Jemima Palfreyman Music Blog

Full write-up from the ISM conference!


So, it's been a while - what a busy month April has turned out to be! Luckily we have two bank holidays AND half term week in May coming up...pupils, please ensure that you have given me all holiday dates in plenty given time! I will be teaching those who are around on the bank holiday Mondays.

Anyway, please have a read through my full write-up from the ISM conference at the beginning of the month, which can be found below. That's all for now, have a lovely week!

ISM Conference 2013 – Day 2 (Friday 5th April)

Having followed the previous day’s #musiced debate religiously via twitter between teachingappointments, I was very excited to be joining the ISM conference for a morningof Messiaen and the afternoon’s AGM. As a new graduate member, it was a primeopportunity for me to find out what the Society is all about, and to get anup-close-and-personal view of the support and opportunities available to me asa member.

Following a delayed train journey from Euston, my annoyanceat the public transport system melted to pure intrigue as I tiptoed towards thehaunting sound of the fifth movement of Messiaen’s Quartet pour la fin du temps, featuring some of the finest youngmusicians Cambridge had to offer. As a Beethoven enthusiast who has listened toMelvyn Tan’s recordings using Beethoven’s restored Broadwood piano with analmost religious reverence, I was very excited to be able to witness first-handhis approach to such a drastically different sound world. There was not reallymuch to be drawn upon – in Tan’s own words – as the performances werestunningly refined from all of the young musicians that morning, but hispassion and deep understanding of the musical sentiment required by theperformer was evident as he stretched as much musical extremity from theperformances as possible, transforming the edge of the sound and intensifyingthe timbre. To pianist X, whoseperformance of X had a crystal cleartechnique, exploring some very exciting textures and sounds(from memory, noless – a feat that astounded me even as a graduate pianist from the RNCMmyself), Tan added flourish, finesse and dynamic extremity.

It is definitely worth noting Tan’s beautifully humbleapproach – demonstrating when necessary but not showing off or drawingattention away from the performers. His warm approach completely encapsulatedthe ethos of the day; focusing on the importance of the young people who willone day, no doubt, be contributing massively to expanding the outreach andaccessibility of the arts, as discussed by the panel the previous day.

After a refreshment break which provided ample time andinvaluable opportunity to mingle, network and get to know a variety of peoplefrom many different musical backgrounds, we were incredibly privileged towitness a breathtakingly devastating performance of the Quartet, performedutterly flawlessy by Melvyn Tan (piano), Mark Simpson (clarinet), Jack Liebeck(violin) and Guy Johnston (cello). At times, the blending of the sound was asif each instrument had merged to create one single, ethereal tone, rather thanfive separate instruments. The performers, in spite of what was stunninglyvirtuosic playing, created a bubble in which time seemed to stop for the entirestatuesque audience, with the emphasis on each musical message rather than theflourishing gestures. Liebeck and Tan literally stole the show with the eighthmovement for violin and piano, holding everybody with their hearts in theirmouths for a good thirty seconds after the resonance from the final note hadended.

It was a uniquely special performance, given honestly andhumbly with the musicians making no song-and-dance about a grand entrance,setting up and taking their places at the stage whilst the audience were stillshuffling in. The setting of Queen’s College made for a perfect backdrop tothis once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am sure it won’t be forgotten by anymember who witnessed it. It was once the performance was over, whilst talkingto other members, that I discovered the rich variety of master classes andprofessional/musical development that the ISM provides year-round – the nearestbeing a Jazz masterclass with Marius Neset on the 23rd April.

I was worried that I had somehow drawn the ‘short straw’ byonly being able to attend the second day of the conference, as the afternoonwas spent with the AGM – which some would perhaps consider the “boring” part ofthe event. However, I was interested to see how things were done; spoiled andinspired as we were in the morning with such wonderful artists, it is of coursealso very important to know about any resolutions which may affect members,reports on the financial side of things, and other matters which may indirectlyaffect the service that we, as members, trust our money into.

I was extremely impressed by the transparency of thesociety, providing a full financial statement with charts and explanations, anda refreshingly jargon-free environment. It was wonderful to hear of the gooddone by the ISM Benevolent Fund and also how seriously the panel had consideredthe proposed special resolutions, responding with professionalism andsensitivity to what members had to say. In the open forum I was eager to sharehow welcome I had been made to feel as a relatively new member, and as one of the youngestmembers present, and how encouraged I was by what the Society does and standsfor. I feel that my graduate membership (a mere £60 per annum for your firstthree years as a graduate, with an even lower rate for current students) ismoney very well spent, with the ISM providing support in pretty much every areayou could think of as a self-employed, freelance musician; the available onlineresources have been invaluable to me already with a number of perks anddiscounts including a discounted tax-return service which is a sigh of reliefto most at this time of year!

All in all, I found this year’s conference to be a fantasticexperience, and am already excited to see how the ISM will top that next year!