Tag Archives: interviews with pianists

Guest post: A conversation with Matthieu Idmtal

by Guy Rademaeker.

He is 25, lives in Brussels, and things are going well for pianist Matthieu Idmtal. He just organised the second edition of the ‘Brussels Chopin Day’, next month he goes to France and Switzerland to perform with his violin partner Maya Levy, and his concert agenda for the future looks full. “I try to find my way” he says almost laconic.

We sit in a bar in Ixelles, the town where he lives, and during our conversation he will order three coffees. Nevertheless, the calmness of this young man will never disappear.

How did you start playing the piano?
I always found that I walked a rather atypical path to arrive at where I am now. I don’t come from a musical family, and compared to many others I started relatively late with playing the piano. I never went to a music academy and so on.

I remember we had an old upright piano standing in our house to which I was always going as a child. On a good day my mother kind of decided that she maybe had to do something with the kid that was always plucking that piano, and she searched for a private teacher for me. I must have been 7 or 8 at that time. Thinking about it, I believe that she was a very good teacher: a Russian pedagogue who was able to give me a good foundation. She noticed a certain talent, but I had no clue at that point that playing piano could or would become my profession. Maybe the people around me noticed faster than myself my potential and my need to play music. I remember how I would walk to school, and midway just decide to walk back home because I considered playing the piano a much nicer way to spent my day than sitting in a classroom. The problem was that I took these decisions more and more often. And that is how I entered to the Kunsthumaniora Brussel, a high school in Brussels that offers, next to standard courses, music courses as well which prepare you for entering conservatoire. From that moment, there was no doubt anymore. Music took me every day more and more. Till now.

Who do you consider as your significant teachers?
Without doubt, I must mention Vitaly Samoshko. I could say that he taught me how to play the piano. Of course we’re all made out of our lived experiences, what we hear and see, how much we invest in our art….… but Samoshko is the one I refer to.

You’re not studying in conservatoire anymore. Do you still work with him or do you study on your own now?
We still see each other. Less often than before, but I regularly visit him as a kind of……touching base. It is true that I work much more on my own, but that is what we all will have to do. At a certain moment you must become your own teacher. And it makes you think a hundred times more about each note and decision you take. When, after a concert, someone comes to you and asks “why did you play that piece that way?”, you can’t answer “because my teacher wanted it so”. Everything I do now is my own decision. I follow my intuition.

You also teach yourself. What advice do you give your students?
To give you the best answer you should actually ask my students how I teach, but I believe that it is a mix of my own experiences as a student, together with my own personality and ideas that I formed myself during over the years. I see my role as a teacher a bit like a sounding board. I prefer to suggest than to oblige, and I like to see a lesson as a moment between two friends who try to work and search together for the best possible solution to play a certain piece. Of course, some things can be radically wrong and I will say them, and I have some general ideas. Never to imitate for example, search for your own way. I also encourage them to experiment, try something, to dare. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong and you will learn from it, but dare to do something wrong. Take a risk, surprise me and yourself..… and at the end of the trip, remember and take all the best of these experiments. Sometimes I will ask a student to exaggerate something, to make something more clear, or just to give it all a bigger dynamic range. I also notice that I speak a lot about pulsation in the lessons, or to see a piece in orchestral terms, or to imagine a singer. And of course, sound is crucial.

It goes with your last question. When teaching, you’re very much faced with questions that force you to think how to play a certain thing very concretely. That helps yourself tremendously. For example, in a recent lesson, some of my better students asked me how to position the fingers on the keyboard, flat or curled. Honestly, there is not one answer to me. Everything depends on the sound you want to create. When I play a Scarlatti sonata for example, I can imagine myself playing with curled fingers, but I would never do that which a Chopin Nocturne. It all depends on sound. Play with your nose if you wish, if it sounds fantastic, do it!

What about your chamber music collaborations? I noticed that you have two regular duos?
I do. I have a piano duo with Ukranian pianist Anastasia Kozhushko. We met years ago in the class of our teacher, and started playing together. We won some competitions, mostly in the Netherlands, and most of the time we perform there. We aim to include less familiar pieces and composers in our programs. In combination with the more known works we play works by Cui, Rosenblatt, Vilensky, Clementi, etc. Absolutely amazing music but unfortunately underplayed.

I have also formed a duo with violinist Maya Levy. I consider her one of the young upcoming violin talents. We’ve worked together for about a year now, and some nice projects are coming up.

Playing chamber music is a real joy to me. You know, being a pianist is a lonely profession most of the time, you sit for hours a day alone behind your instrument – something that other instrumentalists rarely do because they all need a pianist to play with them! – and so it is a very welcome change to collaborate with someone. To have some interaction, to search together and to find compromises. And the repertoire is also fantastic.

Do you have any favorite pianists?
This generation has amazing pianists, absolutely amazing. But for most of them, the individuality has rather disappeared. Before you could hear two bars of a piece, and nearly say: “ah, that is Gould playing!” or “no doubt, that’s Horowitz”.

To answer your question, the latter is absolutely one of my favorites. I generally like the old generation. I think of Cortot, of Friedman. No one plays Chopin Mazurkas like Friedman.

Do you have a particular system how for selecting and learning  the pieces that you play?
Good question because I wondered about it myself recently. More and more it seems that a work “chooses” me, and not the other way around. What very often happens is that a work is floating in the air for a very long time. The work attracts me, in a free moment I will open the scores and play it a little, I listen to it, it is present in my life but I don’t study it. That process can be very long, years even. And than, at an inexplicable moment, it’s like the work is calling me. And there is no way back, I just have to learn it. So I lock myself in my flat and study all day long that one and only piece. That happens very often to me. It’s a bit like a love story: when you fall in love with someone, there is nothing to do about it anymore, your whole being is focused on that one person.

Besides playing the piano, do you enjoy other kinds of music or activities?
In every genre you can find good music. But I must admit that I don’t often listen to non-classical music. I feel a big affection to the work of Jacques Brel, and I regularly listen to his music. And I enjoy jazz. In my younger years, there were periods when I listened more to Oscar Peterson than to anybody else.

Considering real activities, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. Music became my life, and my life music.

Recently I have enjoyed playing chess, or having a coffee on a terrace in the sun with some nice company, that’s a perfect activity to me.

What would you be doing in life if you weren’t a pianist?
[thinking] I don’t know. Maybe I would have been a writer. I enjoy writing, and I’ve always wondered what I would be able to do when fully engaged in writing a book, or poetry. But that’s not for now.
In my youth, like many children I guess, I thought of becoming a tennis player.

When I’m into something, I am quite fanatic. So also with tennis: when I had my period of playing tennis, it was the only thing I could think of, doing it from morning til evening. But I don’t think the music will ever stop. It’s a gift for life.

May I conclude that you consider music as the most beautiful thing in life?
No, that is love. But music is more faithful.

Meet the Artist……Zubin Kanga, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

In my teens, I had ambitions to be a composer, but gradually my creative energies were transferred into performing. My piano teacher through this period, Ransford Elsley was an inspiring advocate for contemporary music as well as being an extraordinary teacher who completely transformed my playing within a year of lessons. That rapid development continued through my undergraduate years, and at a certain point I decided that I could make a bigger contribution to music as a performer than as a composer and have been an active collaborator with composers ever since.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Rolf Hind, who I studied with while a Masters student at the Royal Academy of Music, was, and still is, one of my biggest influences. His vast experience working with many great composers provided invaluable insights into the many styles and strands of contemporary music and he also provided me with the technical and practice tools to tackle the most demanding scores. It’s been particularly inspiring to perform alongside him, as duel soloists with the London Sinfonietta (playing Beat Furrer’s Nuun for two pianos and orchestra) and more recently, as a piano duo at his Occupy the Pianos festival. Professor Neil Heyde, my PhD supervisor at the Royal Academy of Music, has also been an important influence on how I think and write about music, and particularly about my relationships with composers.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Management of time and workload is a constant challenge, as there are often mountains of new notes to learn as well as lots of organising to be done in setting up concerts and tours, editing CDs, writing funding grants, writing articles, meeting and having workshops with composers, marketing and PR, negotiating contracts… all this alongside studying, work and everything else in life. This is often not helped by composers who only give you the score a few days before the concert!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’ve got four CDs being prepared for release, and I’m proud of all of these: “Not Music Yet” is a recording of a massive graphic score piece by Australian composer, David Young, “Piano: Inside/Out” is a recording of a range of new Australian works that feature extended techniques, “Orfordness” is a recording of solo and chamber music by British composer, David Gorton and “Chiaroscuro” is a recording with New York-based soprano, Jane Sheldon of works by Crumb, Saariaho, Schoenberg, as well as some newly commissioned works.

Of recent performances, I’m most proud of my performances alongside Thomas Adès and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra last year. Performing Tom’s Concerto Conciso under his baton was a great experience, but it was an even bigger thrill partnering him in his two-piano arrangements of two Studies for Player Piano by Conlon Nancarrow. They are fiendishly difficult, and made even trickier because they had to be synced up with accompanying video by Tal Rosner, so it was very satisfying to absolutely nail it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I particularly enjoy playing works that have either been written for me or where I’ve had input from the composer – if I had to point to any in particular, I’d say the several works by Michael Finnissy and George Benjamin are pieces I play well.

To pick a few other favourites: George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, Olivier Messiaen’s Canteyodjaya, Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit and Alban Berg’s Sonata No 1.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My solo programs are often centred around new works from composers and might focus around a particular theme, a particular country, style or school of composition or around particular approaches to the piano. Sometimes there might be interesting connections or lineages to bring out in a program between older and newer works, and sometimes it’s good to give the audience a lot of variety. I’m also interested in working with filmmakers, actors and dancers on interdisciplinary collaborative projects.

You have a particular interest in contemporary piano music. What is the special appeal and challenges of this kind of repertoire for you?

As mentioned earlier, I’ve loved contemporary music from an early age and my appreciation for collaboration with composers has only increased through the course of my recent PhD on the subject. There is something very special about co-parenting a new work with a composer and creating a little bit of history when you eventually walk on stage to premiere it. There’s also so much variety in contemporary music, so many styles and approaches that it’s always refreshing, surprising and stimulating. It can also be challenging, especially when composers want to push the limits of what’s possible for a piano (or a pianist) to do – but that’s the kind of creative challenge I love and I think it’s particularly rewarding when you discover a truly innovative approach to the piano or set a new benchmark for virtuosity. Importantly, playing contemporary music also gives you new insights and tools for interpreting works of the canon.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are many venues with particularly aspects I really like. I enjoy the casual vibe of Café Oto, and I have also really enjoyed the atmosphere of performances at King’s Place as a performer and audience member. Like all pianists, I like playing on good instruments and I’ve played on excellent pianos in the Purcell Room and in the venues of the Royal Academy and Royal College. Playing big halls like Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall are wonderful experiences that bring out your best as a performer. If I had to choose one: the Melbourne Recital Centre is a beautiful venue marrying excellent architecture, acoustics and pianos.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love playing or hearing Olivier Messiaen’s music – he was one of the first contemporary composers I really got hooked on and familiarity has not dulled my enthusiasm for the colours, rhythmic energy and ecstatic climaxes of his music.  Learning the complete Vingt Regards surl’Enfant Jesus is one of my projects for the next few years.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I like a lot of older pianists like Glenn Gould, David Tudor, Artur Schnabel, Alfred Cortot, Leon Fleischer, Ignaz Friedman and Dinu Lipatti. Some favourite composers include Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis, Gerard Grisey, George Crumb, Jonathan Harvey, Michael Finnissy, Belá Bartók, Maurice Ravel and Frederic Chopin. I’m a big jazz fan (and former jazz saxophonist) and I never tire of hearing Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter. And there are many musicians I admire from other musical cultures, such as the extraordinary shakuhachi player, Riley Lee.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a performer:

Performing Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (alongside musicians from Ensemble Offspring, Synergy Percussion and Eighth Blackbird) at the Sydney Opera House was an extraordinary experience. It’s a work that requires complete dedication without any ego and a true spirit of egalitarian music making. During the performance, I could sense the whole ensemble enter a state of ‘flow’ where we started playing and breathing like a single organism. It was the biggest audience I’ve played for live (around 3000) and when it finished, the whole crowd rose to their feet with a tremendous roar, giving Steve (and us) a rock star reception.

As an audience member:

It’s been great seeing some of the big contemporary works performed live that I would have probably never had the chance to experience in Australia: in particular Gerard Grisey’sLes EspacesAcoustiques in 2008 and KarlheinzStockhausen’sGruppen in 2013 (both performed by the London Sinfonietta alongside musicians of the Royal Academy of Music). And as a pianist, I have to mention seeing one of my childhood idols, Keith Jarrett last year at the Festival Hall – I’ll never forget the luminosity and vibrant colours of his sound.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I always tell young pianists that they should find their métier, that something special and unique that they can contribute to music. I also encourage them to try out all the skills and diverse repertoire available to a pianist rather than sticking to a very narrow conception of the canon. And of course, this includes encouraging them to consider playing, or creating, new repertoire.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on “Morphosis” a program of works I’ve commissioned over the last couple of years by British, Australian and Estonian composers. It features the premiere of Morphosis by Patrick Nunn, which uses live electronics controlled by 3D sensors attached to my hands – it really is very cool, in a nerdy sci-fi way.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music, I love movies, art galleries, books, cricket (as spectator) and the rare chances I get to go to the beach. But most of all, I love an evening of good food and good wine, shared with good friends.

Zubin Kanga performs at the Royal Academy of Music on Tuesday 17th June in a concert featuring the premiere of ‘Morphosis’ by Pat Nunn (with live electronics controlled by 3D hand sensors), UK premiere of ‘Not Music Yet’ by David Young and works by David Gorton, Elo Masing, Michael Finnissy and George Benjamin. Details here

London-based Australian pianist, Zubin Kanga has performed at the BBC Proms,  London 2012, Aldeburgh (UK), Occupy the Pianos (UK), ISCM World New Music Days (Australia) and Borealis (Norway) Festivals as well as appearing as soloist with the London Sinfonietta and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He has commissioned dozens of new works, with a focus on the exploration of innovative approaches to the piano, and performed recitals across Australia, Europe and the USA. He is a member of Ensemble Offspring, one of Australia’s leading contemporary music ensembles, and has also performed with Halcyon, Synergy Percussion, Ensemble Plus-Minus, Endymion Ensemble and the Kreutzer Quartet, as well as performing piano duos with Rolf Hind and Thomas Adès.

In recent years, Zubin has been awarded the Michael Kieran Harvey Scholarship, the ABC Limelight Award for Best Newcomer and the NSW State Award (Performance of the Year) at the Australian Art Music Awards.

A Masters and PhD graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, London, he has collaborated with many of the world’s leading composers including Thomas Adès, Michael Finnissy, George Benjamin, Steve Reich, Beat Furrer, Howard Skempton, Liza Lim, Ross Edwards, Nigel Butterley and David Young.

(Photor: Bridget Elliot)

 

 

 

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Meet the Artist…….Siwan Rhys, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

One of my early piano teachers, Christopher Vale. He is one of those amazingly enthusiastic musicians and teachers who couldn’t fail to inspire anyone. His passion for music was contagious at a very crucial time in my life.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My conservatoire teachers: Richard Ormrod, Alexandre Léger, and Rolf Hind. And Nelly Ben-Or and Chris Cullen for an inspiring and timely introduction to both the Alexander Technique and to mindfulness. And I really appreciate the time I spent away studying in France.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The realisation that what I’ve decided to do with my life will be hard and likely not bring much certainty or security, but that somehow I have to do it regardless.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Messiaen Cantéyodjayâ, Bartók Out of Doors, Ives ‘Concord’ Sonata

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I pick things that I like – that excite me – and that I want people to hear. And I play new works, which is exciting in itself as I don’t always know what I’m going to get.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Listen to: Bartók Piano Concerto no. 2. Watch: Globokar Corporel. Play: Reich Sextet.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Bartók, Ligeti, Kate Bush.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Feldman’s For Philip Guston (a four-and-a-half-hour-long trio) during which the venue’s heating stopped working (in February). Both musicians and (most) audience members powered through the cold to the end.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Keep at it – something is bound to happen.

What are you working on at the moment?

Ives ‘Concord’ Sonata and Stockhausen Kontakte.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Watching birds and doing a jigsaw.

 

Siwan Rhys is performing Charles Ives’ ‘Concord’ Sonata at Occupy the Pianos at St John’s Smith Square on 1st June – http://www.sjss.org.uk/filter-series/occupy-pianos and 4 world premieres in Sounds of the New on 10th June at The Forge, Camden – http://www.newdots.org.uk/events  

Siwan Rhys is a Welsh pianist based in London. She currently holds the position of Artist Fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, specialising in contemporary piano music, and also teaches piano at City University, London. Recent concert engagements include performances of Stockhausen’s Kontakte and of Feldman’s four-hour work For Philip Guston

(photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke)

Meet the Artist……Stephen Hough

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I think the piano was its own inspiration.  We had no classical music in my home at all but an aunt had a piano and it was love at first vamp.  I picked out tunes on its yellow keys and wanted to take lessons.  it was a short step (over a long time) for that to become my career.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Definitely my main piano teacher Gordon Green.  Also Derrick Wyndham (both taught at the RNCM) then later Robert Mann (former 1st violinist of the Juilliard Quartet) with whom I played and recorded all the Beethoven sonatas in the 1980s.  I was 23 and had everything to learn; he was a great partner and, indirectly, a teacher.  I would also cite Alfred Cortot and many other pianists from the first decades of the 20th century whose playing I got to know well through recordings.  They were always and remain my favourites.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Just doing it – day after day.  Specifically the extreme contrast between being as tough as a old boot offstage (travel, hotels, paperwork etc. etc.) and as sensitive as a bejewelled ballet shoe when at the piano.  It requires a unique kind of schizophrenia!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ah tough to say!  The Hummel concerto record was the first one where I felt good in the studio, despite very little time.  We had less than six hours for each concerto, to rehearse from scratch (correcting parts along the way) and record.  it was seat of the pants but I still remember the exhilaration and excitement of playing those pieces and making the first complete recording of works which were absolutely central to the repertoire of Liszt, Chopin, Schumann etc.  Later Mompou was a joy to record and more recently my own 2nd piano sonata (on the CD ‘In the Night’).  Strange to record your own music!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I really can’t say.  But I do feel able to slip into different roles.  I feel as involved and connected playing Mozart and Beethoven as I do playing Chopin and Liszt as I do playing Schoenberg and Webern.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Some of it ties in with recording plans, sometimes there are anniversaries, or specific requests.  With concertos it depends a lot on the programming being done by the conductor and management of the orchestras.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Not really.  Many famous halls are famous because they’re great – main stage of Carnegie New York or Concertgebouw Amsterdam or Musikverein Vienna.  The Wigmore of course is special.  I also love Severance Hall in Cleveland … too many to name though.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Impossible to say!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Mainly those who died before I was born – Cortot, Rachmaninov, Friedman, Kreisler etc.  I’ve worked a lot with Steven Isserlis and he is one of my favourites, for personal as well as musical reasons.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my debut at the Hollywood Bowl when I raced over from Cheshire to replace Pogorelich at the last minute.  it was my first taste of the fast-lane, crazy side of having a career.  Paganini Rhapsody with Sir Charles Groves.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Study the score intensely then play as if you’re improvising.

What are you working on at the moment?

Always three sorts of work: refreshing pieces for upcoming concerts; revising works not played for a while; and learning new ones.  All the Beethoven concertos are around me at the moment and they fall into all three of these categories.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Same place but deeper.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Surprised by happiness when not looking for it – and sharing it with someone else.

What is your most treasured possession?

My sanity.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Many things.  To choose one would be to squeeze it dry of magic.

What is your present state of mind?

Content yet tired and a little anxious – but grateful for life and health and food and friends.

Named by ‘The Economist’ as one of 20 Living Polymaths, British pianist Stephen Hough is a rare renaissance man of our time. Over the course of a long and distinguished career as one of the world’s leading concert pianists, he has also excelled as a writer and composer. Mr. Hough combines an exceptional facility and tonal palette with a uniquely inquisitive musical personality, and his musical achievements have resulted in many awards and accolades for his concerts and a discography of more than fifty recordings.

Stephen Hough was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List.

Stephen Hough’s full biography

www.stephenhough.com

 

Meet the Artist……Pascal Rogé

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I was born in a musical family and there were 3 pianos at home, my mother was a pianist…my choice was obvious!

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

First my mother, she was my only teacher till the age of 9.Then my teachers at the Paris conservatory, Lucette Descaves, Louise Clavius Marius, Geneviève Joy, Pierre Pasquier, and above all Julius Katchen, whom I met when I was 16, more than a teacher, a mentor, an inspiration, I should also mention two great ladies…Marguerite Long and Nadia Boulanger.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Always being at the top of my musical abilities and being able to pass through my emotions and my love for music…and enjoy life!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Performances are not to be remembered…each of them is a “once in a lifetime” experience, but out of my +\- 300 performances of the Ravel G Major Concerto, I do remember the one in London with Mariss Jansons…something special happened on that day…

Recordings…I still enjoy many of them because I always made a point not allow the release of a recording I was not happy with…but if I need to keep some on a desert island – the St Saens Piano concerti with Charles Dutoit, the Fauré Piano Quintets with the Ysaye quartet and the first CD with my wife, “Wedding cake”

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The French repertoire in general but almost anything I play, since I would never perform a work which I don’t enjoy or I am not convinced I can bring something personal in it.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

For the reasons I just mentioned…because I love the pieces I play and I can express myself with them.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Nearly all the concert halls in Japan…acoustics, design, installation, they arealways perfect…and filled with a fantastic audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

The French repertoire in general, with perhaps at the top, Ravel G Major Concerto and Debussy ‘La Mer’ (with my wife)
To listen to…very different and more “eclectic” music…Opera…Jazz…never piano music!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Glenn Gould, Carlos Kleiber, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The creation of a new concerto for 2 pianos written for me and my wife by Australian composer Matthew Hindson, at the Sydney Opera House with Sydney symphony orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To be yourself, express something unique, think different, enjoy everything you do, and as Debussy said: “N’écoute que les conseils du vent qui passe…”

What are you working on at the moment?

Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in the 4 hands version.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Traveling the world…in good health…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My life at the moment..traveling the world with my wife, playing music and using Apple devices…!

What is your most treasured possession?

My iPad

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living the way I live! (See previous question!)

What is your present state of mind?

Extremely happy…!

Pascal Rogé gives a masterclass at the Institut français, South Kensington on Saturday 5 April, 6pm followed by a recital of music for four hands with his wife, Ami Rogé on Sunday 6 April, 6:30pm as part of It’s All About Piano!

Meet the Artist……Jean-Marc Luisada

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

My mother chose the piano for me. I was a small child. I was inspired by Furtwängler conducting Beethoven’s 9th symphony. The slow movement made me cry. I chose music so I could be moved throughout my life.

 

 

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Denyse Rivière, Marcel Ciampi and Paul Badura-Skoda.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Every concert, every meeting with a great artist, is the greatest challenge for me.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

None, except the one I had in my dream last night.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

None. Because at the end of one performance, I know exactly what not to do the next time.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I never plan. It’s a difficult question to answer. It’s just like a love story; you don’t know who you are going to fall in love with. Each season it’s a new surprise, a new love story.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Usually the most important concert is just the next one. There is no difference between a small village and Carnegie Hall.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I listen like crazy to the music from the film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Michel Legrand.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Usually, the greatest dead ones because they are the most inspiring and they are no longer dangerous.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

In Kuala Lumpur. When I arrived on stage, there were no pedals on the piano.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To always be curious and inspired by the past. And I can say for myself that I love the past. It’s more relaxed than the present and much more secure than the future.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

How can I answer this question, when I don’t know where I’ll be in the next ten hours?

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To fly in love (not fall).

What do you enjoy doing most?

I watch movies all the time, for example, Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Jacques Temy, Le Charme discret de la Bourgeoisie by Louis Bunuel, and all Frederic Fellini’s movies. And occasionally I like to practice.

What is your present state of mind?

I feel totally out of my mind. Fauré and Schubert are depressing me. The music is so very sad.

Jean-Marc Luisada gives a recital of works by Fauré, Schubert and Chopin at the Institut français, South Kensington on Saturday 5 April, 4pm as part of It’s all About Piano!

www.jeanmarcluisada.com

Meet the Artist & It’s All About Piano!

This weekend sees a celebration of all things piano at London’s Institut Français, with workshops, lectures, film screenings and performances. In the run up to this surfeit of piano goodness, I am delighted to be publishing Meet the Artist Interviews with some of the performers, including acclaimed French pianist Pascal Rogé (who also performs at Wigmore Hall in June) and harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss. The first interview is with French pianist David Bismuth.

Full details about the festival here:

www.institut-francais.org.uk/itsallaboutpiano

Meet the Artist……James Lisney

(image credit: Suzie Maeder)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I have never seen playing the piano as a ‘career’; rather I started enjoying a life with music when my parents had the foresight to purchase a ‘cottage’ Pleyel piano for nineteen shillings. It had beautiful veneer inlay, brass candlesticks and a soundboard that could only cope with a pitch of A 430. This piano was a playground for improvisation and storytelling during a pretty easy-going childhood: a country school just down the road, plenty of woodlands to explore and sports facilities attached to my parents’ workplace. Music was always a natural part of life and I was lucky enough to be assessed by Gordon Jacob at the age of six for a bursary that provided lesson fees and assisted in the purchase of a really good Welmar piano.

We lived in a tiny semi-detached house and I felt particularly sorry for my family and neighbours who had to endure my doodling at the keyboard and, much later, large scale ‘noise’, such as produced by hard work on Brahms’ Concerto in D minor. My neighbour retaliated by playing Fur Elise – every day!

The first concert I attended was following a masterclass given by Sidney Harrison. He was full of amusing stories and played really popular repertoire with great care and taste (I heard him years later and I was pleased to note that his Liszt Liebestraum was really excellent). The next concert was supposed to be given by Clifford Curzon but ill health necessitated his replacement by John Ogdon (this must have been around 1969) with a typical programme of Beethoven’s final two sonatas, Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, the Schumann Toccata and Balakirev’s Islamey.

On the radio there were musical encounters with Antony Hopkins (‘Talking about Music’), Semprini’s ‘Serenade’ – and Reginald Dixon on the cinema organ from Blackpool. Favourite early recordings included Serkin, Cyril Smith (playing the Dohnanyi Variations), Wilhelm Kempff, Solomon, Rostal and Schaefer, Eileen Joyce and The Beatles. Oh yes – I nearly forgot Danny Kaye.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

My teachers. I cannot stress too much how important it is to have a really good start. There could have been none better than Jean Murphy, who combined great thoroughness with excitable inspiration (singing, dancing, trying to get my shoulders down and collapsing in giggles – what more could a young pupil want?)

Jean had studied with Phyllis Sellick and I was extremely fortunate to learn with her from around eleven years old for about a decade. An amazing artist, who took exceptional pains with preparation, tone, complete understanding of the music, a rich comprehension of how the body worked: I use her inspiration every single day. In addition, her memories of Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Bertrand Russell, the Sitwells, Solomon Cutner, Curzon – an apparently golden age – provided constant stimulus. When I was tiring from our long lessons, she would take me into the drawing room to listen to Horowitz’s left hand in Scarlatti or Scriabin, ‘Louis’ (Kentner) in Liszt, Rosalyn (Tureck) in Bach – a whole host of musicians that she seemed to either adore or know very well. Rosalyn Tureck was at the house on one visit and generously helped me with some Bach. Phyllis certainly gave me a sense of what musical Britain must have been like fifty years earlier: on one occasion, after we had worked on the Brahms D minor, she looked out the window and said that in the old days she would have phoned Henry Wood to see whether he would hear me. I am still waiting for the Proms to call……

After Phyllis came two more important teachers. John Barstow remains a strong friend and his gift was to broaden one’s appreciation of music and build confidence. Together we saw my first Parsifals (Reginald Goodall), Mahler Symphony of a Thousand (Pritchard), Alexander Nevsky (Rostropovich), Shostakovich String Quartet cycle (the Borodin Quartet) etc. All stirred into the mix of a love and respect for piano playing that was ultimately much ‘bigger’ than merely being a pianist. I believe it was Arrau who said that it was necessary to be ‘at least a virtuoso’ and John incorporated model playing with a wide range of musical images. We had very few lessons – but they were supplemented by discussions and shared musical experiences.

The last teacher was at a summer school in Nice in 1983. I was there courtesy of the Anglo-French Society, the first Perlemuter Scholar. The lessons were taken in the class of Dominique Merlet, a concise and accurate teacher who had the gift of the utmost support combined with the ability to demonstrate to an astonishing level. He was an example of what was possible, what was essential in terms of ability, knowledge and the craft to consider a life in music.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Pianistically, everything remains impossibly difficult and, ultimately, relatively easy. The music of Schubert and Beethoven remain my central marker – and everything they wrote appears to be frantically challenging and yet so completely natural, so human. The late sonatas of both of these masters provide constant challenges, opportunities to develop, but their early works, chamber music, song and miscellaneous pieces provide similar nutrition. It is as if their vision is in their musical DNA and that the explicit mysteries of the late works are implicit in every phrase of their lifetime’s work.

One of the biggest challenges of recent years has been my work on the music of Jan Vriend. Having heard me play the Beethoven ‘Cello Sonatas with the wonderful Alexander Baillie, Jan set about writing a bouquet of astonishing pieces for me. It is no exaggeration to equate this achievement with the late flowering in Debussy’s compositional life. Music of such vigour, virtuosity and concentration, it has really made me dig deep to cope with its complex language and strive to do justice to its amazing message. Having played Anatomy of Passion with Alexander Baillie, I am now benefitting from the process from preparing performances with my daughter Joy – she has grown up hearing Vriend’s music and appears to have absorbed it by osmosis. With Imagine the Mountain premiered with violinist Paul Barritt, JOY (written for ‘guess who?’), I have been amazingly blessed – and challenged. On top of this, my simple request for a piano triptych to emulate a set of Debussy’s Images or a book of Albeniz’s Iberia, resulted in the astonishing Meden Agan, with its exuberant ‘Erotica’ movement. I loved taking ‘Erotica’ to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for my fiftieth birthday series – but this is music to build into the repertoire and live with for many years. Thank you Jan!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

This is a very difficult one. I am permanently upbeat about my concerts (I enjoy performing immensely) – but also extremely critical. They are never ‘good enough’ but, at the same time, my vanity or standards are not what they are about – they are events for audience and performer alike; it’s ‘about the music’, not James Lisney.

Given that caveat, I recently heard some live playing from the late 80’s on Classic FM (an early Performer’s Platform kind of programme with Petroc Trelawny, and performed on a Boston piano and surrounded by office desks and computer screensavers). It was a set of Rachmaninoff transcriptions (Bach, Kreisler, Bizet and the like), and I was rather proud that I managed to deliver adequately in not the most glamorous of circumstances. That it was Rachmaninoff makes me extra proud as he is a composer of whom I am particularly fond.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I remember playing in the Ateneul Roman in Bucharest, one year after the end of Ceausescu. A Christmas concert – one of the first in many years – and I was playing Mozart K 488. The orchestra, amazing hall and spirit of the audience crystallised a remarkable musical experience.

I recently played Beethoven and Vriend at St George’s in Bristol and I think this is one of the United Kingdom’s best halls for the kind of music I play (along with the Arts Centre in Stamford – a gem!)

I also love non-standard and small halls. I have played almost one hundred and seventy times at the little concert hall at the Hindhead Music Centre (on the remarkable Steinway that dropped from the Covent Garden stage) and I regularly play at the Mosterdzaadje in Santpoort–Noord, the Netherlands. I recently opened the thirty-first season of Mosterdzaadje – a model of how a modest hall can be run simply, beautifully and with great warmth, providing music within a quiet suburb. No public subsidy – and no cuts.

When one can add the library at Wittem, the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Studio Music in Brightlingsea, my series at the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham etc I think I can say that I have completely failed to answer your question!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Performing – (mostly) what I have chosen to play. Recently came back to the warhorse concertos of Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and they gave me a real buzz. If anyone out there wants to commission me for a Brahms concerto, please get in touch…

Listening to? Wagner and Mozart operas. If anyone out there wants to take me to Parsifal, please get in touch….

Who are your favourite musicians?

Well, there are many pianists but Gould, Arrau and Richter seem to be on a different level from the rest. After that, I would not want to be without Cherkassky, Tureck, Sokolov and special performances from the likes of Horowitz, Haskil, Ogdon and many more. I heard Ernest Levy recently and I thought his Beethoven and Liszt to be some of the most affecting and remarkable performances I have heard in many years.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The Borodin Quartet playing the final two Shostakovich Quartets perhaps, or the awe-inspiring Richter playing Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis in the Grange de Meslay. I was also lucky enough to visit Bayreuth………and then there are the performances that one comes across by so called ‘amateur’ pianists at summer schools or suchlike: little glimpses of heaven, pure music making, generously given.

In terms of my own performance, however, I have one choice: the Bremen ‘Konzert im Dunkeln’ Schubert recital I gave to raise money for stroke rehabilitation and to commemorate the centenary of Phyllis Sellick. This was at the fabulous Bremen Sendesaal – a venue that has a remarkable series of concerts that are given in the complete (and utter!) darkness. I will never forget coming out onto the stage to give my recital, the lights dimmed and the packed audience very excited by the novel idea. As the switch was thrown on the lights, plunging us into an all-enveloping black, the audience gasped as if they were at a fairground. It was a lesson to me in reaching out with music, without professional vanity and, on a practical level, how it is inner hearing that enables us to perform accurately and reliably rather than any visual cues.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Returning to my opening idea of not having a career, I also would advise musicians not to ‘aspire’. It is more a case of finding a way to live with this remarkable music, to enjoy and, if possible, to share it. Whether it is helping a small person to play First Tune by Barbara Kirkby Mason, my continuing struggles with Beethoven’s late sonatas or playing chamber music with colleagues, I can only advise that we enjoy the process.

If I read the question in terms of those who wish to dedicate a large proportion of their time to music (and even, on occasions, use it to pay the mortgage) then the advice is to spread as wide as possible. Improvise, compose, explore, teach, read, remain curious – and make your own mistakes. The cult of the teacher is not one that I subscribe to – try to build your own musical life, way of playing, whatever, from one’s own personality. Recently a wise friend said that he felt that Cherkassky’s great talent was to play every note entirely true to himself.

Oh yes – if you are going to depend upon music for a living, be prepared to work insanely hard, keep as fit as possible and it helps to have extremely good ‘chops’! (fingers!)

What are you working on at the moment?

I am building (painfully slowly) a programme that includes Vriend’s Meden Agan along with a Bach Ricercare, the Mozart Rondo in A minor and Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli” Variations. Whether anyone will want to listen once I get through it all is another matter.

In addition, I am constantly fascinated by the piano music of George Enescu, and I am also memorising the Beethoven ‘Cello Sonatas to play with my daughter. The memorising was her idea…

What is your present state of mind?

Very happy, keen to learn more music and determined to do it better. Advancing middle age is a great period in life, and taste, emotions, awareness seem to get deeper and more focussed. Arrau said that passion intensifies with age, and I can only agree with him – and try to emulate a little of what he achieved in terms of identification and self-fulfilment.

James Lisney performs Beethoven’s complete sonatas for piano and cello with his daughter Joy in a series of concerts in Europe and the UK this autumn, including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall, St George’s, Bristol and the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London. Full details here

James Lisney enjoys a rich musical life, moving seamlessly from concerto and recital soloist to chamber musician, song accompanist and pianist director. Initiatives, such as his Schubertreise series at London`s South Bank Centre, his extensive Beethoven Project or the recording company Woodhouse Editions, provide a platform for his wide-ranging musical sympathies.

Following study with Jean Murphy, Phyllis Sellick and John Barstow, James Lisney made his Wigmore Hall debut in 1986. Early representation by the Young Concert Artists Trust in London lead to a career that has taken him to many prestigious venues and gained invitations to appear with major orchestras.

James Lisney`s repertoire ranges from baroque masterpieces to music of the present day. In the past decade, the music of Schubert and Beethoven have been a central pre-occupation (in performance and in recordings) and he regularly presents cycles of the piano sonatas and relevant chamber music. His recordings (on Naxos, Bis, Somm, Olympia and Carlton) have gained the highest recommendations.

Review of Schubertreise Volume 2 (music for piano and cello, with Joy Lisney)

www.jameslisney.com

www.woodhouseeditions.com

[Original interview date: 12 September 2013]