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Pierre Auguste Renoir, French impressionist painter (1841-1919): The Piano Lesson.

Music as beautiful as a picture

If impressionist painting is your love, why not try the tonal paintings of an impressionist music concert? One of Hastings’ most accomplished musicians, pianist Francis Rayner, plays for a select audience with his partner, oboist Susan Hutton, at Respond Academy, Silchester Mews. this Friday 7 June at 7.30pm. It is part of the ‘One of Many Jazz Sessions’ organised by jazz musician Reg Hendrickse at the academy. HOT reporter Chris Cormack interviewed Francis Rayner on his busy life, spanning two cultural worlds and his upcoming concerts.

Francis Rayner (

Francis Rayner was born in Merthyr Tydfil in 1960 and started piano lessons at the age of six. By nine years of age, he had won first prize in the Under-14 National Piano Competition and entered Chetham’s School of Music. He gave many solo recitals and concertos, and by 13 had performed Beethoven’s third piano concerto with the Hallé Orchestra.

By his early twenties he was winning major prizes throughout Europe, including the Alessandro Casagrande competition in Terni and the Claude Debussy competition in Paris, and his music was broadcast on Italian TV, French radio and the BBC, though as a modest person Francis is not enthralled by the ‘glittering’ prizes. However he delights in promoting the work of the young and has a key role in the Hastings piano competition where he provides orchestral piano accompaniment for the contestants’ concertos. This year he accompanied eight contestants for five concertos – no mean feat bearing in mind that his piano represents the music of a whole orchestra and yet must not overpower the work of the main piano played by the contestant.

Francis benefited from instruction from Murray Perahia and Charles Rosen in London and continued to perform and teach  in the UK and across Europe and the USA. In 1990, he moved to an apartment in a large mansion in St Leonards-on-Sea where architect James Burton spent his final years. With a recent addition to his family, Francis is looking for larger accommodation in the area – large enough for a one-year-old, three-year-old and 15-year-old and three pianos including one grand!

Francis Rayner at British Chess Championship 2010 (

Francis Rayner  has for many years been a member of the Welsh National chess team in events abroad, and recently won the Hastings and St Leonards club championship for the eighth time. At last year’s Hastings International Chess Congress, he progressed well enough to gain the first of three norms towards becoming an international master. He is currently looking for practice tournaments in preparation for the British championship in Torquay in late July/August.

When asked about any link between the mindset of musicians and chess-players, Francis said he favoured the ‘artistic’ as opposed to ‘calculating’ mode of playing, and his chess heroes,  the Cuban Capablanca and American Bobby Fischer, were in his view artistic – with a flair that did not necessarily plot the next seven moves in advance. As a sign of his commitment to assisting youth, Francis regularly coaches Sussex juniors on training days.

Last year Francis Rayner produced a smash hit of a performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in a production by Counterpoint Arts (with whom he is a frequent collaborator) at Herstmonceux Castle, showing his credentials as a jazz performer. At this Friday’s concert of mainly French impressionist music, however, the early interactions between jazz and classical are less discernible, though Ravel, included in the concert, has well-known jazz influences. On Ravel’s 53rd birthday in 1928 New York, the 29-year-old George Gershwin was a guest at the party and gave a spontaneous performance of Rhapsody in Blue and The Man I Love. On listening to this, Ravel turned down Gershwin’s request for lessons, saying  “It is better to write good Gershwin than bad Ravel, which is what would happen if you worked with me.” Ironically the two died within five months of each other in 1937, although Ravel was the senior by 24 years. (It has been said that George Gershwin would always ask for lessons on meeting famous composers, sometimes receiving a frosty response.)

Lucien Pissarro 1863–1944 Ivy Cottage, Coldharbour: Sun and Snow

Francis Rayner considers French impressionist music to be intimately connected with impressionist painting. He says that the music is a “wash of sound,” and you need to “stand back to see the picture.” One of the Debussy preludes which he will be playing on Friday, Des Pas sur La Neige, he tried out on his partner, who was able to guess that the music portrayed steps in the snow or at least a snow landscape. Debussy said  the rhythm must have the “sound quality of a sad and frozen landscape.” I am hoping his concert might include the delightful Fille aux Cheveux de Lin, another prelude.

With his partner Susan, Francis offers the intriguing combination of piano and oboe in Sarabande by the lesser known French impressionist Grovlez, and the wonderful Sonata for Oboe and Piano from the more modern Francis Poulenc. Other works which will be performed include Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, more light and reflective than sombre, and mazurkas and nocturnes by Chopin.

The concert is a fundraiser for Respond Academy, an alternative education project based in St Leonards-on-Sea  aiming  to provide, with the help of donations and volunteers, opportunities for young people to gain new skills in music and the arts. The organiser, jazz musician Reg Hendrickse, also wishes to see as many youths from the Academy as possible attend to expand, maybe, their horizons in musical appreciation. Reg says that many young musicians do not think to sit down and listen to music for a change. Although it is not strictly jazz in this concert, it is the music, not the genre, that counts, he says. This could be a life-changing experience!

On 22 June Francis Rayner will also participate in the Hastings Philharmonic Choir concert, American Journey, a broad canvas of Brazilian and American music, of which more in Hastings Online Times next week. On Saturday 15 June at 3pm, bring your own picnic to enjoy in the beautiful gardens of Fairlight Hall while listening to a courtyard concert  by this year’s winner of the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition, Tae-Hyung Kim. There will be a bar and tea-tent for refreshments. £15 each (concessions apply).

A concert celebrating  French impressionist music by Francis Rayner and Susan Hutton, 7.30pm, Friday 7 June at Respond Academy, 17a Silchester Road, Silchester Mews ,St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0JB.

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Posted 14:33 Tuesday, Jun 4, 2013 In: Music & Sound

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