A busy month
11 May 2008

I've had a constant stream of deadlines over the last month, taking in a lot of repertoire - both Brahms concertos, 3 Beethoven sonatas, Ravel piano trio, Messiaen quartet for the end of time, Messiaen Vingt Regards, Debussy preludes, Shostakovich second piano concerto… It is an interesting discipline preparing so much music at one time because it forces you to focus very clearly on how to minimise practise time on any one piece. Increasingly I find I need less and less time to prepare music I've played before, which I think is down to practising more slowly. I read a wonderful quote from Peter Serkin - "Practising is a very peaceful way to spend the day". This has had a big impact on me, not exactly that I feel like this when I practise but that I find it a very useful ideal to aim for. The closer I get to this, the quicker and easier I am able to work. It reminds me of something my brother Kenneth told me: when he was at St Mary's Music School learning piano as his second study his teacher (and mine - Richard Beauchamp) got him to practise the last movement of a Beethoven sonata. The reason I remember this is that he told me he could still remember the piece by heart many years later. I guess the brain absorbs the material much more quickly when it is given a lot of time in this way. Certainly, I find I can prepare most pieces that are vaguely in my repertoire in 3 or 4 days if I allow myself the time to practise them very slowly.
I LOVE that quote on practise. Does that help when you are performing too I wonder, to link back to calm and peaceful preparation?..
Posted by Lins on 29 July 2008
I guess peaceful practising must help one's state of mind while performing but I rarely get nervous when I play so I don't notice it so much. The big benefit I notice is being much more physically relaxed while I practise.
Posted by Steven Osborne on 31 July 2008


Life Before Death
05 April 2008

This is a series of photographs of people before and after death which I find very moving, as much for the brief descriptions of the people as for the pictures. When I saw Nigel Murray's body a few days after he died it was the first time I'd ever seen a corpse and it was a very important experience, not only to see a dead body but that of a close friend. For all the death and violence in popular culture, the simple fact of death seems to me largely avoided, in Britain at least. Why do we not see the dead at funerals? I think it's important, both to say goodbye to the person and also to put our own lives in perspective.
Hello. I don't know what made me do it but I decided to google Nigel Murray tonight and found your website- I was very sad to hear Nigel is dead. He was my teacher when I was at Edinbirgh University from '75 to '79- he pushed me on to continue with the violin, even tho' I never thought I was good enough- and after a year with Andrievsky at the Menuhin School (all his idea) I somehow made it to be a professional violinist, starting off with the SCO. To cut a long story short I am now in Vancouver, playing with the Symphony and freelancing. If you have time I would love to hear a bit about Nigel- and Jean his wife. They were kind original people, and he was an inspiration. P.S. love the Rachmaninov.
Posted by Pamela Marks on 04 June 2009
After birth, death is the most important event in your life. Yet, it's weird; when you actually die you don't know you have. I will be having my clarinet sonata recorded for youtube in February 11 to replace the one there that sounds as if it's played in a swimming pool. I have a clarinetist in my mind. Can you recommend an up-and-coming pianist? - MU rates + Ah, you were paying Kapustin for a few seconds.
Posted by Graham Lyons on 14 November 2010
Thank you for pointing us in the direction of this exhibition. I too found it very moving. The pictures of the dead bodies were just that, bodies with no soul - empty.
Posted by Lins on 29 July 2008
Actually I responded to it rather differently. I don't like the idea of the soul leaving the body - it seems to me a way of making the reality of death more palatable, as if a part of us will survive leaving the bodily shell behind. The impossible idea is that this incredible consciousness we enjoy simply stops one day. That's what these pictures are about for me.
Posted by Steven Osborne on 31 July 2008


Australia tour
02 March 2008

I'm just back after 5 weeks away from home, an unusually long absence for me. Touring is something I'm only just starting to enjoy, actually. In the past, long trips would make me a bit crazy; it's partly the endless hotel rooms, alarm clocks going off at 5am that you didn't set, airport security lines, bad pasta etc. etc. and partly the sense of dislocation, being constantly out of your element. Home is important to me. I live in the town where I grew up and where my parents still live, a fairly quiet place between Edinburgh and Glasgow called Linlithgow, surrounded by farmland, with it's own loch and palace (birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots for you history buffs). When I returned to live here after years in northern England I felt an enormous relief to be back in such familiar surroundings. I guess people who travel a lot with their profession find different ways of dealing with it, and for me a strong home base seems to be important.

This last trip to Australia felt much less gruelling than comparable trips have been in the past. I did a 2 week tour under the auspices of Musica Viva with the Goldner Quartet, a couple of solo recitals, a week with the Melbourne Symphony under Oleg Caetani (genius Shostakovich conductor), and just before getting back to Scotland, a week with the DSO Berlin and Ingo Metzmacher (genius Messiaen conductor).  A lot of factors combined to make this trip as fun as it was: staying with wonderful friends in Sydney, Jeannie joining me for a week in the middle of the trip, great musical experiences in all of these projects and, not least, AUSTRALIAN WEATHER (the Scottish winter has been miserable). What an enormous difference getting up to warm sunshine makes. No wonder Australians are by and large such a relaxed bunch of people. I should also mention how fantastic Musica Viva were at looking after the logistical aspects of the tour. The other important factor is that I feel much more interested now in the places I visit; I used to focus all my energy on my concerts but now feel more able to take time off and enjoy my surroundings. It's probably no coincidence that I'm also enjoying playing more and more.

Arriving in Berlin was a rude awakening. Why is it always so cold there? People tell me it's not but it seems whenever I'm in Berlin I'm freezing. I was staying at Alban Gerhardt's flat, cat-sitting his wife's cats while they were off skiing in Switzerland. Alban is a great friend and colleague, one of the musicians who has taught me the most over the years, so I was really happy he came back to Berlin a couple of days before I left. It was also nice not to have to empty the litter tray any more.

Comments (0) | Add comment | Permalink


In memoriam Nigel Murray
27 February 2008

It seems appropriate to start this blog by talking about my old Director of Music at St Mary's Music School, Nigel Murray, who died of cancer last November aged 64. Nigel's path to this job had been a difficult one, his previous career as a successful freelance violinist in London being cut short by an arm injury. How great a loss this was became clear to us students when he played the solo violin part from Erbarme Dich in a school performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion; it remains one of the deepest musical experiences of my life, a performance whose emotion was only heightened by the sense of his struggle with the instrument.

As a teacher, Nigel was a joy. I accompanied a few of his violin students over the years and his focus always seemed to be on developing musical personality, not competent performances. Once I mentioned how hard I was finding it to decide on a particular tempo in a Mozart concerto and far from trying to provide a simple solution his reply was words to the effect, "Ah yes, I know just what you mean. It's terribly hard, isn't it?" Nigel never shied away from the complexities of making music, but loved to raise questions in our minds, to provoke us to see music in a broader perspective. Above all, he had great faith in us - his sense of pleasure at being around his students was palpable and his way of teaching conveyed a trust that we could find our own answers. He never seemed to place himself above us and had a way of gathering staff around him with a similar mindset. Studying at St. Mary's was a marvellous experience.

Much of my interaction with Nigel came through playing cello in the school orchestra which he conducted with vigorous abandon. He could be unpredictable in concert; I remember a performance of Strauss' Metamorphosen in which the sudden general pause near the end must have lasted a full 10 seconds (it's normally about 2 or 3). I still remember his expression of rapt concentration at that moment, telling of the most intense engagement with the musical drama (not to mention the looks of terror from a few of us wondering whether the downbeat was ever going to come, or whether we were going to be forever stranded on the Queen's Hall stage). It is moments like this that encapsulate how I remember Nigel, a man of enormous vision for whom the purpose of music was both a journey into oneself and the unknown, and to whom music without risk was unthinkable. He never lost this curiosity and passion. I saw him a couple of weeks before he died by which time he was rather frail. As we talked I started telling him about some thoughts I'd been having about rhythm in music which prompted him to exclaim, in full voice, "Aaaah, what a marvellous subject!", before leading him on to talk about rhythm in music, in the body, and in life. He faced his impending death with some apprehension but also great dignity, and when he died I had a sense of having lost one of the great influences on my life, a man who enriched my music-making and my living immeasurably. There will be a memorial concert for him in the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, on the 2nd of June this year, given by colleagues of Nigel and pupils, both current and past, of St Mary's Music School.

Comments (0) | Add comment | Permalink


Welcome
01 February 2008

It's a strange business contemplating what to write in this blog. My initial thoughts were to start by talking about rhythm in music, an obsession of mine, but my wife Jeannie suggested to me that this might be unduly technical. Another option is to relate to you an unending series of triumphant performances and to tell you how many people were moved to tears by the beauty of my playing, but that's not my style. Since you are reading this at all, I assume you have some interest in my concertising so I will talk a bit about this concert and that concert but I expect that the more significant focus of the blog will be on the experience of being a musician. I find it a marvellously fulfilling job, an incredible way to connect to myself and to others. And maybe we'll get around to rhythm in due course.
Comments (0) | Add comment | Permalink


RSS feed Subscribe to blog via RSS
 
Currently playing >
  1. Toccata – Britten: Complete works for Piano and Orchestra
  2. Regard des hauteurs – Olivier Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus
  3. Prélude – The Naumburg Foundation Presents: Steven Osborne • Ravel
  4. Variation VI: Nocturne – Britten: Complete works for Piano and Orchestra
  5. Menuet – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  6. Promenade 1 – Mussorgsky - Pictures from an Exhibition
  7. No 3 in F major: Allegretto – Beethoven Complete Bagatelles
  8. No 18: Liedchen – Alkan: Esquisses, Op 63
  9. Rondo giocoso con moto – Tippett: Complete Music for Piano (Piano Sonatas 1-4, Piano Concerto)
  10. Animato – Mussorgsky - Pictures from an Exhibition
  11. Pavane pour une infante défunte – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  12. Noctuelles – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  13. Con una dolce lentezza – Mussorgsky - Pictures from an Exhibition
  14. No 1 in G major: Andante con moto – Beethoven Complete Bagatelles
  15. Allegro non troppo – Tippett: Complete Music for Piano (Piano Sonatas 1-4, Piano Concerto)
  16. Allegro non troppo - Largo – Shostakovich and Schnittke Cello Sonatas
  17. No 29: Délire – Alkan: Esquisses, Op 63
  18. Une barque sur l'océan – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  19. Presto agitato – Beethoven Piano Sonatas
  20. Piano Sonata No 2 (1962) – Tippett: Complete Music for Piano (Piano Sonatas 1-4, Piano Concerto)
  21. La Valse – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  22. Variations on an original theme in Ab major D813 – Schubert piano duets
  23. Feuilles mortes – Debussy: The Complete Preludes
  24. Schubert-Sonata in Bb D960 3rd movement
  25. Scarbo – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  26. Allegro – Nikolai Kapustin Piano Music
  27. No 1 in F minor: Allegro moderato – Schubert Impromptus, Piano Pieces and Variations
  28. No 25: La Poursuite – Alkan: Esquisses, Op 63
  29. No 4 in D major – Rachmaninov preludes
  30. Rigaudon – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  31. Oiseaux tristes – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  32. No 1 in C major – Rachmaninov preludes
  33. Allegro precipitato – Mussorgsky - Pictures from an Exhibition
  34. Allegro – Shostakovich and Schnittke Cello Sonatas
  35. The Great Gate of Kiev – Mussorgsky - Pictures from an Exhibition
  36. Variation VII: Badinerie – Britten: Complete works for Piano and Orchestra
  37. Canticle of the Holy Night – Feldman, Crumb piano works
  38. No 5 in G major: Quasi allegretto – Beethoven Complete Bagatelles
  39. Limoges, the market place – Mussorgsky - Pictures from an Exhibition
  40. Allegro capriccioso ma tempo giusto – Stravinsky - Complete works for piano and orchestra
  41. Feldman - Palais de Mari – Feldman, Crumb piano works
  42. II. Andante un poco adagio – Brahms and Rózsa clarinet sonatas
  43. Allegro rubato – Mussorgsky - Pictures from an Exhibition
  44. No 21: Morituri te salutant – Alkan: Esquisses, Op 63
  45. No 7 in A flat major: Presto – Beethoven Complete Bagatelles
  46. Menuet antique – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  47. Brahms 2nd piano concerto, 4th movement
  48. VIII Miserere d'après Palestrina – Franz Liszt: Harmonies poétiques et religieuses
  49. Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses – Debussy: The Complete Preludes
  50. No 15 – Nikolai Kapustin Piano Music
  51. II. Allegro brusco – Prokofiev Works for Violin and Piano
  52. III. Andante – Prokofiev Works for Violin and Piano
  53. No 14: Duettino – Alkan: Esquisses, Op 63
  54. Animé – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  55. Modéré – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  56. VIf – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  57. No 9 in A major – Rachmaninov preludes
  58. À la manière de Chabrier – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  59. Prélude – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  60. Ondine – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  61. No 7 in C minor – Rachmaninov preludes
  62. Fantasie in F minor D940 – Schubert piano duets
  63. Jardin du sommeil d'amour – Turangalîla-Symphonie
  64. Slow pulse – Tippett: Complete Music for Piano (Piano Sonatas 1-4, Piano Concerto)
  65. Allegro in A minor 'Lebensstürme' D947 – Schubert piano duets
  66. Pittoresco – Mussorgsky - Pictures from an Exhibition
  67. No 8 in A minor – Rachmaninov preludes
  68. Introduction – Turangalîla-Symphonie
  69. Allegretto – Beethoven Piano Sonatas
  70. Feux d’artifice – Debussy: The Complete Preludes
  71. Vivace – Tippett: Complete Music for Piano (Piano Sonatas 1-4, Piano Concerto)
  72. I. Andante – Prokofiev Works for Violin and Piano
  73. Crumb - Processional – Feldman, Crumb piano works
  74. Andantino varié in B minor D823 – Schubert piano duets
  75. Jeux d'eau – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  76. Menuet in C sharp minor – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  77. Mendelssohn 1st piano concerto, 2nd movement
  78. Première communion de la Vierge – Olivier Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus
  79. Larghissimo – Stravinsky - Complete works for piano and orchestra
  80. Oiseaux tristes – The Naumburg Foundation Presents: Steven Osborne • Ravel
  81. Toccata – Ravel - The Complete Solo Piano Music
  82. Grave - Allegro di molto e con brio – Beethoven Piano Sonatas
  83. Adagio sostenuto – Beethoven Piano Sonatas
  84. No 30: Petit air dolent – Alkan: Esquisses, Op 63
  85. IV. Vivace – Brahms and Rózsa clarinet sonatas
  86. No 9 – Nikolai Kapustin Piano Music