07 Dec Announcing the Launch of HOINAR
Ever since I was a little boy I have always been a firm believer in the power of education to bring about opportunities in life. I was fortunate enough to receive a solid, all-round musical training onto which I fall back constantly, every single day. I was very lucky to meet teachers who concentrated on helping me gain healthy principles that could be applied to the entire spectrum of piano repertoire, and I have also benefitted from my country’s music education system, which values theoretical understanding and aural skills, as well as instrumental ‘craftsmanship’.
This summer I have been working on my first educational project. The idea was very simple: to assess my musical development to date, to determine what things helped me the most and what were the things that could have improved my prospects, what I did not look for or was not within my reach, and then to outline a programme designed to fill in those ‘gaps’ for the next generation of musicians.
That’s how HOINAR was born. The title is a Romanian word I adored when I was small. I have always been fascinated by languages, I find them one of the most expressive tools of mankind, and as a child I developed a particular and weird affection for specific words. ‘Hoinar’ felt very special every time I ‘met’ it in story books. It means ‘rover’, ‘wanderer’, or ‘traveller’. It really struck a chord when I thought of it in the context of music. As musicians, we embark on a life-long adventure in search of the great music. Our work as explorers, delvers in the depth of this magnificent art, would be completely impossible if we ever lost the will to search, travel and discover. So, rovers we are, wanderers at heart, scouting one of the most miraculous of realms this world has to offer.
Starting up such a project is never easy. One can work out ideas and outline a plan on paper, but putting them into practice is a totally different matter. After months of trying, I was lucky enough to join forces with an educational foundation, the Romanian Centre for Music. This new organisation is determined to make a difference in the lives of young music students in Romania, and this project seemed very much to fit their goals. Just when things were at their hardest, we found a venue to host our events, we secured a concert grand, and we were finally able to launch the programme and open our doors to young pianists.
HOINAR is about to start. Applications are still going on. Every day I am forwarded CVs and recordings from new applicants. In a couple of weeks’ time, I shall be meeting young pianists of different ages, at different levels in their development. They are all talented and committed to their craft and I feel extremely lucky that they chose to come and share their music making with me. The only difference between me and them will be that of level of experience.
I am not intending to pour out prescriptive advice, nor am I going to impose certain methods and techniques. After all, we are all personally and physically different. First and foremost, my starting point will always be the music, and I shall try my very best to help all the course participants find their own personal way with their chosen repertoire.
I am, however, quite passionate about genuine help. I remember reading in a book by Boris Berman about his frustration with the fact that, far too often, teachers simply say, ‘Could you just make a beautiful sound here?’ As well as being vague and uncommitted, this kind of advice also does very little to help the student achieve confidence with that particular passage, and indeed with the entire piece. As Leon Fleisher said in a masterclass, one of the worst things a pianist can think of before going on stage is, ‘I’ve got to play this beautifully!’ It gives the mind nothing specific to concentrate on, and invites an exaggerated feeling of responsibility, and with it nervousness and anxiety. I am confident it is possible to offer real help, provide students with an extended expressive and technical vocabulary, and enable them to create for themselves a clear picture of what it is they want to express with their music. And all this, without being prescriptive or reducing teaching to constrictive methods.
I am also very excited about the prospect of running my workshop on performance anxiety and nerves. I have given it a trial at Dartington International Summer School, and the feedback from participants was hugely encouraging. Again, it is all about filling in the ‘gaps’. Growing up I developed a high level of performance anxiety and it was very hard to find genuine help. People telling me that I was going to be alright, and that I should relax, actually did very little to calm me down. I was very thrilled to discover there ARE things that help, techniques that can help with nervousness. Of course, it is a hard and long battle. I am not completely cured myself, but I remember how encouraging I found it, the first time I discovered these methods. I only hope that my workshop attendants will find them as exciting as I did.
My first day of masterclasses is in less than ten days. I am so happy that HOINAR was able to debut this winter. I sense this is a first step in a very long journey. It is a long-term project that will be nurtured by all the lovely people that have helped to start it. We have big plans to extend it to other instruments, as well as chamber music. There are already talks about a summer edition in 2017. It is a truly exciting prospect and I genuinely hope it will help young musicians in an increasingly competitive and pressurised musical world.