Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Perfect partner

By Aussiegirl

Here's an interesting look at the art of accompanying. I'm fortunate to count as one of my friends here in Washington a professional pianist who makes her living primarily accompanying other musicians, both singers and instrumentalists. She too finds that accompanying and playing in ensemble has its beauties and rewards, and as a result, she's highly sought after by singers and musicians alike.

Scotsman.com Living - Music - Perfect partner

GERALD MOORE WAS ONCE asked whether, in the course of his long and distinguished career as accompanist to some of the greatest singers of the 20th century, he had ever given any thought to becoming a pianist. Moore's response is not documented, but had he delivered one, he would most certainly have put the enquirer right on one thing: the art of the piano accompanist is exactly that - an art in itself.

And few come more artful these days than Malcolm Martineau, whose annual appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival are more regular than most, but whose visibility - unless you're specifically looking out for him - can easily be masked by the fact that he has chosen to follow the same career route as Moore.

Martineau's love for the Festival is as much personal as professional. He was born and educated in Edinburgh, and his father - who died when he was only nine - was a prominent clergyman in the capital. His mother is the notable pianist Hester Dickson, who is now in her eighties, but still highly active as an accompanist and teacher at Glasgow's RSAMD.

Listening as a youngster to the regular musical collaboration between his mother and her late sister, the cellist, Joan Dickson, rubbed off on Martineau. "I've always loved the idea of collaboration in music. When I reached the semi-finals of the first ever BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 1977, a lot of solo work came out of that," he recalls. "But I knew that solo playing wasn't really my bag, and when I went to Cambridge, I did lots of chamber music. I'm not the solitary type."

Now in his late forties and based in London, he is one of the most accomplished accompanists around today, on first-call terms with the likes of Bryn Terfel, Simon Keenlyside, Christopher Maltman, even Simon Rattle's other half, the Czech mezzo soprano Magdalena Kozena. He tours and records regularly with many of them.

There is still, says Martineau, a lingering perception that the accompanist plays second fiddle, especially when a singer is in the limelight. "There have been several occasions when someone has asked me if I went to 'that wonderful song recital last week at the Wigmore Hall', and I've had to answer: 'yes, I was actually playing'. The fact is, the audience come to see the singer!"


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