An Interview with Stephen Savage

I am delighted to announce that my piano workshop at Jackdaws in November is now full, with a waiting list in case anyone drops out. If you are interested in an intimate weekend piano course in an idyllic setting with cordon bleu home-cooked food, follow the link below for details of what’s on offer. I can do no better than suggest a brand new course running in October – given by my very first professor of piano, Stephen Savage.

For details of this and other piano courses at Jackdaws, follow this link 

I had my first lesson with Stephen Savage when I was about 16 and I still remember it clearly. Before I became his student at the Royal College of Music, I had a few more occasional lessons which were always as inspirational as they were energetic and informative. At the RCM, my lessons took place at 11:00 on a Thursday morning in Room 72 and they were the highlight of my week. Stephen’s approach was very hands-on – he always aimed for sound, character and musical meaning first and then explored the means of achieving it as a logical progression. I learned a tremendous amount from him about how to be a musician as well as a pianist, and came out of each lesson fired up.

Here is Stephen playing Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse:

Stephen Savage’s early studies brought him recognition with a Beethoven 4th Concerto with the National Youth Orchestra and success in the Daily Mirror National Competition. After his time at the RCM he was given the task of acting as Cyril Smith‘s teaching assistant while also appearing in a series of recitals at the Wigmore Hall and broadcasting a wide range of repertoire for Radio 3. This included much new music, as well as the Viennese classical repertoire in particular. He was duly appointed to the RCM staff where he remained until moving to Australia where he appeared with most of the leading orchestras and while Head of Keyboard, built the reputation of the Queensland Conservatorium as the leading piano school in the country at the time. He has made acclaimed recordings of Beethoven, Liszt, Mussorgsky and had close associations with Tippett and Lutoslawski whose Concerto he played with the Sydney SO.  He returned to the UK in 2006 and teaches at the RNCM Manchester. Stephen continues to perform in recital.

Here is Stephen playing Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky

And here is the iTunes link to his album, Pictures at an Exhibition

Q: Can you tell us more about the them of your Jackdaws Course, “Finding Your Voice at the Piano”?

A: I am fascinated at the range of factors which contribute to making any of us sound the way we do. Actions at the piano stem from our own physical character. Technique will be affected by one’s own musical taste and focussing on the repertoire we love. The habits we have developed can condition our ideas on how the music should go just as much as our understanding of the pieces we play. As a teacher, I value very much assisting committed performers of all ages and stages to come to an understanding of how they may play with enhanced purpose and to express their unique selves.

Q: I am sure my readers will be interested in your teachers. Can you say a few words about them?

A: My first and most enduring teacher was Dorothy Hesse who taught me everything I knew up to the age of 17.  She was a pupil of Tobias Matthay which meant that her principal aim, following his, was the primacy of the sound itself. All work was done with focus on the maximum meaning of tonal beauty and musical integrity. When I came to study at the RCM with Cyril Smith I was introduced to a new emphasis: learning how to be as professional as possible in the thoroughness of knowledge provided by the complex intermesh of information provided by fingers, ear, brain, memory and precisely targeted keyboard geography. It was a daunting training but highly illuminating and stimulating in it’s demand for precision.

Q: Can you tell us something about the importance of new music in your repertoire?

A: From my student days I was drawn to working with composers because I realised I wanted to know how they functioned. My first experience, playing Tippett’s then quite new 2nd Sonata for the composer was significant. I remember him giving particular attention to the voicing and pacing of the slow section (Tempo 8 bars 240-247) which affected my view of the whole work. Later I came to recognise the point at which I had thoroughly assimilated a piece by this same feeling of being able to see the whole amongst all the detail. So I think my experiences with living composers have hugely assisted in acquiring insights right across the repertoire.

Follow this link to Stephen’s website

His recordings are available from tallpoppies.net and move.com.au.

For details of this and other piano courses at Jackdaws, follow this link