Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
There was a piano in the house ever since before I was born. It was my mother’s; she had played the piano as a young girl, and still plays the piano as a hobby occasionally today. It was a brown upright piano, which her grandfather had purchased for her. I have loved music for as long as I have memories, and have always enjoyed playing the piano. When I was slightly older and more advanced, my teacher at the time, Oscar Cano, explained to my parents that I needed a better instrument in order to make further progress. It was around the times that my parents bought a grand piano that they were able to afford, and I started going to watch concerts at the Concertgebouw (I grew up in Amsterdam) that I remember thinking, I want to be on that stage.
Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?
The greatest influences on my playing have been three of my teachers: in no particular order, the late Yonty Solomon, Oscar Cano, Mikhail Kazakevich and Niel Immelman. Most of what I know about playing the piano I learnt from these four great pianists.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The music profession is one that requires a lot of persistence, and a great deal of determination. From performing and recording to teaching, almost everything in music is a challenge. For me it has always been a question of finding a new approach to learning a passage, or to explaining something to a student, etc.
The fact that classical music is being somewhat pushed aside in favour of other forms of music means that we keep being challenged to keep this century-old tradition alive, and to keep it relevant.
Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?
In June 2012, I played my Artist Diploma recital at the Royal College of Music. The programme included two Beethoven sonatas (“Moonlight” and “Appassionata”), as well as the Liszt Dante Sonata and Chopin’s G Minor Ballade. This mammoth programme, without a break, was a performance of which I was very proud.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Every performance venue is different. I very much enjoyed playing in the Kleine Zaal of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the the Felicja Blumental Hall in Tel Aviv, and in the Purcell Room in London. I am generally more preoccupied with the instrument than with the hall. I love playing in locations that are more intimate, because I feel that I can then really communicate with everyone in the audience.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
This is difficult. There are so many! I really enjoy playing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Liszt Sonata, Beethoven’s “Appassionata” and his Fourth Concerto, so many things by Chopin, Saint-Saëns’s G Minor Concerto… Like I said, there are so many!
Who are your favourite musicians?
I love listening to Radu Lupu and Grigory Sokolov playing live. Of those pianists who are no longer alive, I really love many of Arrau’s recordings, as well as those of
Gilels’s and Richter’s. One of the pianists whose recordings I really admire is Julius Katchen. For some unknown reason, despite being quite a well-known name during his life, he seems to have been somewhat forgotten of late.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I remember watching the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta at the BBC Proms. It was a dreadful experience, in a way, because people with political affiliations made great efforts to try and stop the concert and interrupt it in the middle. The orchestra, however, played all the way to the end. For me, it was a sort of affirmation of the power of music, and how it is above political divisions.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think that good practice habits are crucial. Learning how to practise efficiently can dramatically reduce the amount of time one needs to spend practising a given passage. This has two important implications. Firstly, it allows one to learn a greater amount of repertoire, and to learn works quickly. I had to learn Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto in 4 weeks once. Secondly, the risk of repetitive strain injuries is reduced if one doesn’t need to spend 8 hours a day practising.
What are you working on at the moment?
Bach – C Minor Partita
Chopin – Polonaises op. 26, Concerto in F Minor op.21
Liszt – Transcendental Etude in F Minor (no. 10)
What do you enjoy doing most?
I love it when I get the time and the chance to learn something new. Preparing a new work for performance or recording is, for me, the ultimate journey of discovery.
Interview date October 2013
Amit Yahav’s debut CD of works by Chopin, including the Ballades, is available now. Further details here
Recipient of numerous international scholarships and awards, Amit Yahav is a graduate of the Royal College of Music with distinction. Following his distinction on the Master of Music course, he was invited to participate in the RCM’s exclusive Artist Diploma programme under the tutelage of Prof. Niel Immelman and Prof. Vanessa Latarche, from which he also graduated with distinction. Previously, he had studied in London with the legendary Prof. Yonty Solomon and Prof. Mikhail Kazakevich, and in Amsterdam with Oscar Cano and Marjès Benoist.
Amit Yahav’s full biography