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A supportive and relaxed environment is the recipe for success at Chetham’s Summer School for Pianists, says Jessica Duchen
Putting your feet up is not the point at Chetham’s International Festival and Summer School for Pianists. For two weeks from 17 August, the Manchester music school is transformed into a veritable Mecca for pianists, whether they are young students, advanced students or keen adult amateurs. With 100 practice rooms open from 6am to 11pm, three concerts a night and lessons and workshops bursting from every window, the sound of the piano is literally everywhere.
The summer school was founded 17 years ago by Chet’s head of piano, Murray McLachlan, and his pianist wife, Kathryn Page. Its roster of faculty habitually looks like a Who’s Who of Pianists; and this year a massive new advantage has materialised in the form of Chetham’s new Stoller Concert Hall, promising a state-of-the-art acoustic, a beautiful pale-wood interior and much improved seating capacity. ‘Even though it’s been such a long time, something changes every year,’ Page reflects.
The new Stoller Concert Hall:
‘This year the big difference is the new hall, which means we’ll be able to open up the concerts to a wider general public, and they’ll feel much more glamorous!’
On the summer school’s concert programme are recitals by Peter Donohoe, Ashley Wass and many more. Beethoven’s piano concertos (including the Choral Fantasia) will be performed by star artists among the faculty; also on the programme are the piano works of composer-in-residence John MacLeod. Moreover, the final stages of the biennial Manchester Concerto Competition for Young Pianists are taking place at the same time. The final has been expanded to two nights rather than one, accommodating six finalists, with the Manchester Camerata to accompany them.
Nevertheless, most people go to the summer school to play, not only listen. A number of different courses are available and the students form three broad groups: schoolchildren, students and adult amateurs. The amateur course in particular has grown to become extraordinarily popular.
Page in workshop mode:
Maybe that is because it is all about supportiveness. ‘The difference between the adult amateur course and the piano course for advanced students is that in the former, you get a two-hour workshop every day as well as your individual lesson,’ says Page. ‘There ere are no auditions and the range of levels is huge – everything from people who have only been playing for a short while right through to diploma level. For the adult amateur course, we choose your teacher for you according to who we think will be most suitable from the repertoire you’re studying, how long you’ve been learning and what your teacher’s reference letter suggests are your strengths and weaknesses.’
The workshops unite the amateur participants: ‘We used to split the group in two,’ says Page, ‘but it seems everyone wanted to be together. The atmosphere is very supportive, with a wonderful camaraderie. It’s very relaxed and there’s a lot of discussion besides the chance to play.’ That spirit of fun and camaraderie is evident in the photo here of Philip Fowke leading a class.
The social side is also a big draw for amateur pianists: ‘The summer school has effects that last way beyond the actual course,’ says Page. ‘People love making new friends. There have been instances when two people have discovered they live near each other and suddenly they’re meeting to play to each other every two weeks.
And we’ve even had weddings as a result!’
The range of age and abilities enjoying the summer school together is also unusual: ‘The adult amateurs love the energy of the gifted youngsters,’ says Page, ‘and the children enjoy the often rather original personalities of some of the adults. They might be doctors or lawyers in normal life, but they all love playing the piano.’
And if you want to go, be warned: it sells out fast. Two hundred and twenty participants may sound large, but according to Page this year’s first week sold out in three days flat.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARS IN OUR 12-PAGE LISTINGS OF 2017 SUMMER COURSES & FESTIVALS INSIDE THE CURRENT ISSUE OF PIANIST MAGAZINE
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