31 October 2014
Pianist and new recruit to the Philip Langridge Mentoring Scheme Clare Hammond tells us how she got on during her recent trip to Paris to work with mentor Anne Queffélec.
On coming into the Gare du Nord, I was suddenly struck by a flutter of nerves. I am always anxious when I start to work with a new teacher. I wonder what they will think of my playing, which gremlins I’ve failed to expunge, and which imaginative possibilities I’ve been utterly oblivious to. To embark upon a relationship with a mentor is different still. I was planning to play to Anne so knew that my usual anxieties in a teaching situation would apply, but I wasn’t at all sure how to negotiate the other aspects of a mentoring relationship. I had been looking forward to this for so long and was very keen that the first meeting set a positive note for the rest of the year.
It turns out that I needn’t have worried. After battling my way across Paris, I arrived at a beautiful house near to Maisons-Laffitte, an area which feels almost rural despite its proximity to the city. Anne welcomed me to her studio; a bright room, lined with books, with views into the garden. I immediately felt relaxed and at home.
I had prepared Chopin’s 12 Études, Op. 25. These are pieces that I’ve grown up with and that have been subjected to various indignities as my technique has developed. I now know them well and have performed them at numerous venues over the past year, including most recently (and most nerve-rackingly) at the ‘Chopin and his Europe Festival’ in Warsaw. Anne is well known for her interpretations of Chopin and I hoped that she would be able to throw fresh light on familiar territory.
After hearing the set, she immediately leapt into action and started to suggest new ways that I might approach various passages. None of the concepts that she proposed were unfamiliar to me, but the sheer detail, intensity, and perspective of her listening was startling. After a little time, I began to hear how diffuse my sound was, how inconsistent my tone, and how illogical and irrational my phrasing. There followed a period of mild embarrassment as I tried, unsuccessfully, to find on-the-spot remedies, my ears now attuned to the atrocities I was committing.
Our second session was less unnerving. After a night’s sleep, I felt better equipped to experiment and was grateful for a few incremental breakthroughs. We discussed at length the unique capacity the piano has to imitate other instruments, including the human voice, and what a gift this is for the imagination. Several études, and a couple of espressos later, I was ushered to the door with plans to return in February. As I made my way back to the metro, another opportunity presented itself. A prodigiously well-stocked cheese shop whose wares looked as if they might walk out of the door themselves. I decided not to risk it this time, but intend to return equipped with a capacious and well-sealed icebox.
As I leave the Gare du Nord, unexpectedly exhausted despite the fine espressos, I am profoundly grateful that I have this opportunity to learn from such an inspirational artist and excited to see what else my first year as a mentee might hold.