Acclaimed by The Daily Telegraph as a pianist of “amazing power and panache”, Clare Hammond has performed across Europe, Russia and Canada and has appeared recently at the Wigmore and Barbican Halls in London and the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Her Purcell Room debut for the Park Lane Group concert series was praised by The Guardian for its “crisp precision and unflashy intelligence”. Since her debut with orchestra at the age of eleven, she has acquired a concerto repertoire of over 15 works which she has performed at major venues across the UK and on the continent. Solo engagements have included recitals in concert series and festivals in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Russia.
Clare’s recent recital at the Wigmore Hall was broadcast live by BBC Radio 3 and her performance of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin was chosen as one of their classical highlights. She has just released her debut CD for Prima Facie Records, and recently appeared on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ to promote the disk. Forthcoming highlights include a BBC broadcast of etudes by Unsuk Chin and premieres of works written especially for Clare by Kenneth Hesketh and Robert Saxton. She is a committed chamber musician and has collaborated with Andrew Kennedy, Jennifer Pike, Philippe Graffin, Lawrence Power, Ruth Palmer, Ana de la Vega and the Endellion, Dante and Benaïm String Quartets.
Clare completed a BA at Cambridge University, where she obtained a double first in music, and has just completed a Doctorate of Musical Arts with Ronan O’Hora at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and with Professor Rhian Samuel at City University London. Clare is represented by Liz Webb Management. If you wish to be added to Clare’s mailing list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.clarehammond.com/contact.html.
What was the first piece for left hand only – that you performed? Why did you choose such a piece? (or why was it chosen for you?)
The first piece for left hand only that I performed was Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne Op. 9 which I given by my teacher to learn when I was about twelve. This is probably the best known piece for left hand in the classical repertoire and it’s always that first that people mention when you start to discuss music for one hand. It’s a beautiful, very elegant work and sounds a little like early Chopin. I’ve performed it numerous times over the past few years and it’s always surprising how many people didn’t realise it was for one hand until they looked up towards the end! It really is so well written that you could easily believe it was for two hands if you were unable to see the performer.
How often do you perform music for one hand? Could it be more often?
I’ve started to perform music for left hand more regularly since I researching a doctoral thesis on twentieth-century left-hand piano concertos. In 2013 I’ll be including left-hand music in almost every solo recital I give. I haven’t yet started to explore music for right hand alone. There are far fewer pieces for the right hand and, in general, the quality of this music is much lower.
Have you ever performed a premiere/commissioned/composed a new work for left hand only?
What kind of feedback have you had in performing lh only piano music?
Audiences are always intrigued by left-hand music. Many never realised that such a thing existed and they often come backstage afterwards to ask about the repertoire. One of the most common questions is why composers wrote for the instrument in the first place. Within the classical repertoire, left-hand pieces were initially written as technical exercises. The first ever published pieces for left hand, Ludwig Berger’s Etudes, Op. 12 (1820), fall into this camp. Two-handed pianists are also very prone to injuring their right hands through over-use so a number of pieces, including Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne, were written by a composer who needed something to play while their right hand was recuperating. There are also pieces which were written purely to show off – it’s much more impressive to play a piece with only one hand, even more so if you use the left!
How do you prepare for this type of performance?
Practising left-hand repertoire is often more tiring than working on two-hand repertoire. When playing with two hands, it’s easier to give one hand a break and focus on the other for a while but you can’t do this when you only have one arm at your disposal! I try to practise in shorter chunks and build in regular breaks. I also tend to sit a little further to the right of the piano stool so that it’s easier to reach the higher end of the keyboard with my left hand. I’m usually off-balance by this point so use the right hand to either grip the piano stool or the far end of the piano to steady myself.
What is your opinion on this approach ? Has great music come out of these circumstances?
There is certainly great classical music which has been written for left hand. The Prelude and Nocturne by Scriabin, Etudes by Saint-SaÎns, Sonatine by Lipatti and Saxton’s Chacony can certainly stand up to mainstream works in the two-hand repertoire. Although Bach’s Chaconne was not originally written for the piano, in transcribing it for piano left hand (rather than for two hands), Brahms has preserved all the emotional tension and drama of the original. There are some fantastic pieces to explore! For anyone who’e interested, Theodore Edel’s Piano Music for One Hand is a very useful catalogue of all the piano pieces for one hand which are currently available. I’d certainly recommend it as a starting point for the would-be left-hand pianist.
What effect has it had on your relationship to the piano, your creativity as an improvisor/composer/commissioner?
Performing with the left hand alone makes a pianist much more aware of the physicality of playing, of balance and of distance on the keyboard. It takes much longer to leap from one end of the keyboard to the other with one hand. Rather than detracting from the music, however, the short delays that you have to build in add to its rhetorical and dramatic power.
What do you think about the Leftitude festival ?
The Leftitude festival is fantastic as it provides a platform for repertoire which should be much better known! There are some amazing pieces out there, often with surprising or moving stories behind them, and it’s certainly something you have to experience live in concert in order to fully appreciate what composers and performers have achieved.
Do you see this Festival and the surrounding promotion and visibility as something that will be inspirational to artists and individuals facing other challenges?
I hope that the festival and surrounding promotion will show that there is more than one way of playing an instrument, or of creating great music. The left-hand repertoire is a striking testament to the resourcefulness and imagination of composers and pianists when faced with difficult circumstances. I hope that everyone will be able to take something away from the festival and will find something to inspire them.
Who would you choose as an outstanding artist/composer in this special field?
Paul Wittgenstein was the most outstanding left-hand pianist in the classical realm. He lost his right arm while fighting in Poland during the First World War yet, when he returned to his family Vienna, was still determined to pursue his pre-war ambition and become a concert pianist. He commissioned a vast body of works for solo left hand and for left-hand piano and orchestra, as well as a number of chamber works. Without these commissions, the left-hand repertoire would be much smaller and of much poorer quality. His work was absolutely essential in making left-hand music what it is today.
Is there an equivalent approach to other instruments? Performers using this approach?
I don’t know of any offhand.