Joanna MacGregor

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On Thursday afternoon we had the huge privilege of welcoming Joanna MacGregor to Monkton. We have just entered into a partnership with Bath International Music Festival, and as the first stage in this exciting venture, their Development Director Owen McNeir kindly arranged for Joanna to come and spend some time with us.

We started off with a masterclass, featuring four of our own pianists – Livvy, Lily (Monkton Prep, year 7), Freya and Schwan. None of them had ever played in or even seen a masterclass before, so they were understandably nervous. However, Joanna is such a natural and easy going communicator that she very swiftly put everyone at their ease. Each pupil had just 15 minutes, but she covered so many aspects of music making and piano technique in that time; lots of fascinating and relevant anecdotes about composers, differing interpretations of Bach (quick demonstration of Glenn Gould!), the importance of sound – touch, pedalling, arm weight, that all-important cantabile line. It was so clear to the audience when she suddenly drew something new out of a student’s playing, most notably when Schwan (normally very quiet and controlled) suddenly went for the fortimissimo chords like Franz Liszt himself!

As a teacher, I was fascinated, although I was a little worried that some of the pupils might not be so hooked. I think I was wrong – several pupils positively bounced up to me afterwards and said how amazing that had been. Nevertheless, the plan to keep all the pupils in the building between masterclass and recital, by bribing them with sweets, seemed to go down very well!

The second part of the proceedings was a short recital of works by Bach, Chopin, Barber and Piazzolla. Again, Joanna’s delightfully relaxed delivery was so refreshing, especially when she got lost in the opening Prelude of the Bach French Suite – ‘Oh dear, I’ve forgotten it’ was heard over a few notes and a rustling of music before she seemlessly picked it up again! Not entirely conventional. But the over-riding sentiment seemed to me to be ‘hey, it’s no big deal, we’re all just here enjoying music together, mistakes needn’t be such an issue.’ I love that, such a good message for our students about what is really important. And yes, we enjoyed every second of her playing!

Anecdotes about Chopin preceeded three Mazurkas, and then she gave us a quick insight (again with demonstrations) into how the first of two Barber Excursions was structured over a walking bass, and also hinted at how difficult the second one was to play! The final set in her programme was three Tangos by Piazzolla, which were frankly insane! The entirely audience sat open-mouthed at her astonishing virtuosity and sound. The final Libertango began with Joanna reaching into the piano and muting some of the bass strings with her fingers, creating a most unusual timbre. Some of the audience were practically standing in their places to try to work out what was happening!

Now that we have our amazing new Music Centre, complete with the David Bowerman Hall and a brand new model B Steinway piano, we can now guarantee that this is the first of many such visits from world class musicians – watch this space!

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