personalities of these two maestros.

Rather than listen to the whole thing down a crackling 'phone line, we ended our conversation, and I found my own copy of 'Les Deux Amis', and enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon listening as I worked.

It was very nice to have the sound of the guitar, or in this case two, back in the house again. But was no substitute for the real thing when you happen to live with one of the musicians...
However, it will be another six days before Robin is home, so for now I shall continue with the CD.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Monte Carlo and Madeline Bell

Robin is having a very nostalgic day.
He awoke to find himself in Monte Carlo.
He has always had very fond memories of being there back in the early 80's.

At the time he frequently played with the fabulous Madeline Bell.

A two week spot at the luxurious Monte-Carlo Sporting Club had been booked.
Madeline always looks after her musicians very well, and on this occasion, the band were given the option of either flying to Nice, or, travelling by car.

Most of the band opted to drive.
Robin chose to fly.
Consequently he arrived at Nice airport on his own.
This was an exciting time.
Two weeks in Monte Carlo, with Madeline Bell, and a fantastic band.
He got a taxi, made his way to the hotel, (which was a very nice place in the old quarter near the casino), and was promptly met by the porter.
"May I take your luggage Sir?"
"Oh, erm, I seem to have left it at the airport..."
In his haste he had completely forgotten to collect his bags! (I am pleased to say he is a little more careful these days.)

These two weeks were some of the most memorable for Robin.
Two of his closest friends were also band members, Tony Relph (drums) and Nigel Thomas, or as he was known, 'Nidge' (bass).
Sadly both of these fine musicians are no longer with us.

There was an excellent chemistry between all the band members and they enjoyed themselves both on, and off, the stage.
Many happy hours were spent in their hotel, where they had formed their own club, which Robin named, 'The Noel Coward Club', in which they basically sat around in bathrobes, drinking tea and having a million laughs.

So to be back in Monte Carlo is proving rather strange.
He still misses these two special friends very much. They had so many shared memories over so many years.
But as I pointed out to Robin, they would both have been delighted to hear that he was back in town, and all because he is still out there, playing music.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Barcelona and The Guitar Gymnasium

Robin is spending the day in Barcelona and judging by the calls I have been receiving, he's having a great time.
One conversation was interrupted by him suddenly exclaiming, "Wow, spectacular."
"What is?" was my frustrated reply as I emptied the washing basket.
It turned out to be a very ornate roundabout!
Since then there have been a number of similar conversations.

Before going ashore he had obviously done his homework.
He was armed with the addresses of two music shops. Both of which he found.
Yet more, "Wow, spectacular, fantastic", type talk followed, and this was just at the rows of stringed instruments that lined the walls.

He was equally delighted when the owner of one of the shops pulled a copy of, 'The Guitar Gymnasium' from the shelf, opened it up, pointed to a picture of Robin on the inside cover, then pointed to the man himself!
As you can tell, the shopkeeper spoke no English and Robin speaks little Spanish.
However, it's an exciting moment for any author to be shown a copy of their own book, particularly when overseas.
They gesticulated wildly at each other for some time, Robin managed to buy some guitar strings, and then he went on his way.

He has of course also been looking at the wonderful buildings in Barcelona and hopefully I will have some photographs for you at some point.
When we last spoke he was lost.
My sympathetic advice, "Head downhill. You don't find many ships perched on the top of one, do you."
I'm now waiting to see if he finds his way back to the QM2...
My advice proved sound. Robin found his way back and didn't get lost once!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Time to Pay - The PRS Licence

After a brief visit to Vigo, Spain, yesterday, Robin was asked to perform again last night.
After the success of his latest concert, there was a request for him to play at a private function, for a select audience.
He agreed and the performance went well.
Robin now has eight days to work on his next programme and enjoy some of the fantastic places he is about to visit.
He will also be working on the pieces he will be playing in August with Izzy Cooper, and all his usual scales and arpeggios, so he won't be short of things to do.

Meanwhile back at home, I read a report by Tamsyn Kent, 'Employers told to pay up for music.'
Basically, it is estimated that more than half a million businesses across the UK are playing music illegally.
By law, if playing music at work, then you need a licence.
The Performing Right Society (PRS) collects the money and pays the artists.
So, if you are one of those businesses that doesn't have a licence, or feels that the fee for a licence is too high for entertaining your workforce, then I hope you don't mind if I call in a help myself to some of your stationary, or oil, or the odd sandwich, or whatever.
It's a small fee to most businesses, but it's a part of any musicians livelihood...

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Mind of a Musician

Those of you who are close to a musician, classical in particular, will know that they are their biggest critic.
For many years Robin never came off stage pleased with his performance.
Even when the audience had obviously loved the concert, and the reviews were excellent, there was always something that he was unhappy about.

I frequently toured with the Hill/Wiltschinsky Guitar Duo, and spent many hours reassuring both players, that their concert had gone very well.
But this is a common situation.
Questioning ones ability is a normal part of the musical process. It's what drives musicians on and encourages their musical development.

However, over the years, I have noticed that occasionally, just occasionally, Robin will say a concert went well.

So last night I was very pleased to receive an email form Robin, after the first of his concerts on board the QM2, informing me that he was delighted with his performance.
Many factors had fallen into place.
The sound was good, the lighting good, his nails remained intact, tuning wasn't a problem, the audience plentiful, and also very appreciative.
As he stood to take his final bow, he saw a number of people standing and applauding at the back of the theatre.
Then, some on the front row stood.
Before the clapping had died out, the entire theatre, 1000 people, were showing there appreciation.

This moves me immensely.
It also moves Robin.
When you invest so many years, and so many hours, every single day, in the instrument you love, then it is bound to affect you.
And finally, after more than 35 years of entertaining many thousands of people, all around the world, on land and on sea, in concert halls and through recordings, he can finally, occasionally, admit to himself, that he played well.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

From Venice to Southampton

Robin spent the morning yesterday in Venice and sent me some lovely photographs:

A typical canal:

He found a shop full of carnival masks:

And if you ever want an entire orchestra made from glass, here they are:

But then he left, as he was jumping ship, and arrived at Gatwick in the early evening.
This proved rather frustrating.
Knowing that Robin was in the country, only a few hundred miles away, yet being unable to see him, wasn't easy for any of us.
However, he spent the night in a hotel, we watched the news together whilst talking on the 'phone, and he was collected this morning, and driven to Southampton.
Now Robin is on board the QM2, settling into his room, and preparing for the first of his two concerts.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Volume in Venice

Finally, word from Venice.
I have actually had a couple of 'phone calls over the day, mainly enthusing about the delights of the surroundings.
Mind you, who wouldn't be pleased to have a view of the Campanile from their bedroom?

Robin did go out and about for a while, and visited all his favourite places.
Venice is after all somewhere that you can return time and time again, and never tire of.

But, it is also his last day on board Crystal Serenity. Tomorrow he will be leaving for pastures new.
Tonight though, as requested, he attended the farewell concert, and gave a 10 minute performance.

As he took his seat, the lights were particularly strong, and he couldn't see a single thing from the stage.
Not that this matters, other than it is nice to know for sure that someone is out there!
The stage was prepared for other artists later in the show, and Robin got quite a shock when he played the first notes of Asturias.

Robin's guitar is a particularly powerful one, and he's also known for his ability to project the sound of this generally quite quiet instrument.
So he was rather taken aback when he realised that the sound system was set to 'high', and Asturias was being delivered in a manner that Led Zeppelin would have been proud.

It was fine though.
A large theatre, and, as it turned out when the applause rang out, also a large audience, soaked up the excess sound beautifully.
He played two more pieces, accompanied by whoops of delight from some of the audience, and that was it.
Job done.

Now, he can relax for the rest of the evening, and tomorrow he will have a bit more time in Venice before his flight to London.
But, he won't be coming home, not just yet anyway.
You'll have to check back to find out where Robin is off to next...

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

'A' for Albania 'B' for Bob Dylan

Crystal Serenity has been in Albania today, Sarande to be exact.
Robin did go ashore for a short time but I don't have any photographs as the camera battery was flat...
However, he did say there's currently a lot of building work being done, and the streets are lined with stalls selling shoes!
Not a great deal for me to go on...

Consequently I was quite pleased this morning when a Twitter friend inadvertently informed me about a new art exhibition.
Paintings by Bob Dylan are being exhibited, and as you know, we are great Dylan fans here.
If you want to take a look, you can watch a BBC news report here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Sun, Sea and Santorini

Whilst Robin spends the day cruising the Ionian Sea, I shall return to my alternative career as a travel writer, and show you the fabulous Island of Santorini:

There are many churches to be found in the little roads and alleyways:

And it is certainly worth taking the time to go inside and have a look:

There are also numerous villages to explore:

Robin took the opportunity to say hello to a shop keeper he has met on a previous visit, and after a chat, was directed to a spectacular place, with fabulous views. Most people go by donkey, allowing the beast to take the strain on the long and dusty route.
Not Robin.
He chose to make the 45 minute, arduous trek, in the searing sun, on foot.
He therefore arrived very hot and thirsty at his destination.
Luckily, there was a very welcome internet cafe, so he was able to enjoy a refreshing drink, and also to send me an e mail!

(I've just remembered that the last time Robin was in Santorini he came across a party of holiday makers, each on a donkey, and was asked, by the owner, to lead one donkey down the hillside. This he did, causing great confusion, when the same passengers later saw him up on stage performing a concert!)

However, it was worth the walk, as this was the view, which Robin admired along with a new found friend:

Yes, that is Crystal Serenity waiting in the bay below, and once back on board Robin was challenged to a game of tennis by Naki Ataman.
I think he slept well that night.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Kusadasi and a Concert

Yesterday Robin performed his concert on board Crystal Serenity.
It went very well, both audience and musician enjoyed themselves, and a request has been made that Robin play again at the farewell concert.
So he doesn't get the rest of the week off after all!

He did manage to go into Kusadasi, Turkey, and have a look around, earlier in the day.
Luckily he remembered to take the vital lead needed to send pictures home on this trip, so I can share some of the photos with you.

No prizes for guessing one of the first places that caught Robin's eye:

But you can't help noticing this colourful display:

Or resist walking down this alleyway:

Of course, when in Turkey, you have to look at some carpets:

Robin enjoyed himself here, sat and had a cup of apple tea with the nice man in the picture, and discovered that he had been to our home town last year, when visiting relatives!
Despite the pleasant conversation, Robin didn't buy the carpet, so we don't have to worry about getting it home.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Amsterdam - Athens and the Dawn Chorus

The end of a busy week is now here.
This culminated in a 3.30am alarm call.
Like any dutiful wife, I got up, made coffee for Robin to ease him into the day, went back to our room to remind him that he was actually the one that needed to get up, then kept out of the way whilst he frantically ran around the house picking up all the things he'd forgotten.

By 4.30 he was on his way to the airport and I was on my way back to bed. (Having very briefly admired the dawn chorus.)

By the time I was awake for the second time, and dealing with a tearful 5 year old, ("I don't want Daddy to go away," were the first cause of tears, closely followed by frustration, as I wouldn't let him play his violin as it was only 7am...) Robin had arrived in Amsterdam, made a quick call to say he was on his connecting flight, and is now on his way to Athens.

Before he left he had a lot to do.
Yesterday was the only day that he and Izzy Cooper could speak about the programme for the concert in August.
Contact was made, musical decisions made, and there is a slight chance that they may 'bump' into each other somewhere in the Mediterranean over the next few weeks, which could prove helpful.
They will however be able to meet up in July to go through the repertoire.
Whilst this may sound very close to the actual concert dates, it's actually quite normal for musicians of this level to carry out most of their practice separately.

Now that Robin has gone off, I can focus on the return of son number one later today.
I'm bracing myself for one exhausted child, most likely filthy and bruised if last year is anything to go by, (gorge jumping being one of the activities...) and a rucksack full of smelly wet clothes.
I think I should go and lie down for a while...

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

And Now the Violin...

It has been a particularly busy time here.
With Robin only home for a week, and the number of remaining days disappearing rather too quickly, we have a lot to organise.
Alongside his usual preparations for travelling, and normal pre-concert level of practice, Robin is working on the new pieces he will need for the concert with Izzy Cooper in August.
It's very exciting to hear so many samples of incredible music coming from the music room, as Robin works on arrangements.

Alongside this, son number one has gone off for three days at an outdoor pursuit centre, which is always good for increasing parental anxiety...
Meanwhile, son number two has been putting on the pressure for a while now, to learn the violin.
(Incidentally, Robin started his musical career on the violin aged 7, but after a couple of years insisting on playing it like a guitar, it was decided that he should make the change, and the rest, as they say, is show biz history...)

We decided son number two must be serious about this, as he spent the best part of 1/2 term pouring over manuscript paper, and 'composing' his own pieces.
Consequently we have made the ear splitting decision to purchase a violin and see what happens.
So far, he has carried it everywhere with him, performed his 'music' to anyone that sits down for longer than 30 seconds, and taken a bow at the end.
Robin has of course timed this perfectly.
Buy violin for a five year old.
Listen carefully and enthusiastically for a few days.
Then disappear for the best part of the next month and leave me to continue with the encouragement...

Now I'm off to find a teacher.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Robin Hill & Izzy Cooper - Voice and Guitar

The lack of posts last week hasn't gone unnoticed. Half term and an absent husband made for a busy time.
However, I have had a request to ensure more consistency this week.
My mum is having a spell in hospital, and has left strict instructions, that each day's offering will be taken in for her perusal!
I shall do my best.

Since Robin's return on Friday we have had little time to relax.
Two functions over the weekend meant he was straight into rehearsals.
Good job he didn't have jet lag on this occasion.

One of the events was outdoor.
In a typically British fashion, it chose to pour with rain for the entire day.
I did consult the diary to see if we could reschedule, but that proved impossible until next year.
So, the event went ahead, and despite the inclement conditions, was enjoyed by all who braved the elements.

Which neatly brings me to an exciting event that will be taking place in August.
If you recall, back in April, Robin performed with the wonderful soprano Izzy Cooper.
Robin made a guest appearance in which they performed Rodrigo's 'Adagio'. You can remind yourself of both the relevant posts here and here.

So successful was this collaboration, that two outdoor events have now been organized for August, in the Costa Blanca.
It will be a fabulous programme, in a beautiful setting, so if you haven't booked your holidays yet, then maybe you should consider Spain this year.
I'm already hearing 1/2 rehearsals from the music room, as preparation of some pieces for voice and guitar by Manuel de Falla get under way.
However, for those who can't make the trip to sunny Spain, plans are already being made for recording sessions next year.
As always, watch this space.