Millwood is an accomplished professional pianist, highly experienced as a soloist, accompanist, and classical improviser. He has experience of performing in many contexts, from informal background music to full concerts, from the theatre‐pit to the most distinguished stages, from solo recitals to concerto appearances, and chamber music. Venues at which Millwood has performed include the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall (Royal College of Music, London), the Wigmore Hall (London), Blüthner Showrooms (London), West Road Concert Hall (Cambridge) and several Cambridge Colleges, including Queens’, King’s, St John’s, St Catharine’s, and Girton.
Millwood started “tinkling the ivories” (not made of real ivory) as a toddler, and attained ABRSM Grade 8 whilst still at primary school. In 2003, he took up a place at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, where he studied pianoforte with Emily Jeffrey and Helen Leek, during which time he developed a diverse repertoire, from Bach and Scarlatti to his own compositions and pieces written for him by other living composers, and (in 2008) made his Wigmore Hall début. His contribution to the performance of student compositions elicited the Constance Poupard Prize upon his concluding his studies in 2010.
Whilst an undergraduate at Cambridge, where his pianoforte teacher was Matthew Schellhorn, Millwood won (in 2010) the Girton College performance scholarship and (in 2013) the Alkan competition (hosted by Fitzwilliam College).
Millwood’s undergraduate years also saw him, through his studies for the Advanced Keyboard Skills paper and his involvement with numerous concert projects, developing proficiency in and performing on other keyboard instruments, including harpsichord, chamber organ, and harmonium. He also had the privilege of performing with the distinguished musicians associated with Girton College, including the tenors Nicholas Mulroy and Andrew Kennedy. After his undergraduate studies, Millwood spent two years undertaking specialist studies in classical improvisation with Dr David Dolan.
Millwood has undertaken masterclasses with Ian Jones, Simon Lepper, John Reid, Mateusz Borowiak, Richard Goode, and Robert Levin.
Millwood has performed with musicians (and practitioners of other art forms) of all abilities, from beginners to distinguished international soloists. He has accompanied — often in situations where he had to just turn up and sight‑read — for professional recitals, competitions, examinations, auditions, and functions that require background music. Given sufficient preparation time, he can also read and realise figured bass (including on harpsichord or chamber organ), and even transpose works of a reasonably tonal character.
Millwood has experience accompanying a range of instruments, voices, and repertoire, including atonal and serial music. A sympathetic chamber musician, Millwood prioritises listening and maintaining good ensemble over burying one’s head in the notes: a good accompanist covers up the other player’s slips and mistakes in performance. However, having worked as a répétitur on several operatic productions, including two operas by Britten, he is also familiar with the contrasting demands of that role, where the priority is to follow the conductor and furnish clear cues for the singers.
See also: recent accompaniment repertoire.
Lent project — extemporised preludes & fantasias
During (Western) Lent and Holy Week 2015, Sasha Valeri Millwood recorded an extemporised prelude & fantasia each day, cycling through all the major and minor keys. Listen…
Millwood has considerable experience of improvising in various performance contexts (including situations with unpredictable timing, such as resetting the stage), and now incorporates this practice into his recitals, interspersing the programmed pieces with extemporised interludes. He is currently reading about and experimenting with the partimento tradition, a fascinating synthesis of composition and performance.
Millwood manifested a precocious propensity to improvise, often at the times he was supposed to be practising scales. At the age of nine years, he briefly undertook some rudimentary training in jazz improvisation, yet this failed to dilute or diminish his subversive experiments in the classical tradition, although he later started to discover the more orderly outlet of figured bass through studies in music theory at the Royal College of Music Junior Department. This was applied in a practical manner through studies in keyboard skills — involving various tests of realisation and harmonisation — during his undergraduate years at the University of Cambridge. More informally, he engaged in spontaneous games of embellishment and sudden transposition with various duet partners.
Upon commencing postgraduate studies in composition at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Millwood seized the opportunity to develop a lexicon for classical improvisation through studies in the Centre for Classical Improvisation and Creative Performance, with Dr David Dolan and Simon Gilliver. After a year on the postgraduate Interpretation through Improvisation elective (which included a collaborative project with actors), in which he obtained a high distinction, Millwood undertook, by invitation, a further year of advanced studies with Dr Dolan.