Tag Archives: interviews with pianists

Meet the Artist……Eliza McCarthy, pianist


Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I started playing on a whim. My mother walked in from work one evening and asked out of the blue if I wanted to learn the piano. Neither of my parents are musicians but they have the broadest musical tastes of anyone I know and had a wicked sound system which was playing music constantly. I gave an offhanded “yeah why not” and it all snowballed pretty quickly from there.

After a year or so I started participating in local competitions in Philadelphia where I was brought up and when it looked like I was taking music seriously we moved to England so I could attend the Yehudi Menuhin School.

When I was eleven one of my teachers told me I’d never be a pianist because I started too late. That was it – I had to prove her wrong and here I am! Maybe she was flexing her reverse psychology knowhow.

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

I spent some time in the Gambia to study Wolof drumming and in Bali playing and listening to lots of Gamelan. Both of those trips had a huge impact on my playing. Mostly they changed the way I listen. Especially coming from a background which is so focused on learning visually – from a score. They were incredibly liberating experiences for me.

Some other important influences are watching dance and doing it, the photographs of Ansel Adams and practicing meditation.

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

Staying balanced, healthy, positive and productive in a life which can fluctuate between breathless busy-ness and the threat of total stagnation.

After finishing my formal education and years of having the luxury of playing for my teachers on a regular basis it took some time to start trusting my own musical instincts and to believe my own feedback.

Which repertoire/composers do you think you play best?

All the music I haven’t played yet.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season?

Often a venue will request a specific piece or composer and I’ll build a programme around that. I also keep an eye out for anniversaries and featured composers in up coming festivals.

I’m all for choosing pieces that really suit my playing. It can be tempting to perform works I think I ‘should’ play or adhere to what I think will placate a certain kind of audience but if it doesn’t suit me and I don’t totally love it then there’s a risk of a performance falling flat (and it has!)

I always have something on the go that pushes me to my limits and balance that with pieces that come more naturally.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I don’t get much enjoyment out of recording as a soloist but absolutely love recording with ensembles. I used to be a member of the band Jetsam and we wrote and recorded an album called Disruption which was commissioned by the Barbican in collaboration with the street dance company Boy Blue Entertainment. We wrote most of Disruption as we recorded which allowed for our imaginations to run wild. There’s a big Japanese Taiko and Noh theatre influence in the piece which meant a lot of recording us stamping in a padded hallway. I spent a couple days at the piano recording every sound I could think of on the strings, metal frame and wood. Playing with harmonics, using chains, plastic, glass and rubber. It was a proper prepared piano geek-out and the album sounds amazing.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I recently played at Café OTO which was so much fun. It’s small, dark and intimate – I think I nearly head butted someone in the front row when I bowed. The audience was one of the most attentive, supportive an electric I’ve ever played for which restored my faith in the contemporary classical music audience. I also love performing in the Barbican. I’ve performed in every one of their performance spaces as a soloist and in ensembles and bands I’m involved with and it has such a stimulating and creative atmosphere. On any given day there is something weird and wonderful happening in one of its nooks and crannies.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I’m very fickle. I tend to think that whatever I’m playing in the moment is the Best Thing Ever!

I love performing George Crumb’s ‘Makrokosmos’. I have a secret predilection for a bit of theatre and because of the extended techniques, singing and moaning involved in its performance it’s a full body theatrical experience. I used to get so frustrated by the static nature of the piano and was hugely jealous of my cellist friends. The process of learning ‘Makrokosmos’ taught me how to overcome that immovability, become more malleable and dance with the instrument.

To listen to…shall we just say for the Spring/Summer season? Otherwise we’ll be here forever.

Appalachian Spring which, thanks to my dad, is my first memory of music. Lately I’ve been listening to John Legend and The Roots album Wake Up which transports me back to growing up in Philadelphia. Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw, Chaka Kahn. I’m always inspired by hearing what my friends make and have been listening non-stop to Sam Mumford’s album Scatter and Old Man Diode The King Krill

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many I admire for different reasons and on different days. To name a few: Glen Gould, Bjork, my husband and saxophonist Jon Shenoy, John Adams, Beyoncé, John Cage, Seth McFarlane, Joanna Newsom, Pat Metheney, Punch Brothers, Joan Baez, Charles Ives.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A few years ago I performed ‘Phrygian Gates’ for John Adams. Before the concert there was a Question and Answer session in which he said he didn’t like the piece very much anymore. After I performed he came up on stage with tears in his eyes, gave me a hug and said to the audience “I’ve changed my mind, I like it again.”

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

Keep your ‘don’t know’ mind. Play with musicians who challenge you. Get involved with projects that scare the hell out of you. Make mistakes – they could turn into something wonderful. Learn how to meditate. Meditate. Practice as much as you can while you can but remember that it’s only a small part of the process.

You have been working with the composer Mica Levi on some new works for piano. Tell us more about this collaboration and the pieces….

Working with Mica has been my ideal collaborative process. We’ve had the time and space to learn each other’s processes. Trying out loads of ideas, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, trying something else. It’s been such a valuable experience to learn her compositional language in every stage of the works progress. From conception to performance. The pieces she’s writing are a collection of short piano studies. I performed three at Café OTO at the beginning of the year and will be performing three new ones at the Forge in June.

Each of the six pieces presents a single theme, for example an interval, the resonance produced in a particular register of the piano or a specific attack on the keys. They are really ‘studies in piano’ in the purest sense. Beautiful, raw and a little bit dirty. At times quite exposing for the pianist, which exhilarates me. Mica is extremely specific about what she wants to hear and it’s been exciting for me for me to work with her in finding the best way to translate that on to the piano – playing around with notation which can perfectly capture both the sound in her ears and how I can best physicalise it.

What are the particular challenges and pleasures of working with a living composer?

The moment I start playing someone their piece the doubting voice in my head immediately shouts “Ah, you’ve completely misunderstood everything they’ve written – you’re going to embarrass them and yourself”. That voice is a total liar but the fear creeps in nonetheless.

The beauty is that the composer is there to answer every question and wonderment that’s come up for me during the learning process. To help me get down to the bare bones of their work and discover the weird and wonderful processes a composer goes through to translate an idea into sound. The defining moment for me is when a composer trusts me enough to cut the umbilical chord and hand me the ownership of their work.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Yamaha grand piano which has travelled with me from Philadelphia to London with many stops on the way. But if there were a fire I’d grab my red Versace wedding dress.

What is your present state of mind?

Open, alert, mischievous, spacious and a little self-conscious.

Eliza McCarthy premieres new works by Mica Lewis, together with music by Henry Cowell and John Adams at The Forge, Camden, north London on Wednesday 3 June. Further information and tickets here

www.elizamccarthy.com

Meet the Artist……Ariel Lanyi

ArielLanyi_Piano13_72SqWho or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

Music was an inseparable part of my life from the very beginning. I heard it from the day I was born, beginning with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Just as most people don’t remember when they learned to speak, I don’t remember when I learned to make music. The act of performing music came entirely naturally to me. My first interest is music, then comes the piano. I always enjoyed music more than anything else, so I always wanted to make it my career.

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

Most important were probably my piano teachers: Lea Agmon and Yuval Cohen. My recent musical thinking has been heavily influenced by several workshops I attended with Leon Fleischer.

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

The greatest challenge has always been keeping up with my ever increasing standards. Today I’m highly critical of recordings that once seemed to me stellar artistic achievements.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

In general, the performance I’m most proud of is my last one. But this ties in with the previous question. As my expectations of myself increase every day, performances I used to be proud of a few years ago strike me differently today.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The composer to whom I feel closest at the moment is Beethoven. I played his works extensively, including solo works for the piano (like the cycle of the last three sonatas), chamber works, and concertos. I don’t want to create the impression that I’m specialising. In the next two recitals I’ll be playing in London are works by Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, and Ravel – and not a piece by Beethoven.

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

I don’t have any guidelines for making repertoire choices, and I tend to avoid programming pieces with some common factor – a recital of “last sonatas” for example (I realise these clever extra-musical organising principles are quite fashionable today…) My programs consist of selections of compositions I’m working on at the moment. My only guideline is that the programs be balanced and make sense in musical terms.

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

I haven’t performed at enough venues to say which one is my favourite. Generally, I like venues with an intimate atmosphere, where there is an easy and sympathetic give and take between performer and audience. This is why, among others, I don’t do competitions, where the mood in the hall is judgemental and potentially negative.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I find myself nowadays listening more and more to music that is not for the piano. I very much enjoy opera, chamber music and symphonic works. My favourite pieces to perform change all the time. Right now they probably include the works of Beethoven, among many others…

Who are your favourite musicians?

I cannot say. I don’t rank and I don’t think in ranking terms. Moreover, they are simply too many to list…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The one that is yet to come.

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

I don’t have a set of aphorisms at hand. My advice is to be curious and open to new ideas, both musical and cultural, and to question generic advice. (I don’t think the next Richter will come from reading my blog.)

What are you working on at the moment?

I am preparing three recital programs I’ll be playing in London in the coming months. In addition, I am working on my concerto repertoire (Brahms, at the moment) and on a mass of chamber music I’m playing with different ensembles.

What is your most treasured possession?

A wonderful coffee machine. My mother got it as a New Year’s present, but I’m its primary employer.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Writing blogs?.. (Not really, although it is a form of relaxation and it forces me to clarify issues I haven’t given enough thought to.)

Ariel Lanyi will play at St Giles Cripplegate, London, on 21st May. Tickets are available from http://www.arielpiano.com or by phone on 0333 666 3366 (a fee of £1.50 applies to phone bookings)

Ariel has been playing since the age of 4, and gave his orchestral debut at the age of 7. He now plays extensively throughout Europe and in his home country Israel – including recitals at the Menuhin Festival Gstaad, Young Prague Festival, Radio France’s ‘Jeunes Interprètes’ series and St James’s Piccadilly in London. He will finish his studies at the High School and Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music in the Summer of 2015 and will take up a place at London’s Royal Academy of Music in September 2015.

Introducing……Vitaly Pisarenko, piano

UnknownIn the twenty-four years of its existence, the Keyboard Charitable Trust has assisted exceptionally talented young musicians to find and to sustain a platform in an increasingly difficult environment. The Keyboard Trust has never had a more worthy artist to champion than Vitaly Pisarenko, a pianist well-known in his native Russia, and in recent times a popular figure in many European cities. Pisarenko’s greatest success as a young competition player is undoubtedly the First Prize he took at the International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Utrecht in 2008, and it was on the back of this achievement that the Keyboard Trust, in collaboration with the Liszt Society, gave him his first chance to play in London. He has since performed around the world with a broad and compelling series of recital programmes and concertos, to great critical acclaim. The present Wigmore Hall recital is offered by the Keyboard Trust in recognition of Pisarenko’s superior artistry.

Vitaly Pisarenko’s programme on 16th April 2015 presents a splendid array of music by Beethoven, Ravel, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev that is very close to his heart. He has described his choices in these words:

This Wigmore Hall recital programme was chosen for its juxtaposition of different styles, characters and emotions which encompass much that is important in the development of the Romantic and post-Romantic piano repertoire. Beethoven’s famous Grande Sonate pathétique is a relatively early composition (Op. 13, 1798) which adumbrates the direction that will be taken by his symphonies and some of the late piano sonatas. This arresting beginning is balanced by a polar opposite: Ravel’s piano cycle Miroirs, rarely heard in its entirety, with its rich impressionistic palette of unusual and mystical harmonies, and transparent and illusory sounds. Midway in sound and style lie Rachmaninov’s ‘Elegy’ and ‘Melody’ – Nos. 1 & 3 of the Morceaux de Fantaisie, Op. 3. These pieces are amongst the most delightful miniatures in the essential piano repertoire: romantic creations of extremely beautiful melody and harmony. It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast with the final work in the recital: Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6, the first of his triad of War Sonatas. This dramatic, tragic, defiant, and even sometimes grotesque composition of 1940 is imbued by the foreboding of the impending arrival of the Second World War upon Russian soil.

Programme:

BEETHOVEN – Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 (Grande Sonate pathétique)

RAVEL – Miroirs

RACHMANINOV – Morceaux de Fantaisie Op. 3

PROKOFIEV – Sonata No. 6 in A major Op. 82

Further information and tickets

www.wigmore-hall.org.uk

A little more background on Vitaly Pisarenko can be found in his responses to my Meet the Artist questionnaire:

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

We had an upright piano at home as my mother studied at the musical school. I was trying to play something on it at the age of four and asked my parents to bring me to musical school.

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

My teachers – Yuri Slesarev, Dmitri Alexeev, Boris Petrushansky, Oxana Yablonskaya and Aquiles Delle Vigne.

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

I try to create an interesting programme, making an unusual combination of pieces or adding some not overplayed compositions. In future I want to play more contemporary music. Unfortunately, I don’t have that much time for working on it now due to learning more “core repertoire”.

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

I really enjoyed playing in Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Mozarteum in Salzburg, Triphony Concert Hall in Japan. Those halls have an amazing acoustics.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love every single piece I am performing and I am convinced it has to be like that.

I listen to a lot of orchestral and chamber music. Now my favourites are Schubert and Tchaikovsky Symphonies, piano trios by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Arensky, etc.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite pianists are Emil Gilels, Vladimir Horowitz, Dinu Lipatti, Grigory Sokolov.

Vitaly Pisarenko gave his first public recital at the age of six. His initial musical training was in Ukraine (in Kiev with Natalia Romenskaya and in Kharkov with Garry Gelfgat). From 1999 to 2012 he studied at the Central Music School and State Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow with Yuri Slesarev. From 2009 to 2012 he also studied with Oxana Yablonskaya at her Piano Institute in Italy. Since 2012, Pisarenko has been studying with Dmitri Alexeev at the Royal College of Music. He completed his Master’s degree at the RCM (with distinction) in 2014; and is currently studying at the RCM for an Artist Diploma and is an Emma Rose Scholar supported by a Kenneth and Violet Scott Award. He is also studying at the Piano Academy in Imola, Italy with Boris Petrushansky.

In 2008 (aged 21) he won First Prize at the Eighth International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Utrecht. Since then he has performed as a soloist with leading orchestras and ensembles, and as a recital soloist, throughout the world.

The Keyboard Charitable Trust is funded entirely by voluntary donations. Detailed information about the Trust may be found on its website.

Meet the Artist……Fabrizio Chiovetta

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

My older brother used to play the piano, so there was a piano in the house which I ended up spending more time with.   I loved to imitate what I heard and to improvise.  I went to study piano at conservatoire and even though music was my life-blood, I was interested in so many things – I studied maths, Italian literature, Latin and musicology at Universitybut in the end, the piano just stuck very naturally.

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

The professor who had the strongest influence on me was undoubtedly Dominique Weber. He was taught by Eduardo Vercelli and Leon Fleisher, where he also served as an assistant at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore. His instinct and his musical intelligence make him an extraordinary pianist and outstanding pedagogue. During the 4 years I studied with him, he helped me consolidate my technique and develop my sense of structure, rhythm and beauty of sound. He taught me the need to be engaged fully, to communicate and to search for my own sense of expression. He was an ideal professor. Dominique Weber’s recitals, which I am delighted to have listened to, have been unforgettable moments in my life as a musician.

I often played for Paul Badura-Skoda, the most illustrious representative of the Viennese tradition. With him, I had an opportunity to study works of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert on original instruments. His open-minded approach and broad interests enriched his understanding of art and this was a major source of inspiration to me.

I also have regularly taken classes with John Perry in Germany. John Perry is one of the most talented musicians I have met. His knowledge of the repertoire is impressive. He is a magnificent artist, able to move his audience as he sits at the piano. He can draw out the best out of each student while respecting their own personality.

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

There have been so many.  One recent example which springs to mind was recording two discs at the same time of Schumann Lieder and Haydn sonatas in four days.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Even if I would do everything again differently today, I still have a close recognition of those recordings and I don’t know which ones I prefer of the three for solo piano – Schumann, Schubert or Haydn.  This is compounded by the different circumstances – all three in 3 different halls with 3 different pianos – so they all have their own personalities and reflect where I was at the time of playing them.

A challenge presented itself recently which I am particularly happy about.   I was due to go to hear a concert at a festival an hour and a half away from home.   I had bought the ticket online, and I was just walking out the door, when the festival director gave me a ring to say that the pianist due to perform that evening was ill and did I want to play instead. I went back inside to change and I arrived on the stage at the last minute.  The strange thing is that probably if the director had phoned me the day before, I’d probably have turned it down, but the fact that the suggestion had come just at two hours notice, it was was so mad that I had gone ahead with it without thinking and chose the programme in the car on the way.  The concert went very well and it was the first time that I had bought a ticket to my own recital.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That’s something to ask the audience.   I’m particularly drawn to the German repertoire, and audiences seem to find that I have a particular affinity for Schubert.

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

There are promoters who ask me to perform certain works.  If not, I try to find a balance between something new and pieces I already have in my repertoire.

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

There are so many, but I am very happy to be returning in a couple of weeks time to Sala Mahler di Dobbiaco in Italy for the next recording of Bach (French Overture, 4th English Suite and the 1st Partita).    The acoutic is fabulous, and I will be playing a very wonderful piano – a Steinway D which is called Rufus, prepared by my favourite technician.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It’s always a pleasure to play Schubert, which is often requested by promoters.   I often go to concerts, not only of classical music, and I seldom listen to piano discs.  At home, I willingly listen to jazz, lieder and string quartets.   A disc I particularly like is of pieces for lute by Bach played by Jakob Lindberg. 

Who are your favourite musicians?

It’s difficult to make a complete list.   I admire many pianists – Radu Lupu, Sergio Fiorentino, and amongst the musicians I have recently listened to live and which made a big impression, I’d mention Christoph Pregardien accompanied by the pianist Michael Gees, the Belcea Quartet, pianist Grigory Sokolov.   And that’s without forgetting jazz musicians like Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau and Bill Evans….

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I don’t know what to say.  I love playing solo in recital but I have experienced some magical moments on the stage with cellist Henri Demarquette or with the baritone Roman Trekel, a sensation of something truly unique, poetic and spontaneous.

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

From a performer, I expect musical honesty and respect for the work. The performer should always provide the musical structure intelligently and be able to communicate this fluently.  One has to search to understand and to make understood what is hidden behind a musical score, all the things that the composer couldn’t write on a page. Sound is most important. It is the fundamental ingredient of everything.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently studying works by Bach which I am about to record.  Then also numerous concerts (recitals and chamber music) with works by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Janacek, Stravinsky, Britten and Kurtag. 

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

I’d like to be a lottery winner like everyone else so that I could construct a concert hall and record the complete works of Schubert in it! And if it happens in 10 weeks or 10 months, that’s fine too.
Fabrizio Chiovetta studied the piano and music theory at the Superior Conservatory of Geneva, his hometown. He obtained diplomas in piano and theory  as well as the City of Geneva’s Adolphe Neumann Prize, an award bestowed upon particularly distinguished artists. He pursued his education with Dominique Weber at the Tibor Varga Academy in Sion until he obtained his Soloist Diploma in 2003 with the highest level of distinction. He has regularly worked with John Perry, Marc Durand and Paul Badura-Skoda – notably on the classical Viennese repertoire on original instruments – and has participated in the Master Classes of Gyorgy Sebok, Julian Martin, Yoheved Kaplinsky and Irwin Gage for the Lied. Recipient of the Göhner Foundation scholarship in 1999, he received the Audience Award at the Klaviersommer Festival (Cochem, Germany) in 2001 for his interpretation of Mozart. He has won the New Talents (Genoa, 2002) and the Orpheus (Zurich, 2003) competitions and has received the Honorary Mention Award of the Seventh International Web Concert Hall (USA, 2005). Fabrizio Chiovetta regularly gives concerts across Europe, North America, the Middle East ans Asia both in recitals and chamber music. His performing partners have included Henri Demarquette, Katia Trabé, Roman Trekel, Julian Bliss, Nicolas Gourbeix, Brigitte Fournier and Gérard Wyss. He has notably played under the direction of Gabor Takacs-Nagy and Ovidiu Balan and has accompanied Lady Jeanne’s and Sir James Galway’s Master Classes. His recordings include works from Honegger, Schumann and Schubert. His Schumann recording received the 5 Diapasons Award and Fanfare Magazine described his Waldszenen as “one of the best ever silver-disc’d”. Talented in improvisation, he performs with ensemble Piano Seven and with diverse musicians such as Anna Prucnal, Masako Hayashi, Levon and Gregoire.
Fabrizio Chiovetta’s new disc of Haydn Sonatas and Variations is available now on the Claves label

Meet the Artist…… Ivan Ilic, pianist

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

The San Francisco Symphony concerts I attended as a child were my inspiration.  I also attended concerts by brilliant young musicians in Belgrade that were just as inspiring.

In college I studied mathematics, but music seemed like a bigger challenge.  It seemed like a bigger risk too; that attracted me.  Also, I intuited that a career in music would be a more enriching way to develop as a person.

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

At a pivotal moment in my musical development, just before I moved to France, I met Steve Coleman, a saxophonist, improviser and composer.  By a stroke of luck, my final year at university coincided with the year he was in residence there.  Studying improvisation with him changed everything for me.  He is the most inspiring musician I’ve ever met.

But in general I’ve learned more from non-musicians than from musicians.  Music is a technical subject; as a result musicians often have limited horizons.  The most important lessons I’ve learned were from personal experience, analogies I drew from other fields, and my own research.

What has been the greatest challenge of your career so far?

The reconciliation of my intellectual curiosity with my career as a performer.  I’m starting to find ways of combining the two.  But for years it was terrifying to be in a field where there is so little critical questioning of the fundamentals.  The typical performer’s career is, in many ways, anti-intellectual.  One is expected to act, and to leave the thinking to others.  Countering that trend has become a guiding principle for me.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

Recordings are more important to me than performances.  From experience, I know not to trust in-the-moment feelings I have at concerts.  Performances feel like experiences, whereas recordings feel like achievements (or failures).  Studio recordings are, first and foremost, an incredible tool for self-knowledge.  I can’t imagine my musical life without them.  For musicians, a recording is “proof” that they can do something.  It’s a powerful message.

Further, the ability to edit has elevated recording into a process of constructing a version of a piece that is what you would like it to be, within the limits of what you can do.  Recordings have become frozen, idealized performances that can be revisited.  Making them is exhilarating.  At its best, a recorded version of a piece feels like it has an almost physical weight, or inertia, like a sculpture.  It’s built to last.  If it’s good enough, it does.

People often remark that recordings rarely have the same “magical” atmosphere as a fine performance.  There does seem to be a Faustian bargain involved: you trade the feeling of communion with an audience for a musical artifice.  But the insight you gain and the ability to spread the music are just two of many reasons why recordings have become an unavoidable part of how we experience music.

A friend of mine suggested that performers make recordings as a way of compensating for the fact that they don’t “create”.  It’s an interesting idea.  But my reply is that recordings are proof that we do create, that playing is a creative act.  The ability to forge an interpretation that doesn’t instantly evaporate has destabilised the work-performance dichotomy, which has become outdated.  Now there is a trichotomy: work, performance, and recording.  One might even say that recordings are neither performances, nor works, but something in between.  Or perhaps they form a triangle.  The position of recordings is ambiguous and hard to pin down.

This has certain philosophical implications.  For example: does an excellent recording erode the importance of the score?  What is the essence of the work: the dots on the page?  The sounds that result when you play the dots?  Your intention, the ideal that you strive for, or the actual sounds themselves?  A combination of all of these?  These questions are important, and when you try to answer them you realize how elusive they are.  Strangely, classical music is a field in which many people get angry if you even ask such questions.

The recording of sound is only about 140 years old.  It is the musician’s printing press.  We still haven’t come to terms with the extent to which it has changed musical culture.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Any work I’ve never heard before.  When I have no reference points I am the most free.

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

It’s changed over the years.  I used to play repertoire at the intersection of my interests and those of concert promoters.  Now things are much more skewed towards what I feel I must do, for myself.  I’ve come to rely on fear as a guide for finding the right repertoire.

My left-hand Godowsky project (2012) is an example.  When I had the idea, I was petrified.  As I began to pursue it, many people tried to talk me out of it.  The amount of work was overwhelming.  But it was a great success, the reaction was like a tidal wave.  It allowed me to break out from my generation, and from the pernicious influence of other people’s opinions.  The experience transformed me.

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

Before an important recital I often play for a friend at home, a few days before.  Always a non-musician, and always someone I trust.  The person is only 2 meters away, which makes it very difficult.  But the one to one communication is powerful.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

At the moment my favourite piece to perform is Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari (1986).  I’ve never heard audiences listen as intently as they do when they listen to it live.  I expect that in ten years the piece will become mainstream, i.e. it will be programmed alongside Chopin, Debussy, and Scriabin.

When it comes to listening, nothing replaces the physical vibrations and the welling-up of emotion one gets when listening to a first-rate orchestra, live, in a great hall.  And, contrary to popular opinion, we live in an age with many worthwhile composers.  I heard a wonderfully glamorous orchestra piece by Péter Eötvös recently, the orchestra sparkled.

Who are your favourite musicians?

For the past two years my favourite musician has been Morton Feldman.  His works have deeply affected me, as well as his interviews and his lectures about music.  He’s taught me so much, even though he’s been dead for 27 years.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been concerts where I had epiphanies that permanently changed my playing.  Those are the most memorable.

Progress is not linear in music.  You can labour for weeks on something, then one day it comes together.  Sometimes the practice accumulates.  But other times you just try something differently and – bang! – you understand something you never understood before.  For musicians, as with athletes, these moments are usually coupled with a new physical sensation.  Sometimes there is even a transcendental sense of being “connected” to something.

One example was a recital I gave in 2006.  Because the audience was seated all around me in an intimate setting, I changed my gestures at the piano, making them more expressive, because it fit the moment and the sound of the room.  I could never have planned it, I just did it.  And that aspect changed permanently from then on.  Being in a new situation seems to be an important common factor with these experiences.

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

Read.  Write.  Refine your mind as well as your musicianship.  Cultivate what makes you different from others.  Exercise.  Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep.  Socialize with people with whom you have nothing in common, preferably of all ages.  In addition to music school, study at a university and take classes in as many diverse subjects as you can.  Demand access to the best teachers.  Listen to them carefully and with scepticism.  Never compromise anything having to do with your education.  If a subject is difficult for you, ask for help.  Eat well.  Be wary of distractions (read: smartphones).  If you can, live somewhere other than where you were born, preferably in a foreign language; it’s the best cure for arrogance.  Be generous: if you pursue a living as a musician, chances are you were the recipient of selfless generosity from dozens of people over the years.  Say thank you.  Never let anyone tell you you can’t, or won’t succeed.  You will.

What are you working on at the moment?

Improving my learning speed.  It’s interesting how if you focus on improving one quantifiable aspect of your playing, everything else tends to improve with it.

Ivan Ilić recently released a new CD on Heresy Records entitled The Transcendentalist, featuring works by Alexander Scriabin, John Cage, Morton Feldman and Scott Wollschleger (b 1980). The album has enjoyed substantial critical acclaim and is broadcast often on six continents.  

Ivan Ilić’s full biography

http://www.ivancdg.com

 

 

Meet the Artist……Susan Tomes

(photo: Robert Philip)
(photo: Robert Philip)

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

We didn’t have a piano in the house when I was little, but gradually my friends’ parents started reporting that I had been trying to play their piano when I came to their house. My parents were surprised (neither of them had had the opportunity to learn an instrument) but intrigued, and eventually they decided to take the plunge and acquire an upright piano. It was a make of piano I’ve never come across since: Eungblut & Eungblut. I remember that when it arrived in our living-room I already felt it was an old friend and I ‘knew how to play it’, though I can’t really account for that feeling as I hadn’t yet had a piano lesson.

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

I think I’d have to name various professors I met at masterclasses when I was in my twenties and had officially ‘finished my musical education’. In some ways, it was yet to begin! I met the Hungarian violinist Sandor Vegh at the International Musicians’ Seminar in Prussia Cove, Cornwall. Later on I met the Hungarian pianist Gyorgy Sebok when I was spending a semester at the Banff Centre in Canada. Those two musicians with their very different personalities and pedagogical approaches were hugely influential, opening my eyes and ears to a larger, more profound and multi-layered way of thinking about music.

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

I suppose being an introvert in a ‘public performance’ profession has been my greatest challenge. It isn’t straightforward, of course – I seem to have a deep need to communicate music to an audience and get their reaction, and I love to be appreciated, but there are many other aspects of being ‘on show’ that don’t come naturally. I’m very interested in people, but I’m quite a private person and need lots of time to myself. I suppose the friction between those things has been the reason that I took to writing about music and being a musician [I’ve written four books]. I find that writing about performance helps me to come to terms with the self-imposed challenge of being an introvert in an extrovert profession.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I feel very fortunate in having lots and lots of concerts I’m proud of having been part of. I’ve worked with so many amazing musicians. Recording-wise, it’s a little different because I’ve never much enjoyed the process of making records. Nevertheless I am proud that many of my recordings have been well-received and have meant something to people. I guess my favourite one is still the first: the Domus recording of Fauré piano quartets. We were all novices then, of course, but we also had a very special bond. I can still hear our freshness and idealism when I listen to that recording.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I really hope I can say Mozart’s works, because he has always been my favourite composer, and I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to live up to his beautifully lucid yet deep and subtle music. Other favourites are Schumann, Schubert and the French composers of the end of the nineteenth century; I adore the piano music of Debussy, Ravel and Fauré. Then there are two ‘greats’, Beethoven and Haydn, whom I used not to feel so close to, but with time I’ve come to appreciate them more and more, and when I perform their music I feel more confident that I have something to say about it.

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

That’s always a blend of things that people ask me to play, and suggestions I put forward if I have the opportunity. Unfortunately, programmes usually have to be planned far in advance, which means that you find yourself committed to play something you suggested two years ago, and may not feel like playing quite so much when it comes to it! But somehow, just because you’re committed to playing a certain work on a certain date,  the appetite to prepare and perform it does develop when the time approaches.

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

For years and years I have loved the Wigmore Hall, where I first played as a child and have been fortunate to play in regularly ever since. Other favourites? Well, there was Domus’s white portable geodesic dome, in which we played memorable concerts and tried to forge a new way of presenting chamber music to new audiences. I also remember a wonderful old hall in Bilbao, very similar in character to the Wigmore in a way. I loved the feeling of Carnegie Hall, where the auditorium seems to open up before you in a very pleasing way as you look from the stage. The Konzerthaus in Vienna is pretty special; I was impressed by a beautiful new hall in Zaragoza, and I have a happy memory of playing in Grieg’s house in Bergen, where the audience sang me ‘Happy Birthday’! I always enjoy playing ‘house concerts’, especially in beautiful drawing-rooms; I often feel that these are the kind of rooms, and the kind of audiences, for which a lot of the classical repertoire was conceived. I love the intimate atmosphere and the closeness of the audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I don’t really have favourite pieces to perform; I find that whatever I’m working on occupies my imagination and becomes my ‘favourite’, or at least my obsession. Funnily enough, at the moment I don’t listen to all that much music when I’m away from the piano. When you spend a lot of time practising or rehearsing, you don’t particularly feel the desire to listen to even more music just for fun. I often listen to jazz radio when I’m working in the kitchen, but in fact I just as often enjoy silence.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I couldn’t single out particular people from the amazing list of musicians I’ve been lucky to work with. There are so many different ways of being a good musician, and so many ways of collaborating with other musicians. Over the years I have been inspired by the attitude and standard of playing of many of the musicians I’ve met and worked with in Prussia Cove, both during the ‘masterclass seminars’ in April, and during ‘Open Chamber Music’ in September. Many of those people have become my long-standing musical colleagues. People travel from all over the world to be in Prussia Cove, and I’ve lost count of the illuminating and stimulating musical experiences I’ve had there. In general, I’ve always got most out of people who are interested in being good chamber musicians rather than single-minded soloists.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As many writers say when asked which of their books is their favourite, I’d probably say that my most recent concert is the one that’s most vivid in my mind. I don’t have a ‘most memorable’ experience – there have been so many. Just for fun I might mention my first-ever piano trio concert when I was a teenager, still at school. Fellow students and I performed the Arensky piano trio, which we had learned in after-school sessions. Unbelievable fun, and we had such a sense of achievement!

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

For me, the most important thing to impart to students is that great music is not ‘entertainment’, nor just a social accomplishment, but a reflection of life. Most of the music I care about is a metaphor for life, of its complexity (and sometimes its simplicity). Great composers have found a way of channelling their thoughts and life experiences into music, in such a way that the rest of us can receive a kind of ‘distilled understanding’ through the music. Once a young musician has grasped this point, working on music becomes much more than a surface task, and they can begin a huge journey of exploration.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m usually pretty organised about working a long way ahead on repertoire. When I get to the day of a performance, I don’t want to have think about producing the right notes; I want all that to have sunk down into an unconscious layer. So I’ve usually got at least the next six months’ worth of concert repertoire on a sort of practising rota. Next up is Beethoven’s A flat major piano sonata opus 110. I’m doing a lecture-recital about the piece – quite a task. On February 16, I’m playing an all-Schubert programme in Wigmore Hall with the wonderful Austrian violinist Erich Höbarth. Our programme includes the rarely played Schubert Fantasie, one of the most virtuosic and most technically demanding pieces I know. Schubert’s imagination soars above the usual capabilities of merely human players with ordinary-sized hands. It’s supposed to sound effortless, too – something to aspire to!

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

In ten years’ time I’d love to be reading in the press that older women have outstripped every other kind of artist in popularity. They will be top of every concert hall’s agenda; they’ll be the toast of the town because of their wit and wisdom, and governments will plead with them to head important initiatives. Images of glamorous young musicians will disappear from adverts and brochures, to be replaced by iconic portraits of wise women. (We can dream – that’s one thing you learn as a musician!)

Susan Tomes appears at Wigmore Hall with Erich Höbarth on 16 February 2015. On 17 February at 7pm she will be talking about her latest book, ‘Sleeping in Temples’, at Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly. 

Susan Tomes is a leading UK pianist, a rare example of a woman who has achieved several decades as an acclaimed chamber music pianist. In 2013 she was awarded the Cobbett Medal for distinguished services to chamber music.

Born in Edinburgh, she was the first woman to study music at King’s College, Cambridge. She has been at the heart of three internationally admired ensembles: Domus, the Gaudier Ensemble, and the Florestan Trio, winners of the Royal Philharmonic Society Award in 2000. With these groups she has performed and broadcast all over the world. She is a long-standing participant at the International Musicians’ Seminars in Prussia Cove, Cornwall, where she met many of her chamber music partners. She has made over fifty CDs, many of which have become benchmark recordings, winning Gramophone Awards, Classic CD awards, Diapasons d’Or in France, and Deutsche Schallplattenpreise. At Hyperion Records’ 20th anniversary, Gramophone wrote that ‘Susan Tomes’s playing is always magnetic and concentrated whatever the repertory, a rare gift which she consistently employs not for her own glorification but in the cause of corporate music-making.’ Her recital repertoire focuses particularly on French music, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann; as a soloist, she has recorded Mozart piano concertos and 1920s piano music by the Savoy Hotel’s Billy Mayerl.

As well as performing, Susan is a champion of the art of the chamber music pianist, illuminating the role and promoting the status of the collaborative pianist over many years in radio talks, newspaper and magazine articles, keynote speeches, seminars, and masterclasses. She is the author of four books on performance issues: Beyond the Notes (2004), A Musician’s Alphabet (2006), Out of Silence (2010) and Sleeping in Temples (October 2014), which has already been a Books of the Year choice, a Christmas Books selection and Editor’s Choice in various journals. Her books are now studied in ‘performance practice’ courses in various parts of the English-speaking world. She has been a guest on the BBC flagship radio programmes, ‘Today’ and ‘Woman’s Hour’. She has served on many international competition juries and is often invited to give masterclasses at music conservatoires. She is a guest tutor at the European Chamber Music Academy, and holds her own masterclasses every year in London, attracting international chamber groups.

Susan is currently engaged on a long-running duo series with the Austrian violinist Erich Höbarth. They focused on Mozart for two years, and are now exploring the sonatas of Schubert. Susan is the solo pianist on a  record made by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to celebrate Creative Scotland 2012 with the gift of a special CD for every child born in Scotland during the year.

www.susantomes.com

 

 

Meet the Artist……Adam Swayne, pianist & composer

Who or what inspired you to take up a career in music?

As a teenager I was lucky to have Jeremy Carter as my piano teacher. I also revered the rock’n’roll pianism of Jerry Lee Lewis (and still do).

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

I struggled during my first couple of years on the demanding joint course between Manchester University and the RNCM, but my third year was something of a revelation. I learnt reams during my piano lessons with John Gough (including, crucially, a fresh and non-stuffy approach) and also took composition lessons with John Casken and lectures in postmodern music from Kevin Malone and Shostakovich from David Fanning. It was at this point I knew I didn’t want to do anything else. Fulbright studies in the US with Ursula Oppens sealed the deal.

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

Juggling a range of disciplines and trying (hard!) to excel in all of them. Alongside piano I compose frequently for many varied ensembles (that, strangely, hardly ever include piano – for example this one) and I regularly conduct performances of (mainly) new music. My work with CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) is really important because it involves getting amazing people from all walks of life participating in the music, and I also serve on the board of the Riot Ensemble in order to get the most cutting-edge of this stuff out there in concert. I love teaching and am lucky to supervise over 80 groups of all styles and genres as part of my role as Head of Chamber Music at the University of Chichester, and I also have a clutch of brilliant and talented students at the Junior Royal Academy.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I played Rzewski’s colossal ‘The People United Will Never Be Defeated’ in three venues last year, and I think I am proud to have scaled that particular pianistic mountain (although I haven’t been brave enough to listen to the recording yet!). I’m also pleased to have performed Lutoslawski’s terrific concerto – here’s a clip of the ending in my performance with the Northwestern Symphony Orchestra and Victor Yampolsky.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Probably pieces by Shostakovich. I relate well to nervous energy, tragedy…. and comedy!

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

Whatever I think will be fun to prepare and fun for people to listen to.

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

Hmm, tricky one. I like venues where it is easy to blur the boundaries between the performers and the listeners, so it’s more of a community experience. Maybe St Martin-in-the-Fields?

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Kevin Malone wrote me a wonderful and hilarious piece involving plenty of theatre called Count Me In. You can watch a performance here. I also love the sound of wind orchestras and have been lucky to have been involved in quite a few over the years. You can’t beat the Americans for their brass sound.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’d have to include Pierre Boulez – a great musical polymath with an amazing conducting style. You can see every single composerly detail in the gesture. My American conducting teachers (especially Mallory Thompson) taught me the importance of this. At other ends of the spectrum I love Eddie Cochran and The Who.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my first outing of Amy Beth Kirsten’s ‘Speak to Me’ in which I have to adopt the persona of two female goddesses as well as play some really imaginative piano music. (You can listen to a performance here.) I’m playing this again in a Riot Ensemble concert on January 30th.

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

Just to give 100% energy and commitment to whatever is being asked of you, however big, small or unusual.

What are you working on at the moment?

This morning, the John Ireland ‘Phantasie’ Trio. I play in a piano trio with Ellie Blackshaw (violin) and Peter Copley (cello) and we are on a mission to present all three of the Ireland trios. They are wonderful and really reek of Sussex, which is where I live.

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

Doing the same sorts of things, but with less anxiety about note learning/ preparedness.

What is your present state of mind?

Anxious about note learning/preparedness!

Adam Swayne works with a vast range of musical media and styles that go beyond conventional labelling. He is just as at home giving a solo piano recital or conducting an orchestra as he is organising musical installations in art galleries or composing for amateur ensembles. He takes an inclusive, informative and innovative approach to his music making that is drawing an increasingly large audience.

Adam is a graduate of the joint course between Manchester University and the RNCM. He gained first class degrees from both institutions, and an MMus from the RNCM. Manchester University gave Adam their highest award (Sir Thomas Beecham Medal) along with other prizes including the Recital Prize. Prizes from the RNCM included the John Ireland Prize and an award for performances of contemporary music.

In 2003 Adam was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to begin doctoral studies at Northwestern University, U.S.A. He graduated in 2006 with distinction, having presented several U.S. premières of works by British composers.

Adam is now Senior Lecturer and Head of Chamber Music at the University of Chichester and piano tutor at the Junior Royal Academy of Music.

Adam’s Swayne’s full biography can be found on his website:

www.adamswayne.com

Meet the Artist…… Ashley Wass

(Photo credit: Patrick Allen)

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

My (non-musical) parents ran a seafront guesthouse and had an electric organ standing (unused) in the corner of the lounge. I’m an only-child and got nominated fairly early on to be the one who’d put it to use. (As a 5 year-old I suppose I couldn’t really argue.) I used to play Christmas carols and Richard Clayderman hits to the guests and haven’t looked back since.

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

I think it was Stravinsky who said “great artists steal”. Now, I’m not calling myself a great artist by any means, but I do empathise with that quote; I feel I’m constantly learning – or ‘stealing’, if you like – from other musicians. I guess we all do really; part of what ultimately defines our individual musical personalities is the process of choosing which bits of ‘stolen’ information we nurture and which bits we cast aside.

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

Deciding exactly what kind of career it is I want.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m (thankfully) quite fond of my last two CDs. The first – Bach to the Future – features a collection of solo pieces that have been particularly significant in my life and career to date. It was actually recorded just a couple of weeks after my daughter was born, so the fact I managed to produce something vaguely coherent is quite an achievement. More recently, my piano trio released its debut album. It’s called The Seafarer and includes a collaboration with Willard White and a brand new transcription of Debussy’s La Mer by Sally Beamish. It’s a project which took a tremendous amount of time and effort to realise, so it’s lovely to see it hit the shelves.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Ha – that’s a question which is probably best answered by others. I know what I enjoy playing, but musicians are often their own worst judges.

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

I love the process of developing repertoire-led ideas into fully-fledged projects that can be toured (and sometimes recorded) over a full season. They tend to be getting more eclectic and adventurous as I get older; I think I’m driving my poor agent mad.

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

St. George’s in Bristol. It has the best acoustic of any chamber hall in the UK, a fine piano and – best of all – is within 30 minutes of my home. It means I can play a concert in a beautiful space and still be home in time for Match of the Day. That’s the ideal set-up as far as I’m concerned.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

In truth, I hardly ever listen to music these days unless I’m in the car, and then it’s either jazz (my choice) or nursery rhymes (my daughter’s choice). The Wass household is a strict no-music zone (piano practice aside).

Who are your favourite musicians?

Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Oscar Peterson. Oh, and I’d better say my trio [Trio Apache] partners – Matthew Trusler and Thomas Carroll – too. They’d kill me otherwise.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my Proms debut. Though that’s less because of the performance itself and more because I’d got engaged to my now-wife during the overture.

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

Variety. It’s essential, both to the maintenance of a career and to one’s musical well-being.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a big project with Matt Trusler for 2015 which involves commissioning 12 pieces from 12 different composers, plus a yet-to-be-written script, so that’s taking up a huge amount of time. It’s going to be awesome – watch this space.

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

Doing what I’m doing now, but with another ‘0’ added to my fees.

What is your most treasured possession?

Photos of my trek to Everest Base Camp. Not only because going there was a dream come true, but because it also reminds me that I was once relatively fit.

The Seafarer‘, Trio Apache’s debut album, featuring Sally Beamish’s transcription of Debussy’s La Mer alongside her original work, The Seafarer Trio (with Sir Willard White narrating), is now available on the Orchid Classics label.

Ashley Wass, began playing the piano at 5, and studied music at Chethams Music School from age 11. In his teens he studied on scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, where his teachers included Christopher Elton and Hamish Milne. Wass later studied with Murray Perahia. He is the only British winner of the London International Piano Competition (1997), prize-winner at the Leeds Piano Competition, and a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist.

Described as an ‘endlessly fascinating artist’, Ashley Wass is firmly established as one of the leading performers of his generation. Increasingly in demand on the international stage, he has performed at many of the world’s finest concert halls including Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Konzerthaus. He has performed as soloist with numerous leading ensembles, including all of the BBC orchestras, Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lille, Wiener Kammerorchester, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and under the baton of conductors such as Simon Rattle, Osmo Vanska, Donald Runnicles, Ilan Volkov and Vassily Sinaisky.

Ashley Wass’s full biography

www.ashleywass.com

Meet the Artist…… Ernest So, pianist

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

The late Jacob Lateiner (1928 to 2010) who was my teacher at Juilliard. He was an inspiration in more ways than one: as a pianist, a scholar, a collector, a gourmet, a connoisseur, and one smooth talker who could melt the heart of any woman (or so I imagine). Sometimes I wish everyone I know could have the chance of meeting Lateiner, who exerted such a big influence in my life and encouraged me to go down this rabbit-hole. Even now I still feel his presence; I step where he points.

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

Finding my own voice. Not so much about public speaking, though I do tend to speak during concerts, but in the sense of crafting a repertoire that best expresses my personal expressive character. Appreciation is very different from performing; I may appreciate many different composers but performing them convincingly is a whole other matter.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a deep affinity with the late romantics (the generations after Chopin/Schumann/Brahms) whose particular and eloquent way of writing for the piano transcends all language. They used the piano to express an endless spectrum of feelings, from unabashed romanticism to Parnassian intellectual probity, from Panglossian pessimism to spiritual elation.

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

I take inspirations from every corner of daily life. I tend to string together works that create a coherent idea for a programme, from single-composer to country-themed selections; more often I try to balance public tastes with serious historical or cultural elements. Planning a successful programme is one of the hardest parts of the job, as it requires creativity and immense knowledge. A good programme sells like a basket of fat olives, while a poorly constructed programme feels like a tangled tale.

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

I love a more intimate setting. I love the stage, and I am very comfortable on stage, big or small, but when I am physically close to my listeners I tend to be more emotionally spontaneous.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The most memorable experiences are always the best concerts and the worst venues. The best performances were those when I was completely “in the zone”. I was performing in France the poetic and impressionistic music of Louis Aubert, the pianist-composer contemporary of Ravel, when not even the most enticing French women audience (of which there were many) could have drugged me out of the “zone”. On the other hand I have had numerous concerts in less-than-desirable settings that I’ll always remember. Once I was performing in China on a piano with a rickety leg, and throughout the entire concert I was picturing different threatening scenarios and news headlines … “Pianist died during concert under a piano, literally”.

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

At the student level, learn as wide a repertoire as possible, from William Byrd to the latest sounds, from the Balkans to Buenos Aires. The next step is to find a unique voice and performing style, and specialize in it. Whenever possible, travel.

What are you working on at the moment?

Identifying the composition of grapes in different vintages of Spanish cava and from different producers. Also trying to work out my latest commission of a double-breasted suit with a Parisian tailor.

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

Alive, but not obsolete.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being interviewed.

What is your most treasured possession?

The lust for life and for beauty.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Meeting a patiently analysed situation with all the resources of thought.

What is your present state of mind?

Aching streaks of melancholy.

Ernest So performs works by Rachmaninoff and Gliere at the 1901 Arts Club on Friday 12th December as part of the South London Concert Series. Further details and tickets here

Critics have hailed Ernest So as a performer who exerts a “phenomenon presence on stage” and who “evokes the romanticism and technical brilliance of a 19th century pianist”.  Mr. So’s early manifestation as concert pianist brought prizes such as the Bes​t Performer A​ward in Singapore and later the Beethoven Trophy.  His years at the Juilliard School were spent under the artistic influence and instruction of renowned Beethoven scholar Jacob Lateiner (1928 – 2010); other teachers include Solomon Mikowsky, the late Constance Keene, and Jonathan Feldman.

Ernest So’s full biography can be found on his website:

www.ernestso.com

 

Meet the Artist……Florian Uhlig

 

(photo: Marc Borggreve)

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

When I was young there was always music at home: my father was an amateur pianist and my parents used to play old records with all sorts of classical music: opera, lied, symphonic repertoire and piano music.

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

Studying with truly wonderful piano teachers: Peter Feuchtwanger, Bernard Roberts at the Royal College of Music and Hamish Milne at the Royal Academy of Music. But also the legendary German baritone Hermann Prey with whom I was fortunate to work in my early twenties.

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

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 3, I guess.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’d rather leave this for the critics to decide! But I am quite happy with my latest recording, Ravel’s complete works for piano solo.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have developed a very soft spot for Schumann since I started recording his entire piano oeuvre four years ago.

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

Generally, the concerto repertoire is decided by the orchestras and conductors. The choice of chamber music pieces, in turn, is a result of a dialogue with the chamber partners I love working with. For my solo recital repertoire I am almost 100% in the driving seat in terms of making the decisions. Often I try to programme pieces I am about to record during or just after a given season.

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

The Wigmore Hall in London and the Musikverein in Vienna – wonderful acoustics and atmosphere!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Beethoven’s Piano Concertos

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich, Leonard Bernstein, Chick Corea, Jacqueline du Pré – at least one for each letter of the alphabet…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

2007 in Caracas: performing Penderecki’s Piano Concerto under the baton of the composer with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

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

True passion for what you do, hard work, patience, perseverance and a good sense of humour

Your new disc is the complete solo piano music of Maurice Ravel. What is the particular attraction of this composer’s music for you? And what are the special challenges of his piano music?

Ever since my childhood I have been in love with Ravel’s music: the colours, the atmosphere, the exotic beauty and inner lucidity of his writing. The special challenges: an enormously nuanced virtuosity, subtlety of hearing and colouring.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my family.

What is your present state of mind?

Onwards and upwards!

 

Florian Uhlig’s new Ravel: Complete Solo Piano Works is available now on the Hänssler Classic label.

Born in Dusseldorf, pianist Florian Uhlig gave his first solo recital at the age of 12. He studied with Peter Feuchtwanger and continued his studies at the Royal College of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London where he now lives, as well as in Berlin.

Full biography on Florian’s website:

florian-uhlig.com