The Crosseyed Pianist – February 2020: A wonderful write up of the summer piano courses from Frances Wilson who blogs on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist
LA BALIE – “HEAVEN ON EARTH FOR PIANISTS”
Now its sixth year, La Balie, nestled in beautiful rolling countryside in south-west France, offers a very special kind of experience to adult pianists. The brainchild of former investment banker Fiona Page, in just a handful of years La Balie has become a go-to musical destination for pianists from all around the world, and the summer courses are now an established part of the piano calendar, a fact recognised by Pianist magazine in 2019 when it named La Balie in its top 10 piano courses and festivals around the world.
Much more than a ‘piano holiday’, La Balie offers unrivalled luxury accommodation, gourmet food prepared by an in-house chef, a friendly convivial atmosphere, excellent practice facilities and, above all, expert and supportive tuition from internationally-renowned pianist-teachers.
Created with taste, expertise and passion, the secret of La Balie’s success is an emphasis on personal attention and exceptional teaching. With three masterclasses, two individual lessons and recital opportunities for each guest, everyone is scheduled to play on each day of the course – an important consideration for anyone attending a piano course. Guests usually choose three pieces to study in their masterclass sessions with additional pieces selected to perform in the evenings and at the end of course concert. The courses are devised to be intensive and to equip each guest with a meaningful set of skills to encourage confident independent learning and productive practising on returning home. They are also designed to be fun and to provide plenty of time for both practice and relaxation – and who can resist La Balie’s gorgeous saltwater pool on a hot summer’s afternoon, the air heavy with the scent of lavender?
The atmosphere is in no way competitive….but instead full of mutual support and pleasure in the progress of others
Teaching and concerts at La Balie take place in a light-filled, air-conditioned studio, complete with a magnificent Steinway D piano (a rarity amongst piano courses in France), and a second quality grand piano for demonstrating and piano duos. The room also has a superb recordable acoustic, which only enhances the quality of live performances, and offers students and tutors a really special space in which to play.
After daily tuition and practising or relaxation, evenings begin with an informal “aperitif concert” where guests can hone their performance skills and enjoy playing to a friendly, sympathetic audience. Dinner follows, taken al fresco in the attractive garden with delicious freshly-prepared food, fine local wines and a magnificent cheeseboard. There are also two tutor recitals during the week, one of which is held, atmospherically, by candlelight later in the evening, the piano’s sounds dissolving into the night sky….
One of the chief attractions of a piano course is the opportunity to connect with other pianists. Playing the piano can be a solitary activity and a course is one of the best ways to meet other pianists, hear one another play, share repertoire, indulge in piano chat, and have fun while learning. Firm friendships are forged at La Balie, with many participants returning year after year, not only to enjoy the expert tuition but to catch up with piano friends. This conviviality is further enhanced by piano meetups, performance platforms and masterclasses hosted by La Balie in London throughout the year.
There was a tremendous sense of camaraderie and solidarity….. everything was beautifully done and impeccably organised: an artistic achievement in itself Conrad
I felt the luxury of learning with an inspired teacher/performer who really drew his students into this magic of the piano Lynnette
For 2020, La Balie boasts an impressive quartet of tutors – Charles Owen, Noriko Ogawa, Vedrana Subotic and Martin Cousin – who between them will run six courses from early May to the end of August. Guests are guaranteed a warm welcome, superb tuition, wonderful accommodation and food, and, above all, the chance to indulge a passion in a truly magical, inspirational setting that will send you home with renewed focus and enthusiasm.
For more from The Cross-Eyed Pianist please visit https://crosseyedpianist.com/
Pianist Magazine – July 2019: Graham Sheffield’s description of his week at La Balie
The Local Buzz – July 2019
“A pianist’s paradise”
“I have still not quite come down from the extraordinary experience of La Balie, and perhaps I will forever feel transformed by that wonderful week. Playing in front of other people is such a huge threshold for amateurs to cross, and one of great complexity. The setting in which that happens is an integral part of the experience. Somehow La Balie puts these two things together in a way that intensifies every element into something both profound and enjoyable. It is deeply salutary to be with a group of people for whom music means so much and in a place where it can be allowed to expand through everything else. Time and again in James’s masterclasses and talks it reminded me how music is not just something I do for an hour a day, it’s central to one’s whole life, and we are all in this together. Just as James moved constantly from the particular to the universal in masterclasses, so the course itself seemed to open us up from the centre of all our musical selves to a wider awareness as we got to know each other. There was a tremendous sense of camaraderie and solidarity by the end. I can’t thank you enough for bringing this about. The building and gardens and adjacent countryside, the superb cooking, the pool, the lovely rooms, the set-pieces (BBQ, Candle Concert, Coffee breaks etc) – everything was beautifully done and impeccably organised: an artistic achievement in itself.” – Conrad W, 2018
“The course was, as ever, of 5 star standard: it was so good to spend lots of time at the piano, hear others play and to learn from them – as well as constantly learning from the Maestro. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners were superb.” – David M, 2018
“This was my second visit to La Balie and it was just as wonderful as the first which I would not have thought possible! It is hard to imagine that just one week can be filled with so many memorable experiences – piano sounding from somewhere all day, inspiring teaching, beautiful evening recitals, new friendships, a lot of laughter and fun, a lot of hard work that feels so rewarding and delicious food so beautifully presented…….not to mention the free-flowing wine….and the swimming….and my lovely ensuite room. And all in the most perfect surroundings – I felt cared for down to the last detail.” – Lynnette G, 2018
“It’s been a week since I left La Balie, and the afterglow of the happiness I felt there is sadly beginning to fade. It was like heaven there. Actually, I don’t believe in heaven, but if there is one it can’t be much better than La Balie. The beautiful location, fantastic food, piano music wafting out of every building, and most of all you pampering us and leading us like a great symphony conductor. It was one of the happiest weeks of my life. So thank you for letting our piano week happen. I can’t fathom how much work goes into making something like this happen, but what you are doing is to give a gift of a dream-like week to every pianist who comes to La Balie.” – Shige S 2018
“Fiona has created a beautiful escape in the South West of France for piano-lovers. La Balie offered us a week without earthly distractions spent on master classes, private lessons and intimate performances. The location is idyllic, with a lovely pool in which to cool off after a few hours of afternoon practice at one of the half-dozen available pianos. The accommodation was extremely comfortable, the meals were works of art, the wine flowed and friendships flourished. It was a pianist’s paradise, and I learned so much about the instrument, and about myself. I dearly hope to return next year.” – Aaron B 2018
“I have now been to La Balie for four Piano Courses and thoroughly enjoyed each of them. They have all been special weeks of excellent teaching by James, beautiful surroundings and comfortable accommodation, delicious meals, fun, friendship and above all beautiful music. Thank you, Fiona, for your warm welcome and for making all this possible.” – Ann S 2018
“At La Balie this summer I enjoyed the best piano course I have yet attended. The concentrated piano instruction allowed me to achieve even more progress than I had anticipated. The course was relaxed and friendly which created the perfect environment for personal musical growth. All of the expertly-prepared meals were delicious, and the accommodations were well-appointed and comfortable. Fiona, a very conscientious hostess, worked tirelessly to ensure that every detail was arranged. I hope to return next summer for another week of impeccable hospitality and intense piano study!” – Amy B 2018
“I loved the way James shared his knowledge and passion without pontificating from above. I felt the luxury of learning with an inspired teacher/performer who really drew his students into this magic of the piano which he clearly loves so much. His evening concerts were fabulous, and then to have a class/ lesson with him the next day felt like a real privilege. When else does an amateur have a lesson with a great performer – who really seems to care personally about their progress?” – Lynnette G, 2017
“La Balie is idyllic; something of a wonder. Situated high on a rolling hill amidst farmland with panoramic views over wooded valleys, Constable skies, magical sunsets with hilltop villages glinting, the location cannot fail to inspire. To organise residential masterclasses is an art in itself and Fiona achieves this as a perfectionist with a gift for design, extraordinary attention to detail within the context of a set of house rules so that everything works like clockwork, while at the same time guests experience overwhelmingly warm hospitality. This combination of what might appear superficially to be contradictions is the secret of creating a highly enhanced positive experience. Our group of eight guests started out as strangers and very rapidly transformed into a mutually supportive group almost immediately, enhancing our knowledge and practical capabilities in a safe environment where feedback was almost entirely positive. Each student participated in three masterclasses, two private lessons and had the opportunity to perform in Aperitif concerts. It’s hard work but astonishingly good value for money. Six full days of masterclasses at La Balie is a major commitment and getting the best out of it requires a good deal of preparation. The amazing thing was the indefatigable nature of our maestro James Lisney. He covered an enormous range of music with copious demonstrations, lots of background material and with much emphasis on teaching us how to practice. All this was done with kindness and in the most generous spirit. No time was wasted. It was wholly worthwhile. So much so that I signed on to next year’s programme at the first opportunity.” – George G, 2017
“For an amateur pianist, La Balie is heaven on earth. In July 2016 I enjoyed a week of inspiring teaching and music making, including two wonderful recitals by James Lisney. James’ teaching is hugely enjoyable and rewarding. His enthusiasm and gentle humour put everyone at ease very quickly, and he gave us a perfect mix of musical inspiration and technical help. Add to this a wonderful Steinway concert grand to play on, the delightful company and shared enthusiasm of fellow pianists, the beauty and peaceful setting of La Balie itself, and gorgeous food (and wine!). Well, it really made leaving at the end of the week very difficult. Fiona is an exceptional host whose enthusiasm for the music and concern for everyone’s comfort means she has created something quite special here.” – Richard P 2016
“I’m still in music heaven after our week in La Balie. I can’t thank you enough for a fabulous and inspiring week with a wonderful group of people. It ticked all the boxes and I am in awe of your organisational skills.” – Dinah B, 2016
“Fiona, your planning and arrangement of the whole week was masterly. The surroundings are out of this world, but to include the availability of a Steinway concert grand of such calibre and your own lovely Yamaha grand made it all even better. Your timetabling of us all practising on different pianos in each other’s cottages made for immediate involvement with each other in the group. Brilliant! I could go on – the food was divine – and how wonderful to have all our meals al fresco! You have rather a sneaky way with that camera too, I didn’t like it at the time but of course am thrilled to have the photos and videos now. For me, that week was transforming – thank you for the best lessons of my life. – Jane A, 2016
“I had the most wonderful week at La Balie. A stunning 5-star venue, and the ultimate piano experience. I learnt so much from James’s truly remarkable teaching and performances, but also from all the other players. Hard to imagine a more supportive, warm and encouraging atmosphere. A wonderful group of people, gourmet food and wine, and a lot of laughter. But most of all, on cold winter days to come, I shall remember standing in the middle of beautiful La Balie in the heat of the afternoon, just listening to glorious piano music pouring out of every window and door. A very special place.” – Colin W. 2015
“Thank you for making our stay at La Balie so wonderful. You have created a beautiful environment, and the course was perfectly organised. James is an excellent teacher, and we all had lots of opportunities to practice and to learn. And the food was wonderful! I think we were very lucky to be in the “first wave” of La Balie pianists, it all felt so friendly and personal.” – Linda P, 2015
“La Balie really was a crucial experience for me. Not only musically, but also personally. James was really the right person in the right spot for me. And you were responsible for the right spot. Practicing has become a pleasure for me – I even play Czerny for fun now! I try to concentrate on sounds instead of notes; I listen differently – thank you for an exceptional week!” – Paul V, 2015
“I turned up at La Balie as a father, husband, lawyer, boss, partner ….. And by mid-week, I was none of those. I was just …. playing the piano, with less and less fear. I really don’t understand how the change happened. But it was certainly the chemistry of place, people and learning. At some point in the week, listening to the beauty in everyone else’s imperfections, I came to hear sounds I could be proud of in my own playing.” – Colin W, 2015
“An exceptional course with inspirational teaching”
“A wonderful time in every way – great people, great teaching, gourmet food and wine and a lot of laughter”
“The best master classes I’ve ever had”
“An incredible chemistry of place, people and learning”
“La Balie has been created with taste, expertise and passion”
“Beautiful place, surroundings and food …wonderful to retreat to!”
“The Advanced Piano Course was a great inspiration and it was a real privilege to listen to so much wonderful playing.”