'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, October 31, 2008

Presidential Election, Finance...and fooling some of the people...

When Robin is home for a reasonable length of time we tend to have a lot of jobs to catch up on.
This period has been no exception and we finally seem to be up to date.
Also, Robin is working on new pieces for his constantly evolving programme.
Hence the lack of information recently!

However, like most people, we are aware of the current financial situation and many musicians are concerned about future work.

When the whole world seems to be feeling the credit crunch it is often the world of entertainment that suffers.
This shouldn't be the case.
What people need in times of stress is the access to nourishing music to distract them from everyday life.
Luckily for us, so far, we haven't been affected. Long may that last.

So with thoughts of finance, and the Presidential election, which will be held next week,I found a few quotes to brighten up your weekend.

The first relates to the election.
Although we are based in the UK we are following events very closely.
We also have personal reasons, which I can't discuss for legal reasons, but hopefully one day they will be resolved and I shall then be able to share the details with you.

So I was very amused to find this quote, made by the American writer, Gore Vidal:

"Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half."

Regarding the current world financial crises I found a couple of interesting quotes. The first from the American financier, Alan Greenspan:

"Since I have become a central banker, I've learned to mumble with great coherence. If I seem unduly clear to you, you must have misunderstood what I said."

The second by John Kenneth Galbraith:

"Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists."

So whilst these quotes may not be directly related to the life of a musician, the current climate and impending election affects us all one way or another.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

John Williams, Andres Segovia and a Can of ....

Recently we heard that John Williams was to play at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.
He performs there regularly and we always try to go whenever possible.
It is always a great evening, and a delight to have the opportunity to see such an incredible player, so close to home.
However on this occasion we won't be able to attend as Robin will be away from home, giving his own recital.

But this generated a conversation about the rare chances one has to see such players, and how important it is to take those chances whenever possible.

We have both been very lucky in that we were able to see Andres Segovia perform on a number of occasions.

Generally thought of as the 'Daddy of all classical guitar players', it was always a wonderful experience.
Even in his final days as a performer, when he was helped onto the stage, he still had the ability to hold an audience rapt.

On one of the occasions that Robin saw Andres Segovia, he was lucky enough to be backstage after the event.
As he walked through the warren of corridors, that always seem to accompany the area behind the scenes, he heard the guitar being played.

He walked on, very aware that he was within feet of one of his idols.
As he passed the open door of Segovia's dressing room, Robin glanced in, only to see the maestro, guitar in hand, sipping from a can of 7Up fizzy drink.
Given that Segovia was in his 80's at this point, it seemed rather incongruous.

What I would give to have captured that image on film...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Hill is Home and Jeff Beck - 'A Day in the Life'

After a successful second concert Robin has now arrived home.
It was something of a stressful journey as hold ups in security meant he boarded his plane with only minutes to spare.

However, he is delighted to be back, and we spent a very pleasant evening watching Jeff Beck at Ronnie Scott's on BBC4.
What a fantastic, original and virtuosic performance by Beck very ably supported by his excellent band.
How refreshing to see and hear him, at 64, still innovating - a master,not only in the art of the electric guitar, but also of music itself. Highly effective, lean arrangements utilising silence and space and brilliant dynamics.

For the next 6 days you can witness Jeff Beck at Ronnie Scott's, here, courtesy of the BBC.

I knew it would happen though.
I turned my back for a minute and Robin disappeared.
Then the distant sound of his Fender Stratocaster could be heard from his studio.
Robin just couldn't resist going off and having a quick blast...

One of our favourite songs on the programme was Beck's version of Lennon and McCartney's 'A Day in the Life'.
Here it is, not from Ronnie Scott's, but Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Jeff Beck - A day in the life (Beatles)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Clairvoyant Rabbit and the Turkish Shoeshine Scandal.

Please excuse my absence for the last few days, and apologies to those of you that sent emails asking where I was. It's very nice to be appreciated!
To bring you up to date, Robin is still on the Queen Victoria, and had a very successful first concert.
It was well attended after the passengers had been exposed to a TV interview being played on repeat for the entire day.
They will be ale to watch a second interview tomorrow, as later today Robin will be back in the studio for further questioning.

Today he is in Civitavecchia, Italy, but it was whilst in Istanbul that he uncovered the Turkish shoeshine scandal.
The story actually begins back in August.
At that time, Robin was in Istanbul, and had our eldest son with him.
They set off to take a look around.
One of the first people they came across thrust a baby rabbit into the hands of son number one, and allowed him to admire it:

Like most young children he was very taken with the small furry creature and dutifully cuddled it.
The owner then produced a larger rabbit, (not out of a hat) which proceeded to select a piece of paper form a table which apparently would tell them their fortunes.
Unfortunately it was in such poor English that we are none the wiser.
But then the owner wanted to be paid.
As Robin and son only intended going for a walk they hadn't actually taken any money with them.
So after much arm waving and gesticulating they managed to hand back the rabbit and beat a hasty retreat.

Only to come across a young Turkish shoeshine boy.
As he walked by he dropped one of his brushes, and Robin dutifully picked it up and handed it back to him.
The grateful boy then thanked him profusely and cleaned his shoes - before asking for some money.
Once again the Hill men had to explain their lack of cash and made off as quickly as they could.
The fact that they had only been in Turkey for 10 minutes and already owed two people money, was the cause of quite some mirth on their return home.

However, Robin has since returned to Istanbul a number of times, and on this trip guess who he met?
As he walked through a park, there was the very same shoeshine boy, dropping the very same brush, right in front of him.

"You really are an old butterfingers with those brushes," Robin exclaimed as he went on his way...

As the old Turkish proverb says:

'Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.'

Just a little story for you.

Friday, October 17, 2008

'The Ageless Audience' and Classical Music

Robin is now in Istanbul and settling into the Queen Victoria, which will be home for the next week, and I'm waiting to hear which day will be concert day.

When he does perform his concert, the age of the audience is likely to be, but not exclusively, 40 +.
There are many reasons for this, and it is often an area debated in a very negative way.
So I was very pleased to read a recent report by Diane Haithman in the Los Angeles Times, 'The ageless audience.'

The report challenges the view that the audience for live performing arts is aging, and suggests that this is in fact nothing new.

It's so refreshing to read a more optimistic take on the whole area.
Rather than the doom and gloom of the decline in interest in classical music by the younger generation, it focuses on the more logical issues that prevent younger people attending concerts.
Finance plays a part along with having young children.
When in your 20's you may well choose to spend any available money in a different way, and by your 30's, are often caught up in life with small children.
By your 40's onwards, the situation starts to change, and coincidentally, that is when people tend to start attending classical concerts...

There's also the argument that listening to classical music requires a higher level of concentration, something that is achieved over time, and with more life experience.
It's all there in the report, and is well worth a read.

But we shouldn't sit back and assume that people will naturally move towards classical music as they get older.
They do need to have some early exposure to encourage the transition.
This is one of the reasons why I blog, Twitter and run a MySpace page.
MySpace in particular highlights the need to interact with the younger generation in a way that is familiar to them.
Many of our 'friends' on MySpace are young, electric guitar players, who can see and appreciate the skill required to be a classical player, even though they don't do it themselves.
I have even had messages from some saying they would go and see Robin perform live, as they hadn't before realised how exciting it can be.
All that achieved from just 5 tracks on a MySpace page.

It is also why I have often mentioned the need for more access to classical music on mainstream television.
Then there will be more opportunities for the younger generation to hear and see performances, even if by chance.
A good example of this was the recent 'Maestro' series on BBC 2, which I wrote about here.

A worrying development I recently heard about in the UK, although I've not confirmed this information, is that for GCSE Music you no longer need to be able to read music.
If this is the case then it is absurd, and maybe they should re title it GCSE Music appreciation.
How on earth can you be given a qualification suggesting a certain level of ability has been obtained, if you can't actually read a note of music?

As I mentioned the other day on Twitter, our youngest son, age 6, took his violin into school and played a few pieces.
One of his peers went home and told his mum that our son could read that funny language!
Even at the age of 5/6 children appreciate that 'notes' are indeed another form of communication.

Would you give someone GCSE French if they couldn't speak a word of it?
I hope not.
This is not completely off topic.
The point being that 'early exposure' is vital.
We need to reinforce the importance, and influence, that music can have on our lives at an early age, to give children the chance to discover it in more detail later on.

In the words of G.K.Chesterton:

"Education is simply the soul of society as it passes from one generation to another."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Alicia de Larrocha, the Ritual Fire Dance and a Maths Exam.

The Glory of Spain:

This is one of Robin's favourite DVDs and it has entertained him on many occasions whilst travelling.
But yesterday he found another use for it.
Son number one was anxious about a forthcoming test and Robin was trying to reassure him.
Then he remembered that on this DVD there's some footage of the pianist Alicia de Larrocha, performing Manuel de Falla's, 'Ritual Fire Dance.'

Robin played this too our eldest, who was suitably impressed by the incredibly dexterous, rhythmic and virtuosic performance.
He then asked what this had to do with his maths exam.
The answer was simple.
Alicia de Larrocha has been known to admit that prior to a concert she often is so scared that she hopes for an earthquake so the performance can't go ahead.
When watching her play with such confidence, this seems hard to imagine.
Strangely, it is often those with the most ability that have the most fear.
Their need to give the best possible performance, at all times, is a weighty responsibility.
The point being made, was of course, that son number one was only anxious because he cared.
He had done the work and wanted it to be reflected in his results.
We shall see...

But I did find the same performance on YouTube, unfortunately it won't post to the blog, but you can visit it here, so sit back and marvel.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Electric Light Orchestra - Mr. Blue Sky

Traditionally Sunday morning in Hillhouse is iPod shuffle time.
As Robin has been away so much this year we have lapsed in this most enjoyable pastime.
But this morning we did put shuffle on, and the first track to play brought a smile to our faces, and a grimace from the children, as in Pavlovian fashion they thought it was Monday.

The reason for this is that the track was, 'Mr. Blue Sky' by the Electric Light Orchestra.

But why should Mr. Blue Sky make our children think it was Monday?
Well, it is because we have found it a very effective means of motivating reluctant schoolboys to embrace the day.
It doesn't have to be Monday.
We use it most days of the week.

I'll set the scene.
All had breakfast.
All watching the hands of the clock as they progress perilously close to the time we need to leave the house.
Two long faces.
The solution is simple.
You turn on the iPod, select ELO, pump up the volume, and then all dance around and sing along to this wonderfully enthusiastic and optimistic piece of music.

When I say 'we', I actually mean me and sons numbers one and two.
Robin is usually looking on with amusement, or, far from home imagining the scene.

But it isn't just random gyrating.
We each have our own little part to play.
For example, the harmonies are planned out and practiced to perfection.
All three of us give virtuoso 'air guitar' performances for the guitar solo, and we each have our own lines to deliver.
Mine being, of course, "Hey you with the pretty face, welcome to the human race," in which I use artistic licence to gesticulate wildly at both boys as it wouldn't do to show any favouritism.

By the time we reach, "Today is the day we've waited for," we are singing in unison and all more than ready to launch ourselves out into the world.

There is a down side.
We may all be motivated to 'carpe diem', but the whole process requires a minimum of five minutes.
Like most houses on a weekday morning, there's a very tight schedule.
The result is the school run becomes just that. We run all they way there, arriving just as the bell is ringing.
But it's worth it.

However, you don't need to have children to use this particular 'Hillhouse tip' to start your day in a positive fashion, anyone can try it.
To help you on your way I have posted a video to get you started.

ELO - Mr.Blue Sky (Original Promo)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Airport Antics

Robin is now acclimatising to life at home.
He did perform an extra concert on the Queen Victoria, as she circled off the coast of Istanbul, waiting for the sea to become calm enough to dock.
All the staff and crew were very grateful that he stepped in, at only 30 minutes notice, to entertain the patiently waiting guests.

Then the eventful journey home began.
Whilst going through customs at Istanbul airport, Robin was taken to one side, searched and questioned.
"Have you visited any other countries before arrival in Turkey?" was the first one.
With thoughts of the film 'Midnight Express' coursing through his head, his mind went completely blank.
He couldn't remember one destination he had been to in the last week.
"Errm, ohh, you're not going to believe this but I really can't remember," didn't seem to satisfy the officer.

Eventually, he pulled himself together, explained that he had been on the Queen Victoria, and handed the official a Turkish landing card.
The customs men were happy, and off Robin went.

Once I arrived at Manchester airport to meet him I was greeted with the information that his plane was an hour late.
That was OK, I'd made arrangements for children to be collected from school, so purchased a newspaper and rather enjoyed some time reading and some people watching.

However, as the information on the screen shifted to 'landed', then, 'arrived', and slowly to, 'reclaiming luggage', (yes, I'm very familiar with the whole process, and for those not so used to it, don't be fooled by the 'reclaiming luggage' stage. Sometimes that only appears once you have already been reunited with your loved one, or, they are wandering around looking for you, whilst you while away the time in a coffee house thinking thy are still disembarking...)
But still no sign of Robin.
Even on the occasions of missing luggage, of which there are many, (try this one, or this one, for a start) he should have appeared by this time.

I was starting to become concerned.
Then, finally, he appeared and all was revealed.
He must have been looking particularly shifty on this day, as once again, he had been stopped at customs.
Not just stopped and asked to remove shoes and go through the scanner once again, I mean seriously stopped.
Taken off to an interview room and asked to sit down.

"So, Mr Hill, how long were you in Istanbul?"
"Just under two days."
"That seems a strange length of time."
"Well, I was just passing through."
"Passing from where?"

He we go again.
But this time he was ready, and recalled the various destinations, reasons for his travels, which was reinforced by the concert guitar in a large, protective case right next to him...(which had already been scanned and proved to be completely harmless.)
Finally they let him go.

Strange really.
He passes through the airport so frequently that you would think he was on first name terms with most of the staff.
Then again, maybe that's the problem.
Frequent traveller, multiple destinations, glazed travel weary expression...
Anyway, he's home and he's fine, as thankfully he was able to convince the various customs officers that he simply wants to play his guitar, and make music.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Tagging, Chain Letters and Shakabuku Films.

Robin has now left the Queen Victoria, for now, and is on his way home.
As he set off from Istanbul he called to say he was delighted at the prospect of 10 days at home.
Not surprising really as he hasn't been here for that long since July.

So whilst Robin reclines at 30 000 feet, and whiles away the hours with his new Sony Reader, I started thinking.

It was connected to the recent post I ran, 'I've Been Tagged', where I had to 'tag' six friends.
Apart from warofthewords who was unable to participate due to the lack of a blog, (which she hopes to rectify soon), there has been a fantastic response.
You can read Jessica Duchen's reply here, Ben Clapton's here, Chris Hambly's wonderful experiment here, and Ari Adler's here, in which he discusses the ease of communication these days and mentions the similarity of tagging to chain letters.

And this is the point I have been pondering.
What is it that makes us reply to these intrusions into our busy lives?
Chain letters have been around for many years, in fact one landed on our doormat only a few weeks ago.
It was sent to son number one with the promise of entry into the 'Guinness Book of Records' if he completed his part of the chain.
He did and this is why.
As you know he has been in a short film, 'Lollipop', which you can watch if you click the link in the side bar, and read about it here.
Since then we have remained in contact, and become friends with, many of those involved. (Thanks to Nick Rowntree for the quick response to my e mail yesterday!)

The company that made this film, Shakabuku Films, (and yes, that is son number one on their home page) have made many others.
One of which is called 'Chaingangs'.
This was an incredible achievement as the entire film, from writing the script, filming, editing and even down to adding the music, was done in 48 hours, as part of the National 48 hour film Challenge.
They did it, and they won.
But what has all this got to do with tagging and chain letters?
Well, watch the film, and you'll see why I couldn't quite bring myself to ignore the task I was set....


Sunday, October 05, 2008

All Quiet Since the Second Concert

All is disturbingly quiet from the Queen Victoria.
I do know that the second concert went very well.
Actually, they were experimenting with a new venue.
It was smaller, but very atmospheric, and the roof went back to add to the ambiance.
Initially there had been some concern about the sound.
But the sound men did an excellent job and the concert was extremely well received.

In fact, as the venue was smaller, the concert was repeated later in the evening, and many of the audience from the first performance returned to hear it again, despite it being the same programme!

Robin even enjoyed the 'open top' performing as he was fanned with a gentle cool breeze, (a scene I'm finding hard to imagine here in the UK at the moment...) instead of sweating under intense stage lights.

Since then, news has been scant.
Robin was approached and asked if he would perform an extra concert as there was trouble ahead.
A storm was brewing out at sea which was going to delay arrival in Istanbul.
Whether the concert has gone ahead I don't yet know.
Whether anybody felt well enough to go and see it, I also don't know.
Whether Robin was well enough to perform it, you guessed it, I don't know.

The lack of messages isn't a good sign.
From experience, the only time email messages dry up are when seasickness strikes.
The only way to cope with it is to lie down and wait for it to stop.
Those following me on Twitter will have read that Robin has had to wear full evening dress to go to the computer room and send a message on a number of occasions this trip. (His computer is in the local Apple store being repaired...)
If he's prepared to go to such lengths to receive news from home, then the current lack of contact doesn't bode well.

But I may be completely wrong.
Anytime now I could get a call from Istanbul and everything be fine.
Lets hope so.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Santorini and the Second Concert plus Nokia's New 'phone

The Queen Victoria is in Santorini today.
Robin has been there many times before and always enjoys it.
See 'Sun, Sea and Santorini' for one of his previous experiences.

When I last spoke to him, Robin had just completed the long walk up a very steep hill, and was enjoying a cup of coffee and a spectacular view.
He will only be on land a short time, as his second concert is tonight.
So whilst the tourists explore the island, Robin will be rehearsing.

He must be doing something right, and getting excellent reviews from these various trips, as he keeps getting re-booked.
A point highlighted by a waiter this morning over breakfast:

"You're back again? You're always back again."

It's a good job really judging by the views of the younger generation.
Apparently, they rarely, if ever, pay for the music they listen too.
Where has this 'something for nothing' attitude come from?
Free downloads and file sharing are a real concern for most musicians.

However, Nokia have come up with an idea.
They have unveiled a new music service.
You can watch a report by the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones here.
It appears that people will be paying for their music, albeit indirectly, when they purchase a 'phone with this service.

How much of that will filter back down to the artist I have yet to establish.
But it could possibly be a long term solution to the problem.
I shall be watching with interest...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Navigating Naples and the Tale of the Mandolin

Robin has now joined Cunard's Queen Victoria and is currently in Naples.
Fortunately he didn't arrive there yesterday, as the police seem to have been rather busy, '100 Arrested in Naples'.

He is also, once again, a man on a mission.
If you remember, back in the summer, there was an ongoing saga connected to a mandolin.
It started with, 'Sorrento a Mandolin and a Music Box', where Robin spotted a beautiful mandolin but came home with a music box.

By June we had, 'The Mystery of the Mandolin', in which the entire family temporarily became detectives worthy of the best overt operation in recent times.

Swiftly followed by, 'Captain Corelli Causes Chaos', where I had a crash course in the life and works of Hummel, Guiliani and Mozart.

Then finally, 'Guitarists and Their B****y Nails', when Robin proved his purchase a worthy investment as it kept him amused for days whilst resting his battle worn nails.

Well, although the mandolin was found in Sorrento, it was originally made in Naples.
So today Robin is attempting to find the home/studio of the maker, Nicola Spoto.
We have the address, you may have read a tweet yesterday in which I mentioned shining a torch inside the mandolin, to make a record of it...

He allowed himself an hour or so to achieve this goal, as his first concert is tomorrow.
No matter how interested he is in the history of the mandolin, he's more interested in giving a well rehearsed concert on Wednesday.

Well, it was an eventful hour.
The taxi took Robin straight to the right road which was in a fascinating and vibrant area of Naples.
However, most frustratingly, Robin found every house except the one he was looking for.
No matter how many he times he went up and down the narrow street, lined with the most impressive houses, number 34 was never found.
Number 33 and number 35 were discovered, but not number 34.
The mystery of the mandolin is set to continue.

But if the BBC need a reporter, from the scene of the city police station, he's right outside.