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'Her greatest desire was to make all her students lock their instruments, forcing them to study the printed score. Coming to the music for the first time, you are seduced by the sound. Master the fingering and note sequences, then the structure and correct phrasing are best achieved without the sound.' The conductor Antal Doráti told a young student to sing the music out loud from the score, then conduct it at the same time while being studied closely from a shaving mirror. 'Cyril Smith often said that your ten fingers are your orchestra. The youngster should begin by studying the music subjectively to form his own impression and, as he gradually adds to his repertoire, he will find it far easier to do this from the scores, away from the piano. Like Prokofiev's Second Concerto, which I am learning at the moment. It's one of the legacies that Phyllis has passed on -- generally not advocated by other teachers -- and is regarded in the first instance as one of the major disciplines and requirements. Eventually, when you return to the piano istelf, most of the physical difficulties will have disappeared and resolved themselves.'

Meeting and studying with Aldo Ciccolini came about when Bebbington won a scholarship from the Franco-British Society. 'It was at the Academy in South West France near Ciboure, where Ravel was born -- a French-based Summer School. I had already heard him perform an amazing all-French programme as part of the Majeure Musicale in 1993, and was absolutely terrified at learning that I would be entering his class after listening to such ravishingly beautiful playing. As you know, he has this old world charm, and over the years has developed into his Buddhist life. But he was generous with his time and recognised that I was enormously hard working, the basis for our mutually working together. Afterwards, I was left impressed and inspired, and he turned round telling me that certain things were great, but he didn't think I had ever had a teacher inform me that I had to play, say Stravinsky's own transcription of Petrushka. Essentially, I needed to be pushed in that direction. He was a poetic virtuoso of the most discrete kind and recommended that we study together some of the Operatic Fantasies by Liszt in order to find out which took my fancy. Music of elegance and great Neapolitan charm.'

'He has always championed music by unjustly neglected composers, and invited me to discover piano works myself by others similarly ignored ... Massenet, and Castelnuovo Tedesco -- which I then recorded for Somm. All the reviews stated that his music deserved to be better known and more performed. But what you cannot do is collect music you have never heard, all the time -- you must be more discerning. This is therefore something that has developed from our association, and although it is sometimes on an infrequent basis, we always talk and ask after one another. I am in my early 30s and he is now eighty, and although we often speak about the Anglo Saxon basis of teaching and learning, he encourages one to be intellectual, like knowing languages such as French and Spanish. It is similar to the interviewer of the 82 year old Claudio Arrau who suddenly discovered that he was studying the Piano Sonatas of Michael Tippett.'

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Copyright © 11 March 2006 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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