'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

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Inspire Young Minds with Music

Earlier in the week Robin performed at our youngest son's school.
This was all part of an excellent scheme, 'Parents at work week', when parents of the school are asked to talk to either a class, year group or the whole school, about their work.
As you can imagine this proves a popular and interesting diversion for the children.

The letter mentioning the project arrived whilst Robin was away on a lengthy trip, so I took the executive decision to put his name forward, to perform for the whole school.
After all, Robin is always keen to talk to children about music and to demonstrate the guitar. Here are three previous posts related to promoting classical music to children: 'The Halle Orchestra, Sarah Connolly and a Meeting with Mark Elder', 'Return to Islay and the need to Promote Classical Music', and 'Arrival in Peru and the Liverpool Philharmonic'.
He is also very aware that sometimes this may be their first experience of classical music, so it's a role he takes seriously.
Plus, he did the same for the eldest son a few years ago...

The fact that the audiences ages ranged for 4-7 years didn't stop Robin treating it like any other concert, albeit a short one.
He prepared in the same way he would for for any concert.
He also gave a great deal of thought to the programme.
He wanted to demonstrate to the children the versatility of the guitar and allow a little time to talk to them about each piece.

All 200 children were seated in the hall when Robin appeared from the music room where he had been warming his fingers up with some scales and arpeggios.
He started by asking them what the instrument was he was holding.
Thankfully they all knew it was a guitar, except for one child who thought it might be a large violin...
However they didn't know the term classical or Spanish guitar. This gave Robin the opportunity to briefly talk about the origins of the guitar in Spain and led nicely into the introduction for the lively flamenco dance, Malaguena.
They loved it and I think many were surprised by the sheer power of Robin's guitar in the large hall.

After some enthusiastic cheering Robin decided to play them a piece in a very different style, and explained that this was an Italian Renaissance Lute piece, over 500 years old.
This beautiful 'Preludio' was also very well received and paved the way for the next item which was the prelude from the first Cello Suite by Johann Sebastian Bach. Robin explained that Bach was born in 1685, which was a very good year for composers, as small children, and in fact adults, like this sort of detail.

One thing Robin has realised over the years, is that when performing to children, one shouldn't underestimate them. Maybe consider the length of pieces played, but not the content.
Children are ripe for inspiring, and introducing them to what could potentially be a lifetimes enjoyment of music, is a heavy responsibility.
All children need to be given the chance to at least try.

After the Bach it was time to demonstrate the guitar's versatility even further.
A bit of rock and roll.
A basic rock shuffle and then, naturally, a little Deep Purple, with 'Smoke on the Water'.
Initially Robin showed them how an electric guitarist would play it, as if he was using a plectrum, then as a classical guitarist, plucking strings individually and introducing a bass line.
Cheers and shouts followed.

As time was rapidly passing there was a quick demonstration of some film music, with the Pink Panther...which they all recognised.

Then a little discussion on the great art of the tremelo.
An ideal way to show this difficult technique is through the piece, 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra'.
Many people often think that it is two guitars playing, but in fact it is one, with the bass line accompanying the melody on top.
Robin started by showing the children, firstly very slowly and then faster and faster until he reached the desired tempo.

Finally it was time to call upon the duties of son number two.
He had been waiting patiently amongst the audience for his stage debut as engineer.
Robin asked if the children knew that a guitar could play with an orchestra.
They either didn't know or weren't prepared to say...
So Robin was able to tell them that he had an entire orchestra here in his computer, which doesn't replace a real orchestra but that would give them an idea of just how fantastic guitar and orchestra can be.
The 'Adagio' for Rodrigo's 'Concierto de Aranjuez' followed, beautifully executed by both musician and engineer. Given that only one rehearsal had taken place this had been rather a worry.
Obviously we were forgetting that the poor child has heard this piece, pretty much constantly, since before he was born.
Even though the school bell rang in the middle, a hazard of performing in schools, the whole event was much appreciated.
The children love the whole thing and have continued to tell youngest just how fantastic his Dad is, ever since. Gaining extra kudos in the playground has been a nice little extra.
The teachers also enjoyed it and the head mistress said she wished they could end every school day listening to such beautiful music.

It's so important to allow our children to hear music of all styles, and to give these children the opportunity to see a musician live is a chance that schools should take when offered.
There isn't a better way to stimulate interest and inspire these young minds.
Since then, many parents have approached me to say how much their child had enjoyed the music and a few have said their child now wants to learn the guitar.
One poor parent however was dismayed.
His children had gone home and told him just how much they had enjoyed hearing Robin play and how this was going to be a hard act to follow.

Given that they are the children of the senior school headmaster, and he was scheduled to speak later in the week, it did make me smile.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Abbey Road Studios - The Right Decision

After completing this post I heard via LondonJazz that EMI had released a statement and that Abbey Road was not for sale after all.
Whilst I'm delighted at this news I felt that some of the points I made in the original post could actually apply to the world of classical music in general.
So I decided to run it anyway, with a little of the ire removed....

There has been so much written about Abbey Road Studios in the last week, and rightly so.
The fear of the famous studios being sold off by EMI has caused outrage from supporters.
Beatles fans are in a frenzy at the potential loss of their sacred meeting point.
But Abbey Road is so much more than The Beatles alone.
After opening in 1931 Sir Edward Elgar conducted the London Symphony Orchestra whilst recording his own works.
Many, many others have used the facilities including the British conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent, Yehudi Menuhin and Andres Segovia.
The studios are not only used for recording, but also for remastering and occasionally, as a rehearsal place for many orchestras (more of that in a minute...)

The argument that the digital revolution has allowed musicians to record from home doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.
Yes, many artists can, and do, record at home, but how many homes do you know that can accommodate the 90+ musicians that make up an orchestra?
And yes, you can use software programmes to simulate an orchestra. But whilst these are an excellent tool for the composer, and useful for generating interest, they can't replace the musicality and energy produced by real musicians.

Also, the independent sector need to consider the consequences of their disdain for record companies.
Classical musicians need record companies.
Anyone wanting to record a concerto requires an orchestra.
To record with that orchestra you need a large recording studio.
Both of these are expensive commodities and as we know for our own sorry situation last year, (London Symphony Orchestra at the ready, Abbey Road pencilled in, but the funding elusive) unless you are backed by a record company, funding is virtually impossible to get.
Most available funding won't be issued to an individual artist, so unless you can find private backing the situation is not good.

Whilst this digresses from the Abbey Road situation the two are connected.
Do we really want to find ourselves in the situation when the only orchestral recordings available are old ones?

Music is essential to every one's well being.
New compositions are essential to future generations.
Recording studios are essential to the whole process, and Abbey Road has the ability to draw in more musicians than practically any other studio around.

The argument that Abbey Road isn't busy enough also seems rather evasive.
Numerous film scores are recorded there every year and you often read, from twitter alone, the various orchestras that are frequenting the premises.

The men in suits behind this decision need to think very carefully.
Money is important but so is history and musical heritage....remember the Cavern Club demolished only to be rebuilt a few years' later..on the same street?

Maybe they need to look more closely at alternative options.
Instead of focusing purely on finances, they should use the power and inspirational features that Abbey Road has to offer to inject a new enthusiasm into an ailing world of classical music.
The best case scenario would be for Abbey Road to continue as a recording studio, maybe opening their doors to other functions as an alternative way to procure income.

Another option is the interest shown by the National Trust.
They could, potentially at least, keep the doors open as a museum.
Whilst this wouldn't be ideal, it would be better than losing the site completely.

Alternatively, there may be a private buyer.
In this case the world will be at their mercy.
They may decide to keep it as a studio, but they may also choose to alter it's function completely.
Heaven forbid that Abbey Road studios become apartments for a select few...

To return to Abbey Road being used as a rehearsal place for orchestras. Surely there is potential for more bookings this way.
I know from experience that Robin rehearsed there with the BBC Philharmonic in preparation for a, 'Proms in the Park' performance.
The sense of history was awe inspiring.
However, it didn't prevent Robin from breaking into Jimi Hendrix's 'Voodoo Child', complete with waa waa pedal. This caused mirth and encouragement form some sections of the orchestra and disapproving glances form others....

But this is the sort of incident that makes Abbey Road unique.
So many musicians have passed through their doors, each creating their own memories and contributing to its illustrious history.

Record companies should maybe consider the old Cree Indian saying, "Only when the last tree has died and the last river been polluted and the last fish caught will we realise we can't eat money."

The world should take note.
If Abbey Road goes, so will so much more.
What Abbey Road has achieved is irreplaceable.
If you feel strongly and wish your voice to be heard, now is the time to shout.
A good starting point would be to add your name to the 'Save Abbey Road Petition', here's the link.

And finally, to inspire you whilst you shout, and if you want to add an extra twist....

As I said at the start of this post, EMI have announced that they are not selling Abbey Road studios. I left these particular links in place as some of you may be interested in the comments and mood of the general public. Also, as a reminder to EMI of the strength of public opinion, in case they should change their mind.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Robin Hill & Izzy Cooper Recording & Concerts on the QM2

The onset of 2010 has been a busy one.
After a snowy start, and precarious journey to Dewsbury, for a highly successful lunchtime concert, Robin set off for a week in London recording with soprano Izzy Cooper.
I'm listening to the recording as I write and I know you will all love it.
Robin and Izzy have performed many times together, and due to high demand this classical guitar/vocal album will be released in 2010.
With everything from the sweetness of Rodrigo's 'En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor', the raunchy flamenco of de Falla and a Robin Hill original, 'Cancion', there really is an eclectic mix.
It was an intense week, recording all day with the evenings spent preparing for the next session.
This was made all the more difficult by the death of my Grandmother. She and Robin had a very special relationship, as can be seen by this post, 'A Professor Calls and Lunar Bianco'. But professional as ever, the recording went on, and when you hear the words to 'Cancion', you will hear how difficult this must have been.
So it was a very tired guitarist that arrived home in the early hours of Saturday 23rd of January. This didn't prevent us spending an hour or so listening to his weeks work accompanied by the dawn chorus.
But by the 26th Robin was off once again.
This time flying to Dubai to join the Queen Mary 2, for an extensive trip visiting Cochin, Phuket, Penang, Port Kelang, Singapore, Laem Chabang, Vung Tau and finally Hong Kong.
Four concerts were performed in the beautiful Royal Court Theatre and with four different programmes Robin was kept very busy.
However, it wasn't all work.
Over the 2 1/2 weeks he met up with some old friends.
First there was the fabulous and extremely talented magician, Brett Sherwood.
The two get on very well and discovered they had a mutual interest in table tennis.
During one of their games some passing passengers stopped to watch.
They couldn't resist asking Brett if he could make the ball disappear. Sure enough, quick as a flash, the said ball disappeared before their eyes, only to to reappear a few seconds later.
This was a virtuoso performance by Brett and made Robin's task of beating him at table tennis all the more difficult.
The next time I'm in a pub with Brett I shall be plying him with drinks until he tells me how he does it!
I'm also very grateful to Simeon Wood, another old friend who was also on the QM2, and in fact left the same day as Robin. After completing his own gruelling 13 hour flight from Hong Kong he took the time to 'phone me and make sure I was aware that Robin's flight had been delayed and that he had therefore missed his connection.
All the more ironic as a few weeks previously he had been laughing about the fact that travelling with Robin always seem to result in some form of disruption.
Believe me, I know.
But now he is home, for a while anyway, and the house is once again filled with the sound of the guitar.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Lawson Trio - Purcell Room

Whilst Robin is away performing in far flung countries it gives me the opportunity to tell you about an exciting concert coming up this month.

As regular readers know, we actively encourage young people to become involved in music.
So it was a delight over the Christmas period to spend a few hours with our friend, the pianist, Annabelle Lawson, and to discuss a project she has been working on for months.

Annabelle's enthusiasm and dedication to her instrument is remarkable, making her, and the rest of the trio, ideal representatives of the 'Chamber Music 2000 Scheme', initiated by the 'Schubert Ensemble' some 10 years ago. Hardly surprising really, when your Dad is the concert pianist, Peter Lawson!

This gala performance marks the culmination of 4 months of chamber music workshops, run by the Lawson Trio, and will feature 11 world premieres, plus performances by the Lawson Trio and the Schubert Ensemble.

There will also be student groups from 6 institutes including the 'Junior Royal Academy of Music', the 'Purcell School' and 'King's College, Cambridge'.

It promises to be a fantastic evening and an ideal opportunity, to hear the Lawson Trio and the Schubert Ensemble, but also to encourage a new generation of aspiring musicians.
The place to be, the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, Wednesday 10th February, 7.45pm.
More details here.