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“Stephen Hough at the Royal Academy of Music, London” is
a 2008 installment in the “Masterclass Media Foundation”
series. In this master class, pianist Stephen Hough (1961 – )
coaches and critiques young pianists Jayson Gillham and
Qian Wu who perform Franz Liszt’s (1811-1886) “Spanish
Rhapsody” and “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12,” respectively.
Each pianist performs their piece in its entirety on a Steinway
grand piano, while Hough sits at an adjacent Yamaha grand
piano, silently observing and taking notes.

After graciously complimenting the pianists on their fine
performances, Hough delivered a surprisingly detailed critique
of their handling of the technical issues and “interpretive”
choices related to each piece.

It was fascinating to observe Hough working with these
two talented pianists. I was particularly impressed with
Jayson Gillham’s performance of the fiendishly difficult
“Spanish Rhapsody” which uses existing Spanish tunes,
including “La Follia,” as well as the melody used by Mikhail
Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857) in his “Jota Aragonesa.” Hough
stressed the importance of the “grand gesture” in this piece,
as well as in the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12,” and made
no secret of the options of occasional “rearrangements”
here and there throughout these pieces, in order to achieve
certain effects. He stated that such practices are in fact, a
part of the performance traditions.

I found it very interesting that Hough asked Gillham if
he’d ever considered rewriting the ending of the “Spanish
Rhapsody,” since Hough found it somewhat weak as published.
This remark, as well as others from this distinguished
musician gave me reason to rethink the whole “authenticity”
issue, vis-à-vis certain music of this type. I was also intrigued
with Hough’s attention to proper pedaling. He actually
mentioned that there were eight different pedaling options
possible with one pedal!

Clearly, these two wonderful pianists received their
money’s worth from these master classes, which were filmed
before a small, live audience. Roughly 50 minutes of the disc
were devoted to Jayson Gillham and 30 minutes to Qian Wu,
resulting in an 80-minute DVD which had no bonus features.
The sound and the video qualities were excellent.

It has come to my attention that this “Masterclass Media
Foundation” series” of DVDs are primarily available in local
college libraries. To locate one near you, follow the link
within this post. I can’t wait to watch other DVDs in the
series, which is something I fully intend to do.  I highly
recommend this disc.

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