Catherine Cheung | 张瑛瑶

Pianist | Composer

Catherine Cheung is a pianist, composer and teacher based in London

Switzerland (3): Chalets & Chateau Chillon

I hope you've enjoyed the past two posts about my Switzerland trip! I suppose in this post I should mention that I stayed with hosts- a retired couple who were super kind and generous. When I was no longer required to be at the festival, there were still two days before I had to go back to London which was a great excuse to do more sight-seeing! They offered to take me to places that were hard to reach without a car and give me a true Swiss tour... and what's more Swiss than chalets? Right?

It was slightly unfortunate that the weather was not super sunny. Actually I have to back track slightly and tell you that Swiss people think the weather is bad unless there are absolutely NO CLOUDS at all. In the UK, if it's slightly cloudy and not raining, that's considered pretty good weather already... but it seems the Swiss have high standards. Anyway we took a road trip to the east of the lake towards Montreaux (a bigger town, well-known for being a tourist attraction), passed Villeneuve where the lake ends and headed up into the mountains to a village called Gryon. It turns out my hosts have a chalet there as well, and they gave me a tour inside since I'd never been in one before. We then drove into the village past some of the very old chalets. You'll see in the photo slide below, there's a picture of a chalet called 'Le Griuns' that was built in 1662. That's crazy! 

We stopped by a restaurant in the mountains and I was treated to some delicious simple local cuisine - butternut squash soup, warm goats cheese salads, and lemon-flavoured waffle cones filled to the brim with whipped cream (should probably only eat one of those every ten years!). We ate outdoors with the bells on the cows jingling in the background and finished our meal just in time before it started to rain. 

From the old to the new; my hosts knew I didn't manage to see the Rolex Learning Centre on my day trip to Lausanne since I ran out of time so they offered to drive me there! It turns out though that I would have probably found it very difficult to go via the metro as it's quite far away from the station. The area around the centre is also still being developed and built on so it's slightly chaotic and confusing outside! 

The centre is the campus hub and library of the EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) designed by the Japanese architect duo SANAA. The curvy structure of the building is very attractive, and when you're walking inside the floor keeps going up and down and it reminds you of the hilly terrain of Switzerland. What's more, my hosts told me that if you look at the centre from a bird's-eye view, it looks like there are a lot of holes in the ceiling. Inspired by the Swiss cheese perhaps?! We went on a Saturday so it was very quiet and students were mainly chilling inside, the atmosphere was very laid back and great for studying!


My last sight-seeing trip to Chateau Chillon was also an excuse to ride a CGN boat. Everyday I would see the boat stop by the Cully port and blow its horn and I was so curious what it would be like to ride it. There are a lot of routes the CGN boats can take you, and some even take you to the other side of the lake over to France! In fact I wasn't so sure at the start of the day whether I was more excited about the boat ride or seeing the castle. I was told by my hosts and other people in the festival that the castle was a must-see and they were right!

The boat took me on a scenic trip towards Villeneuve where the castle was. It was strange... this was my tenth day here and the lake was still just as fascinating. I was blessed with amazing weather as well which made for great picture taking and it meant there were loads of people out on their boats or paddle-boarding. I'll let the pictures below do most of the talking but all-in-all it was a fantastic way to end my time here in Lake Geneva. 

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed my photos and perhaps the Switzerland posts will inspire you to go and visit. 

Switzerland (2): A Day in Lausanne

I managed to take a day off from the Cully Classique Festival to take a short train ride to Lausanne. There's quite a lot to see there, and from doing some quick research I decided to visit the Olympic Museum, Lausanne Cathedral, Collection de l'Art Brut and popped inside the Palais de Rumine as well! I didn't want to spend my entire 10 days at Cully, especially as it was my first time in Switzerland and I wanted to make the most of it. Plus, I was craving some busy city life. 

Lausanne is known as the 'Olympic Capital' as it hosts the International Olympic Committee and has done so since 1994, so of course I had to go to the Olympic Museum. On my way there I accidentally ended up walking along the Ouchy Waterfront and it was beautiful. I'd been staring at the same lake view at Cully (which don't get me wrong, was just as pretty), but it was so nice to experience the lake from a different angle. 

I climbed a lot of wooden stairs to reach Lausanne Cathedral which rewarded me with a great view of the city! The Cathedral boasts an impressive organ and an organist was playing while I was there which gave the entire place great atmosphere. It also had lavish stained-glass windows.
 

Finally, before heading to Collection l'Art Brut, I stopped by the Palais de Rumine which houses three museums: The Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, The Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History, and The Cantonal Museum of Money. The Collection l'Art Brut was probably the highlight of my trip and so unique. The 'Collection of Outsider Art' was inaugurated in Lausanne in 1976 with art works curated by Jean Dubuffet who searched for art freed of cultural and social conditioning. Most of the works are created by 'social outcasts' - self-taught artists Dubuffet encountered in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and elsewhere. The artwork there was so raw with passion. I felt that the unique experiences the artists went through in their lives shaped their art and they did not hold anything back. A lot of it was powerful stuff and very moving. The artwork ranges from paintings to sculptures. Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside the gallery so you'll just have to go there yourself! 
 

It was short and sweet in Lausanne, and I went back to Cully in time to hear some music by the lake with the sun in my face and a glass of wine in my hand.

Switzerland (1): Cully Classique

Summer's almost nearing the end, but I have yet to write about my time at CULLY CLASSIQUE in Switzerland! So before my last year as a Master's student starts, I'd love to share my experience with you, along with plenty of photos. 

I was nominated to take part in the CULLY CLASSIQUE Festival as part of the Student Crossroads Project (aka Carrefour des Etudiants) which brings together a select number of students from top conservatoires in Europe (this year it was Vienna, Basel and London) who then collaborate together on a number of chamber performances and give a premiere of works written for the festival by student composers. 

Première of Giovanni Santini's In Change... What Remains

The Festival is a musical treat that takes place in June every year in Cully, a village on the shore of Lake Geneva with breathtaking views. Cully is part of the municipality Bourg-en-Lavaux which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of 830 hectares of terraced vineyards. The festival itself takes place across 10 days, with concerts happening throughout the day in various venues around the village. A stage is also set up by the lake for a more casual, relaxed atmosphere where people can drink wine and chat till late while enjoying live performances. Internationally-renowned artists are invited every year to perform, and this year was no exception with performances from Marc-André Hamelin and Nikolai Lugansky among many others. I had the great privilege of sitting in the front row at Hamelin's performance and it was awe-inspiring!

Below are photos from Cully which I'd love to share with you!

The premiere of the contemporary works was the most important part of the project. Having just met each other for the first time, we had an intensive four days of rehearsals before the performance. I had the pleasure of performing Giovanni Santini's work which was challenging, and used the piano in a number of clever ways, with extended techniques that included the use of playing magnets, harmonics, and bow hairs. The sounds that he created were very interesting and worked very well with the viola and clarinet. Aside from the usual playing position (sitting at the keys) I also had to play inside the piano and move to the tail of the instrument. Thank goodness I had the score on my iPad and had my AirTurn Pedal which really helped logistically. It  meant I didn't have to deal with sheet music and page-turning and had both hands free for playing! I really recommended getting the AirTurn Pedal
 

The concert was a great success, and the audience seemed to get what we were trying to achieve as composers and performers. I suppose that's all we can ask for really!

More posts to follow shortly about my trip to Switzerland! Stay tuned.  

 

Disclaimer: This blog post is in no way sponsored by AirTurn. I just really like their pedals.

Busy few weeks + Cully Classique

It's been a busy few weeks since I last posted! I've been balancing performing, composing, teaching and planning exciting new things with Bea (for 'Cat & Bea'). 

Firstly, I handed in a submission for the 'Waterloo Festival Short Film Score Composition Competition 2015'. The brief was to write for a short 6 mins film that was made exclusively for the competition and it was such a blast to write for it. Boy what a challenge, but I learned so much from it, and it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone when it came to the style of composition that was required. 

Following that, I placed most of my attention on preparing for two 'Contemporary Music in Action' concerts that took place at the RCM. As talked about it in one of my older posts I collaborated with two composers, Nicola Monopoli and Alistair Robertson, playing with a different violinist for each piece, Laure Massoni and Julian Fish (respectively). Again, the pieces were challenging and pushed me to my limits. There are complete recordings of both performances which I might put on Soundcloud, but for now here is a snippet from Alistair's piece 'Duet'.



Meanwhile, having been nominated by Vanessa Latarche (Head of Keyboard at the RCM), I'm pleased to announce it has been confirmed I will be attending the CULLY CLASSIQUE FESTIVAL in Cully, Switzerland from 19-28th June. I will be taking part in the Vis-à-Vis project, in which musicians collaborate and perform together specialising in contemporary music. This is integrated with the 'Students Crossroads' project, so I will be working with other musicians from top conservatoires in Europe.

For more information visit: http://www.cullyclassique.ch/en/projets/vis-a-vis/concept/

First day of summer + new playlist!

I think it's safe to say summer is finally here! I've spent the entire day working and practising. Something about the summer sun just makes me feel really energetic and more productive and I love it! As the days are getting longer, it means I'll be improvising in daylight and I'm curious to know whether it will affect what I come up with off the top of my head.

So here's an excuse to share with you my latest improvisation! Let me know whether you think the mood of this track is any different. 

I'd also like to add that a new playlist for my improvisations has been added to the 'Listen' section of my website. (Click on 'Media' first and 'Listen' is in the drop down menu.) 

Collaborating with composers

A lot of people wonder and ask the same question: "what do you actually DO in a music conservatoire?!" I assume they all think we either just practice all day... or don't practice all day and laze around. The fact is though that most, if not all, music conservatoires have an extensive list of 'optional subjects', and we must choose to study at least a couple of them each year. Some of these subjects are tailored towards our principal study/instrument.

In this post however, I will be talking about one of my options: 'Contemporary Music in Action'. It's led by Haris Kittos (one of my former composition professors!) who is the most optimistic and cheerful man I know. So, I suppose now is the moment I explain what the module consists of.

Basically it's less like a 'subject' and more like a 'project'. Just like in real life, student composers and performers in the college collaborate with the end result being a performance of a newly written contemporary work. In this instance I am the performer, not the composer. I chose this subject, specifically because I wanted to develop my skills in learning and performing contemporary music, and also I wanted to experience what it was like to be a performer in this scenario, as I had only ever experienced this from a composer's point of view. I'm lucky enough to be collaborating with two composers, Nicola Monopoli and Alistair Robertson.

So far, it's been one of the most interesting, inspiring and challenging things I have done. I've been given some scary looking scores to learn over Easter break, and hopefully everything will come together in time for two concerts that will take place so we can perform these new works! 

For more information about the concerts, just browse the 'Concerts & Events' page on this website.

The fear of being spontaneous

I've always hated improvising. I've loved the idea, but I've hated the practical side of it. Why? Because I was BAD at it, and really I still am, but I've finally overcome the fear and the annoyance when I get things wrong. Improvising teaches you to go round the obstacle, to learn to fall and make it seem like you intended it to be that way. In fact that's what a true artist does isn't it? E.g. You make a memory slip on stage (another one of my fears), and you overcome it (hopefully) and the audience is probably oblivious to the five seconds of panic that just happened.

I'm very new at all of this so bear with me, but I finally came up with something I thought sounded good enough to share with you all, so I hope you enjoy it! It's a skill I hope to develop over a long period of time, and I look forward to sharing my journey with you.

Digging up the past

Since moving house last year I've had this big box I've been meaning to unpack, full of old drafts and sketches for my compositions, old programmes from concerts, and reports from my Purcell days. It was so nice to see what I had achieved,  but also reminded me how far I still have to go, and I think I got a bit overwhelmed by the nostalgia!

The most touching and most precious to me is the draft for my orchestral piece Fragmented Expanse which was chosen as a winning work in 2010 by the BBC. Which I would love to share with you all...

 

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Dinner with The Drapers' Company

Last Thursday I had the great pleasure of being invited to dinner at Drapers Hall by The Drapers' Company. The Drapers' Company is one of the twelve great livery companies of the City of London, and was granted the Royal Charter in 1364. Today, as part of its charity work, The Drapers' Company supports education, and this year they have helped me a great deal by assisting me in my tuition fees at the RCM. It was wonderful to get to know more about the history of the company and what they do and how they do it. I spoke to some of the kindest, wisest and important people, including Dame Floella Benjamin, who told us to "live life by the four Cs":

Consideration, Contentment, Confidence and Courage
— Dame Floella Benjamin

It was also such an honour to be seated at the head table, two seats away from the Master of the Company, and sitting next to the Past Master.

It was black tie so I dressed up....

The selfie in the posh bathroom.

The selfie in the posh bathroom.

And of course you all probably want to know what the food looked like. Here's dessert, which was supposed to evoke a good memory of school dinners, and it definitely hit the spot! 

 

Included rice pudding, strawberry milk, and chocolate nougat cake.

Included rice pudding, strawberry milk, and chocolate nougat cake.

Piano-hunting in China

Hello all! I just got back from a two week trip in China. I go there (specifically Guangzhou, or Canton) maybe once or twice a year, and as many of you pianists out there will understand (or other instrumentalists who can't travel with their own instruments due to impracticalities), practising in a foreign country can be a frustrating prospect, but something you need to sort out. There are the following options:

 

1. You go to a decent music store and hire a practise room. 

 

2. If you're staying there for a substantial period of time you can rent an instrument. 

 

3. You buy your instrument.

 

Now 'option 1' has always been my go-to... but it was pretty frustrating. Not all cities are 'well-equipped' with decent music stores, and even if those music stores are decent enough, it does not mean their practise rooms reflect their good reputation. Countries, like China, that experience hot tropical climates have terrible luck with tuning - pianos can go out of tune very easily, so even good quality pianos in music shops were painful to play on... and listen to! 

 

After many years of hiring a practise room in a store, I had had enough. Travelling to the music store took up a lot of time, and it wasn't guaranteed that I could go everyday. The visits to Guangzhou were starting to affect my progress over the holiday periods when I usually get most of my work done, so, before my visit this summer, I decided to buy a decent piano.

 

Guangzhou

Guangzhou

The thought of trekking around Guangzhou city in the exhausting sticky heat, visiting piano store after piano store felt very daunting. It was, in my opinion, the pianist's equivalent to speed-dating, except the match you're looking for is a piano, not a human-being, so at least the piano you want won't reject you. 

 

Surprisingly, it didn't take too long for me to find a very good upright piano for my home in China. After only one day, I had found two suitable pianos out of the 30 or so I had tried out. One Yamaha and one Kawai. A few things you should know is, apart from finding a piano you love, you should also consider the customer service of the piano store. I visited around 6 stores, and when I asked them about the aftercare they provided, such as guarantee etc., many of them gave me different prices for tuning, and a lot of their '2-year guarantees' had too many disclaimers, so watch out! I was lucky enough to find the perfect upright for me, that in my opinion belonged to one of the most professional stores in the city. They provided great aftercare, the tuning prices and their tuners were very satisfactory, and their guarantee covered literally everything.

 

 

Me with the Yamaha YA131CS I chose

Me with the Yamaha YA131CS I chose

Delivery speeds in China are scarily fast. The piano got delivered to my house the next morning! Also, it was only then that I discovered the Chinese have a solution for the high humidity levels that cause tuning problems for pianos - they install a pipe like device, that emits heat to combat the humidity levels. All you do is place it on the bottom half cover, and you plug it in! Here's a picture below of them installing it.

 

Transient

So that's my story. Of course, the tale of how I found my piano in London is an even better one... maybe I'll tell that another time. If any of you have stories about finding your piano, or have any questions, feel free to comment below!

IMS Prussia Cove 2013

I got accepted to participate in this year's International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove, Cornwall. This music course that is held annually during the Spring, was founded by Sandor Végh (the great Hungarian violinist and conductor) in 1972. Currently the artistic director role is held by Steven Isserlis, and András Schiff has also had long-standing association with the course.
 

 

I stared at this all day


After an overnight journey on a slow sleeper train from London Paddington I arrived at Penzance, only 20 mins drive away from the rather remote Prussia Cove. I had no signal (phone or internet). It was frustrating. I'm a renowned sucker for technology- how would I survive for 10 days being here?!

The first 48 hours were pretty painful and intense. I felt like I was put in rehab for technology addiction (it's true, technology had truly taken over my life), and the only way I could distract myself from the withdrawal symptoms was to attend classes given by the Maestri there, listen to my peers, have my own lessons, and practise. It helped that there was also miles and miles of the Atlantic sea to look at, a great coast line to walk along, and of course, great company. So, there it was. I had unknowingly put myself in a really nice self-imposed prison.
 

Practising on a Fazioli with a sea view

Practising on a Fazioli with a sea view

 

 


After the 48 hours passed, I noticed a clear difference in the way I thought and felt about music. My practise sessions were short, but productive. The classes were of course, inspirational. I was working with Rita Wagner, wife of Ferenc Rados, and one of the most uplifting, enthusiastic professors I have ever met. She's one of those 'hidden gem' professors who have hardly any online presence (don't bother Googling) but anyone who has been in contact with her will tell you she is amazing. Life away from busy London, and technology was starting to feel... refreshing. It was simple, there were no worries, no stressing, and the absence of the internet and contact with the outside world freed up some space in my mind to reflect on my work as a pianist and a musician. Because, that was really all I had to think about while I was there. For ten days, the piano, and only the piano was my focus.

But the question is, now that I'm back in London, am I continuing to live like I did in Prussia Cove?

It's pretty unrealistic to think that I could. I spent the first 24 hours back in London glued to my laptop screen (you know, to make up for lost time!). But, I will say this: I've cherished the extremely unique experience at Prussia Cove, and I will take what I have learnt, apply it to my work, and try and compromise, so my lifestyle here in London can somehow mesh with how I was living in Prussia Cove. It's amazing how just 10 days can make a huge difference, and I hope I'll be back there soon.

© Catherine Cheung 2015