Thursday, 30 March 2017

Postcards from the Piano: PARIS

A few more words before moving to London.

31st. March, 2017

I have mentioned my wonderful lessons with Marcel Ciampi. This great teacher also arranged accommodation for me at the Cite Universitaire. For my first year I rented a room in a large house in La Vesinet, a picturesque suburb about 30 minutes by train from Paris. I hired a piano and was able to keep it in the garage and the kind landlady arranged for a heater to be placed there. The cold was awful during the winter months and so I bought an electric blanket for the piano. This was the only way to stop the strings from breaking. I also bought a silent keyboard so at night I could do my exercises. Life was lonely and I enjoyed listening to the BBC on the radio before bed. It is amazing how just hearing another voice can give you comfort.
The following year I moved to the Cite Universitaire. This is an area in Paris near Montparnas where there is good accommodation for over 30,000 students from around the world. Most countries have their own building where students who are specialising in some advanced course are lodged. There were approximately 12 students from around the world studying piano. The University provided practice pianos, restaurants (awful food) and other facilities that made life as a student in Paris rather enjoyable.
For my first year I was placed in the Franco Britain House as Australia did not have a house on the grounds. The trouble with this was that the English kept to themselves and the French to themselves. I managed to bridge the gap and enjoyed the company of many students. But there was something missing--inspiration---could the composing be resurfacing?? So the following year I moved into the Norwegian House and this had a blend of Norwegian and French students and me. It was perfect. It was also next to the Morrocan House and it was here where I met 3 wonderful students from Marrakech.
Over time we became close. I was known as their brother and I travelled to exciting Casablanca and Marrakech with them. I met their families, enjoyed their hospitality and explored this exciting and colourful country.
And on my return to Paris I composed my first POSTCARDS FROM THE PIANO: MARRAKECH.
So the composing had resurfaced!! Not long after was my accident and then my departure for London. Before I left Paris my second Postcard was completed: PARIS. Much later in my very mature years did PARIS REMEMBERED come into being. This was a time when I always visited my dear friend Marie Driscoll from Australia who moved to Paris to live. She was a great opera singer and a most beautiful person.
Next time I will be in London with a musical score and a brave heart.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Postcards from the Piano: MARRAKECH

Postcards from the Piano: BARCELONA

Postcards from the Piano: From Paris to London.

March 23rd. 2017.

I talked about my lessons in Paris and what a great teacher Marcel Ciampi was. During my 7 years I developed a wonderful musical relationship with my teacher---we often communicated through the music, knowing what each was thinking about a particular interpretation, a particular aspect of tone, the shaping of a phrase and at times the changing of actual notes!! What I found fascination was how he had performed the Saint Saens Concertos with the composer conducting and of his friendship with Debussy and Ravel. How privileged I felt to be able to study with this great musician.
I was working well and hard and it showed in my technical playing and in my ability to express the music with the required style and with a touch of originality. So much so that concerts were arranged for me. But they were not to be.
On a New Year Eve I fell down a long flight of stairs and damaged my left shoulder. There would be no practice for 6 months. Of course I felt sorry for myself but at the back of my mind something was brewing. Firstly I told myself to stop mopping and then I told myself to use the 6 months to get back to composing. True to my word I had stopped composing to concentrate on my lessons and to prepare for the concert platform. Now the way was clear to go back to what I loved--composing.
A good friend, a professor at the Sorbonne came up with a suggestion. He had always wanted to write a musical and since the student riots in Paris had just made their mark he wanted to write a musical, a love story based around the riots. Anything to do with love suited me!! And we all know my music would suite such a theme---so we started work. And my goodness the script!! Put it this way, it was certainly written by a professor from the Sorbonne. It was heavy. So heavy. I instinctively knew it was too dull to be a musical, however, we carried on writing and when finished sent it off to London and eventually through a contact  was received by Helen Arnold, a well known producer in London.
Then came my trip to London and a very exciting time was in store for me.
But before we get there I must tell you about some friends I met in Paris and of my trip to Spain and Morocco. This will be for next time. In the meantime I will post on my blog my Postcard of Barcelona and Marrakech.  

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Postcards from the Piano: LONDON


Sunday 12th. March, 2017.

After finishing my studies in Sydney I left for Paris in 1965. Yehudi Menuhin suggested I study with the great Marcel Ciampi in Paris. He taught Hepzibah Menuhin and a list of well known musicians and Concert Pianists.
I left Sydney by ship, arrived in Genoa, Italy and then caught the train to Paris. I couldn't believe I had arrived!!! I knew no one in Paris so went straight to the Splendid Hotel. The whole time in the taxi I was thinking of all the great musicians and artists, the poets, the architects, the politicians and soldiers who have travelled on these cobbled roadways. Maybe not in the same well kept condition but they were here, maybe sloshing through mud at times. Images ran through my mind of the French Revolution but mainly it was an image of Chopin that was at the forefront of my imagination and this image kept out the more macabre thoughts.
The next day I contacted Marcel Ciampi and arranged a date and time for my audition. It was a big risk coming to Paris as I may not have been accepted as a student and I had no fall back plan. Naturally I was nervous but at the same time optimistic. I had won a lot in Australia and considered to be a pianist to keep an eye on!! Little did I know the difference in standards.
There was nowhere to practice before the audition so simply went along with youthful fingers and enthusiasm. I played some Brahms, Bach, Chopin and a part of the Khachaturian Piano Concerto. After playing there was silence before I was told that I must go back to basics; exercises for 12 months, including Czerny Studies, then another 12 months of Bach's Preludes and Fugues; only then could we go onto bigger repertoire. I was over the moon. I had been accepted by the great master. He did add after the audition that my musicality was commendable and the potential immense. That lifted my spirits. And of course I was very excited about starting lessons. I knew I had technical issues that needed repairing and I knew I was not as good as everyone back home thought I was--so this was a dream come true for me.
For my first year in Paris I found a flat in a suburb, La Vesinet and I was able to put a piano in the garage. I bought an electric blanket for the piano as the winters were very cold and I also bought a small silent key-board to practice on in the evening. I was disciplined with the exercises and over time noticed how the shape of my hand changed and how easy the technical delivery became. I did become lonely as I had no friends and just stayed in and practiced--there was no composing aloud, that was a condition of lessons. That was fine as I was determined to excel as a pianist and composing is very time consuming, causing many sleepless nights.
During the warmer months I would stay in Paris after my lessons and sit at a café and watch the passing parade. I loved it. I loved the atmosphere, the sophistication, the beauty; you were surrounded by beauty. And I loved the confidence of the French people. They have such flair. And they know how to dress with style.
I soon realized that my views on life, manners and what matters were changing. I think time in Paris can do this to one. Sydney back in the 1960's was a long way away and possibly behind compared to how it is today. How things have changed. But when it comes to music students must still leave and embrace a world of history and musical excellence.
Marcel Ciampi and Paris allowed me to grow and flourish. I will always be grateful. There are so many stories I could tell about experiences and adventures in this most colourful of cities where I spent 7 wonderful years. But it would take to long. My art and my artistic nature grew to wonderful heights and this is what is important.
Next week I will talk about London and my experience with the theatre world and with Robert Helpmann.