Tag Archives: interviews with pianists

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