Conference Report: Pianism in the Long Nineteenth Century

An antique piano sits by a rustic window

‘Pianism in the Long Nineteenth Century’ was not a usual RMA-Affiliated conference. This event was a virtual conference, that concluded with a Live Q&A on Thursday 4th March 2021.

Instead of being the usual format of a conference, where papers were given live, and in the same session as the resulting Q&A, this conference did something slightly different. All papers were pre-recorded and uploaded to the conference website a week before the live Q&A. The live Q&A was also recorded, and is now available online through the conference website as well. This was done for several reasons: so that all delegates could choose when and how to access papers, and so that the demand for screen-time engagement (and subsequent Zoom-fatigue) was low. Delegates were able to submit questions for the Q&A through the chat function, or verbally. It also meant that any registered delegates who could not attend the Q&A were still able to access this part of the conference.

The conference showcased presenters from across the world (UK, Australia, America, Canada, and the Netherlands), which was only permissible through the pre-recorded and digital nature of the conference. As the title of the conference suggests, the programme looked at pianism, and piano music, of the Nineteenth Century. It comprised not just research papers, but also lecture-recitals and pre-recorded interviews, to give a broad response to the topic, and be include in the kind of researchers and practitioners contributing to the programme.

The first panel discussed pedagogy and the legacy of pedagogues, focussing on Anna Scott’s (Leiden University) paper on the students of Brahms and Clara Schumann, and Vanessa Latarche’s (Royal College of Music) interview on the Mendelssohns. Following this was a session on Schumann, with a paper from Natasha Loges (Royal College of Music), and a response to Stephen Hough’s interview by Dana Gooley (Brown University). Finally, the last panel covered Neal Peres Da Costa’s (Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney) discussion of Farrenc and Saint-Saëns’ quintets, alongside discussion of Danny Driver’s (Royal College of Music) interview on Amy Beach’s Piano Concerto, also with a response from Gooley.

One thing made possible by the virtual pre-recorded format of papers was that the majority of presenters had watched each other’s presentations and interviews. This allowed for a vibrant and engaging discussion for each panel at the live Q&A, where presenters interacted with each other. There was a delightful discussion between Scott and Da Costa on the different approaches to historical informed performance.

In programming this conference, we aimed for diversity of presenters not just in terms of gender and race, but also disciplines within music research and practice. All our presenters are multifaceted musicians who contribute to musical discourse as both performers and researchers in some way. It was delightful to see this diversity of discipline similarly reflected in our attendees, many of whom were not pianists or singularly interested in pianistic repertoire, but delegates from across disciplines, such as 18th century instrumental music.

The conference was hugely successful, and we hope that this format of pre-recorded and live virtual events offers a positive alternative format for conferences to get around Zoom-fatigue and the various challenges of working from home. Many thanks to the Royal College of Music and the staff there who helped organise this and run our website, and to the Royal Musical Association for their support!

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