Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Where Are They Now? Episode 3: The Boys of 2013

Hello and welcome back for the second instalment of our latest series: “Where Are Ü Now?” Here in the office we’ve been busy planning away this summer’s festival, but not too busy to catch up with some of our favourite past DIPF participants. In between securing top-notch performers and beautiful concert venues we found some time to chat with The Boys of 2013: John Prendergast and David Reid.

John Prendergast was the 2013 festival’s resident Dubliner and therefore tour guide for the rest of us; he’s one of those rare people who seem to know something about everything and everything about some things. During the festival he was living in France, but he has since returned to Dublin and is a very active piano teacher with students of all ages and levels. In addition to teaching he is also an examiner for the RIAM Local Centre exams, so if you see his friendly face in your exam room don’t be too surprised!

As a teacher, he loves sharing his enthusiasm for music with his students, and says his older students “really appreciate the way a piece of music can open up and become something special as you work on it over time.” He writes: “My philosophy in playing, and in teaching, is to find joy in the music and then the practice becomes a pleasure.” But his wisdom doesn’t stop there! The biggest challenge for him, as for many teachers, is that many students have difficulty finding the time to practice daily and therefore make little progress – while the students often see this as piano being too difficult for them, he sees it as the student simply not realising his or her potential. Dropping another wisdom bomb, he writes: “Everyone likes to get lost in the beauty of music, but there is no joy in trying to find middle C and failing.”

As far as his playing goes, he says he took a lot out of DIPF. In his own words: “I suppose the big realisation for me at DIPF was that technique is in the ear, and not in the fingers, an observation that Edmund Battersby made during a masterclass. When you can hear something in a different way, your hand will discover what it needs to do to create that sound and so you learn technique. This has opened up my approach to learning music and practising in very beneficial ways. (...) From the lessons with Archie Chen and Lance Coburn I got insights on the balance between playing strictly and having rhythmic freedom for expressiveness, and from my lesson with Evelyn Brancart I learned about the possibilities for learning an absolute sense of precision when making wide jumps on the keyboard without looking, as well as ways to make a connection between a visual image (such as the titles of Debussy’ Images), and the music to enhance the interpretation.”

While living in France, John taught compulsory English classes to 400 first-year law students at the university in Angers. He’s glad to be back teaching piano instead, but said he learned valuable skills from the experience – and now feels infinitely more qualified for a career with a riot control unit!

He’s currently a student of Archie Chen, so here in the office we have the pleasure of hearing his beautiful playing every Monday. He says Archie is doing “amazing things” to his playing, as well as being “an extraordinary musician and teacher…[and] a very down to earth, nice guy.” We couldn’t agree more! John’s been working on Haydn Fantasia in C Hob. XVII 4, Debussy Jardin sous la pluie and Brahms Sonata in F Minor Op. 5

Dream piece: “I have a lot of dream pieces, I’m a child in a sweet shop, but today I will say the Schubert Wanderer Fantasy.”

David Reid came to us all the way from Louisiana State University, where he will graduate this spring after finishing up his fifth year (also known as a victory lap)! A multi-talented musician, he added a BA in Voice to his double major in piano and business finance, and has been focusing much of his energy toward chamber music in the last few months. He is currently in the middle of auditions for a master’s degree in piano (at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Rice University, and Indiana University), and he intends to pursue his chamber music interests in addition to playing “the solo literature we all love.” Cross your fingers for him this audition season!

He’s been doing his fair share of teaching as well, both through a performing arts academy on campus and his own private studio. His biggest challenge is fitting all that he wants to teach into the short period of time that is a piano lesson. He writes: “We have to learn what we must say now and what can wait for later.” He loves watching students have “lightbulb” moments and is learning to adapt his teaching to each student’s needs. 

With regards to school, he writes “I love that we get to return, day after day, to do what we love.” Though it is challenging to balance classes, practice time, rehearsals, and time off, he enjoys the challenges that music presents to him both as a student and just as a human being. “For instance,” he writes, “how else are we to convey these…ideas without words? Why did Beethoven…have to use the medium of sound to convey such meaning? I have been in many situations where the music I am learning teaches me actively in an area of my life.” With this in mind, he says that one of the biggest takeaways from his undergraduate degree is that “MUSIC IS WORK. It is no joke, and any person considering a career in this field will work ceaselessly.” However, he says the power of working together with others has been uplifting and meaningful for him, and that “we are always more successful together.”

He recently played his Senior Recital, which consisted of Mozart Piano Sonata in DM, K. 576, selections from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, and Schumann Sonata in F-, Sharp Minor Op. 11. An ambitious pianist, since then he’s been working on four piano trios by Shostakovich, Babadjanian, Beethoven, and Piazzola, as well as Bach Prelude and Fugue in F-Sharp Minor from Book 2, Beethoven Sonata in E-Flat Op. 7, and Chopin Scherzo in EM Op. 54, and is collaborating on cello sonata by Brahms and Shostakovich. Phew!

When he’s not playing piano David loves coffee, gardening, cooking, and board games. He currently has 130 orchids in his collection!

Dream Piece: “Ooooo….that’s a tough question. I feel as though I have many of them. I’m currently playing one of them, though (the 4th Chopin Scherzo)—it’s such a beautifully and perfectly written work, and I think it encapsulates everything a “Scherzo” could be. The writing is so wonderful for the player, and I believe there is a wonderful intimacy to the piece. I guess another dream piece would have to be the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio. People seem to have different ideas about the work, but I absolutely love the piece and am really looking forward to playing it soon, if not in the next two years or so!”


And that's a wrap on our 2013 DIPF catch-ups! We've had a blast reconnecting with our past students, and hope you've enjoyed hearing about all the places they've been. DIPF 2016 planning is in full swing as usual, and the applications have already started rolling in. We hope to see your name on our list of applicants this year!

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