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Naturally, I assumed that Mark's parents were also musical. Not at all. 'I started at nine and there was no significant spark of interest to begin with. It was only during my teens when I slowly began to develop and changed to a very good teacher from Birmingham -- Marjorie Hazelhirst. She helped me, understanding how to encourage certain things, and she knew Kendall Taylor. He was already an old man when I was sixteen, but when I attended the Royal College of Music I visited him and eventually became his pupil. I am very glad I did: I had occasional lessons prior to full time at the college. As you know, he was a musician of high seriousness coming from a previous generation ...' Totally, Old School? 'Disciplined, and very much the person for me -- his whole approach structured and focused. Also, very methodical, and there was no doubt that the overriding factor was his musical integrity. It was so prominent, and he was a specialist in classical composers -- Mozart, and in particular Beethoven.'

'Then I also made contact with Phyllis Sellick, who in many ways was diametrically opposed. She was very much the musician interested in preserving beauty of sound with as much colour as possible in the playing, while one of Kendall Taylor's passions involved architecture in works like Beethoven's Appassionata and Hammerklavier Sonatas. Phyllis would come into her own when you wished to play Debussy and Ravel, who are so extraordinarily sensitive. She picked up on everything, and it was always a joy for me to go to her and discuss music. She also knew the scores so well, and I had occasion to take along contemporary music where she made so many pertinent observations.' I think back to her recordings of Walton's Sinfonia Concertante and the Tippett First Sonata. 'She is really a part of living musical history, and I marvelled at the recording of Milhaud's Scaramouche Suite with her late husband, Cyril Smith.' Also their Rachmaninov Suite No 2 ! 'So, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been taught by two such eminent teacher-performers who, in a way complemented each other in a positive way.'

This was what you yourself were striving for. 'Exactly. I also find it now I have embarked on a series of recordings for Somm and Siva Oke. Siva, was a one time pupil of Cyril Smith, and the Castelnuovo Tedesco recording went very quickly because she understood precisely what I wanted to do. Where I didn't make it, she was able to suggest how to make it come together through evolving from the same school of teaching. In fact, I was striving for a kind of telepathic understanding of the quality of sound. Phyllis and Cyril were both like that, even when they disagreed, and they ensured that pupils reduced the element of risk by learning the music inside out. For instance, the Bach Prelude and Fugue in A flat major which you were expected to transcribe and play in F sharp major.' Like the Nadia Boulanger method. 'It's a wonderful way of getting to know and understand, but where we felt things were technically wrong was because we hadn't heard it correctly from an aural standpoint ... Nothing to do with the fingering, but the actual sequence of notes. She would select a chromatic right-hand passage in the right hand from a Rachmaninov Concerto, and make you play it with the left. So, by removing the normal physical gesture, it would impose a fresh emphasis in its place!'

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Copyright © 11 March 2006 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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