John Paul Ekins
Increasingly in demand as a recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician, John Paul Ekins has given performances throughout the UK and Northern Ireland, and overseas in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain and Switzerland, and he has been broadcast on the BBC, on Romanian national television and radio, and on Polish television. In 2009 he graduated from the Royal College of Music with First Class Honours, and in the same year he was awarded the James Anthony Horne Scholarship by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to study with Charles Owen, where he graduated with Master of Performance (Distinction) in 2011. He was the recipient of a Music Education Award from the Musicians Benevolent Fund, and receives generous support from Making Music, The Concordia Foundation and The Keyboard Charitable Trust.
He has performed at a number of prestigious venues in the UK and abroad, including Bucharest's Athenaeum, Zurich's Tonhalle, Prague's Martinu Hall, Bergen's Troldhaugen, Krakow's Florianka Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Fairfield Hall and Steinway Hall, Birmingham's Symphony Hall, Oxford's Holywell Music Room, Bath's Pump Room, Bristol's Colston Hall and Belfast's Ulster Hall. He has participated in masterclasses and performed with many renowned musicians and ensembles, such as Salvatore Accardo, the Brodsky String Quartet, Levon Chilingirian and the Chilingirian String Quartet, Peter Donohoe, Bernard Greenhouse, Leslie Howard, Joan Enric Lluna and Martino Tirimo. As a concerto soloist he has performed works by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Gershwin with orchestras throughout the UK.
International Competition successes include 2nd Prizes in the Amy Brant International Piano Competition, the San Sebastian International Piano Competition, and the Oxford International Piano Competition. In 2010 he was awarded a Jellinek Award in the Guildford Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition, and in 2011 he has won First Prize in the Christopher Duke Piano Competition, the Cattermole Award at the Stratford Festival, and 3rd Prize in The Norah Sande Award. Along with this, in past years he has been named the Kingston, Woking and Croydon Festivals' Young Musician of the Year, and the Richmond Festival's Pianist of the Year, receiving an award from Hanna & Sons Pianos Ltd. in the process. In 2010 he was accepted onto the prestigious Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme 2010, where he worked with sopranos Louise Alder and Hannah Bradbury, taking part in masterclasses with Dame Ann Murray, Ian Partridge and Andrew West. Recently he is delighted to have been selected to appear in Making Music's Concert Promoter's Network Brochure 2013-14. He was also the only successful pianist in Making Music's Young Concert Artists Competition 2012, and as such is a Recommended Artist under Making Music's Philip & Dorothy Green Award scheme for 2012.
An avid chamber musician, John Paul has an extensive repertoire of piano and string works, from duos to trios, quartets and quintets. He is a past prize-winner in the Anglo-Czechoslovak Trust Chamber Music Competition, and enjoys a busy schedule working with his many chamber music partners. He recently formed The Cremona Piano Trio, with Michal Cwizewicz and Liubov Ulybysheva, and they have already started to give acclaimed performances in the UK. Despite being together for just a few months, in early 2012 they won the Audience Prize in the final of the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Music Competition.
Educational and outreach work is enormously important to John Paul too, and as well as private teaching he has also given workshops and masterclass-recitals to great acclaim in the UK.
John Paul was particularly honoured to be presented to Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Prince Philip at a Reception for Young Performers at Buckingham Palace in 2011.
Fantasy in C minor K396 Wolfgang A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Mozart’s piano Fantasias (or Fantasies) stand alongside his piano sonatas, not as subordinate miniatures but as substantial musical statements in their own right. This Fantasy in C minor, probably composed in 1782 when Mozart had taken up residence in Vienna, is less well known than the D minor Fantasy K397, which is more frequently played. This present highly colourful piece, though headed Adagio, is full of invention and originality with its elaborate and dramatic flourishes from the start.
With varied and fluid rhythms, the Fantasy gives us the impression of a well-crafted written-out improvisation. It has even been suggested that the composer may have intended to add a further contrasting movement or section to this piece, or that he may have originally conceived it as a piece for violin and piano. We will never know for sure. Yet, with evidence of Mozart’s study of the improvisatory style of many earlier Baroque composers (adapted, as it were, to the new classical style of the day), this piece abounds with many elements of the composer’s operatic adroitness and sense of drama.
Three Intermezzi op. 117 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Andante non troppo e con molto espressione
Andante con moto
Towards the end of his life, Brahms wrote a great deal of piano music. He was a highly competent pianist himself, and the Three Intermezzi op.117 (along with the piano pieces op.116, op.118 and op.119) are among the last works that he composed.
Each of these Intermezzi is uniquely contemplative and pensive in mood. The first, in the key of E flat major, is prefaced by words from a Scottish ballad: “Baloo, my babe lie still and sleep. It grieves me sore to see thee weep.” The tune is in an inner part on the piano, and the gentle rocking accompaniment perfectly complements the mood of the lullaby.
The second piece in B flat minor is quite different in mood. The downward-flowing arpeggio-style accompaniment of the opening hides a delicate melody of great beauty and gentleness. The central section of the piece is a little more assertive in mood, but the initial wistful atmosphere returns at the end.
The final Intermezzo, in the key of C sharp minor, is another beautifully contemplative piece which just about avoids melancholy – in spite of Brahms’ oft-quoted exclamation that this was ‘the lullaby of all my griefs’. The Three Intermezzi op.117 date from a period when Brahms was grieving over the death of his beloved friend Elizabeth von Herzogenberg. So a possible interpretation of an Intermezzoas ‘a reflective musical retreat from the hardships of everyday reality’ is perhaps especially apt here.
Cantique d’Amour S.173/10 Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
The Cantique d’Amour - Hymn (or Canticle) of Love - is the tenth and final piece in Liszt’s collection entitled Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses, which he wrote between 1847 and 1852. This was his first major collection of piano works to be completed.
The composer, a devout Catholic and superb concert pianist, prefaced the set with an excerpt from a foreword to a collection of Lamartine’s poems. It included the words: ‘There are hearts broken by sorrow, held back by the world, who take refuge in the world of their thoughts in the solitude of soul, to weep, to wait, or to worship’. Several titles given to pieces in Harmonie Poétique are derived from various stanzasby Lamartine, and it is often these poems which help to shape the character of the music.
Interestingly, in 1856 Liszt also made a transcription of the Cantique for harp. It is a work which demonstrates considerable lyrical tension and makes great demands on the performer, both technically and emotionally. In the words of the pianist Philip Thomson: ‘It is overtly and unashamedly romantic …. the expression of the indomitable human spirit that has always defied the odds.’
Holiday Diary Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Early morning bathe
Britten was only twenty years of age when he wrote the suite Holiday Diary. But the pieces show considerable maturity in the imaginative and virtuosic piano writing. Britten was an excellent pianist - as the few recordings that are still available demonstrate. However, except for the Piano Concerto op. 15, most of his music for piano employs the instrument in an accompanying role. Holiday Diary, though, allows the performer to demonstrate his solo musicianship and command of technique to the full. The four pieces act like an impressionistic painting displaying different coastal experiences during an English summer holiday.
In Early morning bathe, we can hear the trepidation of the swimmer as he tests the water’s temperature, and then joyfully takes the plunge with strong swimming strokes. Britten himself loved an early morning swim in the sea - whatever the temperature.
Sailing initially presents us with a gently flowing sublime melody representing the calm sea. But the wind gathers and the music becomes more agitated before finally returning to peaceful tranquillity again.
Funfair is quite a tour-de-force for the pianist. Jagged rhythms and busy exchange of parts resonate as the hectic noise, fun and madness of a typical funfair is brilliantly described in the music.
It has been said that Night depicts not only the utter peace and stillness of a dark night but also the unusual way in which sound seems to carry into the distance on a quiet summer evening.
It is this mixture of emotion that makes this suite such an impressive work for the piano, and it clearly helps us to understand the wonderfully illustrative way in which Britten used the piano in the accompaniments to his many songs.
Sonata in C major op.53 ‘Waldstein’ Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Allegro con brio
Introduzione (Adagio molto)
Rondo (Allegretto moderato)
This piece is popular and well loved for good reasons. The sonata is a work on a really grand scale and is a very fine example of the composer’s work from his middle period. In this sonata, he makes good use of the wide range of new facilities and tone qualities provided by his newly-developed Érard pianoforte – a gift from Count Waldstein.
Waldstein, a Viennese aristocrat, is the dedicatee of this C major sonata, which was written in 1804 and which, in many ways, is a work that takes the classical sonata form in new directions. The Eroica Symphony was composed one year earlier, and it was during this period that Beethoven began experimenting with a greatly increased range of musical expression by employing episodes of passionate conflict alternating with moods of quiet contemplation.
In the first movement, a driving force of unremitting energy initially propels the movement along, until a quieter melody provides contrast and brings a more lyrical respite to the middle section.
The present second movement, Introduzione (Adagio molto), replaces the original slow movement which Beethoven rejected and which now stands as a separate piece called Andante Favori. The short Introduzione acts as a short bridgeto the work’s concluding Rondo. As with the opening movement, this Rondo contrasts passages of great energy and excitement with a main theme of undeniable beauty. It is little wonder that this wonderful Waldstein sonata is one of the best-known works in the piano repertoire.