Category Archives: Classical Pit

How to hold a house concert

Want to hold a musical soirée? Here is everything you need to know, in one easy blogpost.


Your pianist pal wants to try out some repertoire and has been eyeing your Bechstein hopefully. Sure, come over and play it through, you say. We’ll invite some friends and have a few drinks and it’ll be lovely…

Check how many you can seat. Be realistic. A piano can be loud in a smallish room; you don’t want people actually sitting underneath it. See how many chairs fit in at a safe distance, and consider the ratio of sofa width to guests’ average behinds. Don’t forget to ask your performer if s/he wants to bring anyone. Chances are, if it’s midweek, you’ll end up with an audience of mingled neighbours and arty types or similar – which works well, provided (achtung!) that they are on speaking terms with one another.

People need to eat, so plan your menu and take everyone’s dietary requirements into account (veggie, GF, etc…). Recommended: easy protein – cold meats/cheeses/smoked fish – plus non-dairy dips, bread/crackers/rice cakes, prepared salad, crisps, nuts & raisins. You will need soft drinks, plus wine of at least two colours. Balance your green credentials and decide whether to use disposable paper plates, or crockery that needs washing, but isn’t wasteful of trees. And make sure there’s something to feed your pianist upon arrival; the sooner you offer him/her that cup of tea, the better.

Check whether your piano needs tuning. (The answer in 99% of cases will be ‘yes’.) Make sure you book the tuner at least three weeks in advance, preferably longer, because these guys seem to be really busy these days. If it proves impossible to get your piano tuned, but it sounds OK-ish, then you may get away with it, but do dust it so that it at least looks decent. Clean behind and under it, too, especially if you don’t very often and you have a cat…you never quite know what’s going to turn up…

On the day, do your shopping early so that the supermarket hasn’t run out of the necessaries. Fix what time your pianist wants to arrive, because s/he will need at least an hour to get used to your piano and then might want to rest/refuel before the audience arrives. Set up the room earlyish, too; you don’t want to be clonking about, carting chairs, when pianist is practising the trickiest bit.

In an average-sized living room, it is probably best if you don’t put the piano lid fully up, unless everybody has brought ear protectors. Many modern grand pianos have a selection of stick lengths for the lid; a fine pianist playing colourful repertoire will be best served by a fuller sound than if the lid is kept resolutely down, but it can be most sensible to choose the shortest.

Arrange your buffet on the table before people arrive so that you’re not unwrapping smelly cheeses while you welcome them, but don’t forget to cat-proof everything with copious quantities of cling-film. If your spouse has scarpered at the idea of this event, or is busy elsewhere, so you’re organising the whole thing alone, encourage people to help themselves to drinks, especially if they all pitch up at once.

Try not to start much later than the time your performer has requested, because he/she may get nervous if things are protracted, and the whole point is to put him/her at ease. Remember to give pianist a five-or-ten-minute warning before you’re ready to start. Once everyone is settling with a drink, encourage them into the piano room.

You might wish to confine pets to another room while the concert takes place. Sensible animals keep their distance from live music, but some importunate ones march in and demand very vocally that all this noise must cease forthwith, and with immediate effect. No prizes for guessing who I’m thinking of.

Interval, or not? Be guided by your musician: if s/he wants a short break in the middle, agree. You don’t know what his/her innards do. One pianist I know used to compare concert-giving to colonic irrigation.

If someone is late, you can do one of several things. You could leave the door on the latch and encourage latecomers (by text) to sneak in during an appropriate break. If you don’t want to do that, then tell them to text you when they arrive, keep your phone open but SILENT and make sure you take a chair near the door so you can slide out and let them in.

After your pianist has finished, make a fuss of him/her. A house concert may be in a house, but it is still a concert and any musician worth his/her salt will feel obliged to deliver the full goods, whether it’s for 800, 80 or 8 people. Frankly, the least you can do is give him/her an Easter bunny.

Next, zip out to the kitchen and take the cling film off the buffet dishes, keeping the cat clear. Furnish people with drinks and plates and encourage them to tuck in. If there’s anything left over when everyone goes home, offer your pianist a doggy bag. If everyone is having a good time, it’s a great feeling because you and your musician have given them a lovely evening to remember. But make sure they don’t miss the last train.

Finally, wash up. By now it’s gone midnight and you’re probably wishing you’d used the paper plates after all.

The next day, try to have a lie-in. Then thank your musician (though best not to ring too early). It may be hard work hosting a house-concert, but it’s not half as hard as doing the playing.

Last, but by no means least: huge thanks to our own pianist pal Anthony Hewitt and our old friend Alexander Ivanovich Scriabin for a stunning evening of magical preludes yesterday!

Posted in Classical Pit

Day of the Trifonov

I spent a fascinating hour yesterday afternoon interviewing Daniil Trifonov – it’s a cover feature for PIANIST magazine and will be out in a few months’ time. Backstage at the Barbican before his concert with the LSO, I had, in close up, the same impression that occurred when listening to him at the Southbank a little over a year ago: there’s something in this 23-year-old Russian that seems lit from within. He talks about (among other things) total focus, composing – he is about to premiere his own half-hour piano concerto in Cleveland – and cause and effect, quasi-storytelling, in music. Watch this space for an alert to the feature as soon as it’s out.

But all this, nonetheless, still wasn’t half as astonishing as what he told us through Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto in the concert. He makes it imperative that you listen to every note: each becomes as essential a part of the whole as every word is in, for instance, a Chekhov play. When phrases are repeated – e.g., that wonderful bouncy mazurka-like episode in the last movement – he never plays them the same way twice. The spiderweb delicacy of the second movement arabesques stopped the heart with their beauty, but there’s power aplenty when he needs it – one senses no limits to this range – and his tone is an Aladdin’s cave of glowing, kaleidoscopic colour. He sounds like nobody else; yet leaves you wondering why not everyone else plays like this. At the end the lady next to me turned round and remarked, “Maybe there really is a God.”

He’ll give his first Royal Festival Hall recital on 30 September and the programme will feature Bach – exactly which Bach he hasn’t yet decided – followed by Beethoven’s Sonata Op.111 and the small matter of the 12 Liszt Transcendental Etudes in the second half. Book here. 

In the meantime, here is a fascinating interview with him that pitched up on Youtube – it’s from Zsolt Bognár’s series Living the Classical Life. Stand by for…why it’s a good idea to practise underwater.

Posted in Classical Pit

Meet…Tara Erraught

Rising star alert: Irish mezzo Tara Erraught is giving her London debut recital at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday afternoon. She is then singing Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne. I’ve been following her career for a good few years as she’s worked her way up, not least via the Bavarian State Opera’s young artist programme, and her enthusiastic advocates include pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who introduced and accompanied her in a big outdoor concert in Amsterdam a few years back. I asked her for an e-interview… First, an extract from La Clemenza di Tito in Munich…


JD: Tara, tell us about you. You’re from a big family in Ireland? How did you start to sing?  

TE: I am one of three children, but we grew up on my grandfather’s farm on the east coast, with all of my mother’s family.
        I began to play the violin aged five, as we had a wonderful orchestra in the primary school, and all of my family had learned before me. However, when I was ten I was taken for my first singing lesson with the wonderful Geraldine Magee in Dundalk, with whom I studied until the age of 17. I was a huge fan of singing and I knew every word to the cassette tapes of Neil Diamond and the hits from the 60s that my parents had, so it was a good time to learn an appropriate song for a young girl! I loved it from the very beginning – there was never any question of which I preferred.

JD: What have been your big career breaks so far? Which roles/concerts have you enjoyed most up til now?


TE: I have been so lucky! Really blessed to have such opportunities. Firstly, I have been blessed with wonderful teachers, without whom one could not tackle wonderful opportunities when they arise. Before we mention professional success, I should mention how important it was to my career becoming a member of the opera studio of the Bavarian State Opera. That was already a “big break”. Directly after the third year of my undergraduate degree, they offered me a position in Munich, which of course I jumped at! Two immensely important years that helped form my performance abilities, stage technique, understanding of the industry and audition practices. Without these things I would not be where I am today. 

            Since then, I think most everybody would say my big break was jumping in at five days notice to sing Romeo in the first night of Vincent Boussard’s production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. It was an amazing evening, one that I will never forget for the rest of my life, so I hold that opera very close. I sang the title role in a first night of Rossini’s La Cenerentola at the Vienna State Opera in 2013, another wonderful time, with a composer I LOVE! Of course I must also mention my last role debut as Sesto in a premiere production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at the Bayerische Staatsoper this past March. Another production I will never forget, a stunning role, surrounded by my best friends on the stage, this was a very special experience! 
JD: What has it been like to be on contract to the Bavarian State Opera? What does their young artist programme offer that is special? In what ways has it been good for you?
TE: It is wonderful to be a principal Soloist at the Staatsoper, not only as a performer but also because many other incredible performances and artists surround us on a daily basis. I loved my time in the opera studio. There were only eight members and not only did we have singing lessons, repertoire coaching, drama class, language classes, but also one full production a year, as well as small roles on the big stage, the ability to watch performances, and more importantly, to watch other artists rehearse. What I learned there about my own voice, my performance abilities, was incredible, but it was so very important to watch older singers, to learn the tricks of the trade through observation.
JD: You’re about to sing Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne. How do you like Glyndebourne? And how do you like Octavian? What are your thoughts about his character?


TE: Glyndebourne is the most stunningly beautiful place! You can’t imagine what it is like to take a break from rehearsal, and enjoy some air while walking through the gardens or around the lake! I mean, it’s something from a dream. I am loving our rehearsals, the cast and collective colleagues are a great team, and although we laugh a lot, we get a lot done! 
Without giving away much about my character, I will say that I don’t play him, I try to inhabit him, and in turn I think there is quite a depth to this young man. He is not in an easy situation from any angle, and he goes from being a young lover, to being a man… it’s an amazing growth to experience. However, to say any more would be giving things away… I must say, I LOVE this music, it enraptures you! This is my first Strauss main role, and I tell you, it pulls at your heart strings! At our first musical rehearsal I didn’t even make it to the end of the first act with shedding a few tears of total awe.
5. Tell us about your programme for the Wigmore recital – how did you choose it? (It is an unusual line-up of Brahms, Britten, Wolf and Haydn.) Are you excited about singing at the Wigmore?


TE: I cannot tell you how excited I am to make my British recital debut in the stunning surroundings of the Wigmore Hall. I have just finished my second recital tour in the USA and I loved every minute, so I am so looking forward to doing a recital here! A recital is a wonderful way to get close to the audience, to feel them, what they like, and to discover new levels in your own performance.

            The programme: I wanted to do some of my favourite repertoire, which reflects where my path has taken me thus far. The Wolf and Brahms, both German, are so so much fun to sing, goodness me, I mean, talk about a belly full of fire! I desperately wanted to do some Britten as I have not yet had the pleasure to sing any of his operas, but I have always been a big fan of his music, and to take his folks songs out and present them seemed like the perfect idea! Finishing with the Haydn, I began singing in Italian as I learned my vocal technique, so to come back to this language is always a pleasure, and I just LOVE this piece! 
JD: What are your dream roles for the future? 


TE: There are so many – it all depends on where the voice decides to go. I would love to sing a Donna del LagoItaliana in Algeri andOtello from Rossini as well as Mozart’s Susanna from Figaro - those four are right up there on my list. Some day, I want to revisit Romeo, I will also look at Der Componist from Ariadne auf Naxos, Adalgisa from Norma, Orsini from Lucrezia Borgia and Sarah from Roberto Deveraux. But right now, I am happy with the roles I am singing! 


JD: Any more highlights for the rest of the summer or the 2014-15 season that you’d like to flag up?
TE: I am very much looking forward to taking a supporting role this autumn in a new production of the Makropulos Case in Munich, a holiday performance of Hansel with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, singing Barbiere and La Cenerentola in Hamburg next winter, making my US operatic debut in Cenerentola at Washington National Opera, and returning home to Dublin for my first solo gala with the RTE next June.
Posted in Classical Pit