Tag Archives: pianist

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

 

 

Meet the Artist…… Barry Douglas

(Photo: Katya Kraynova)

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

I was fortunate to be playing many instruments as a child and conducting choirs and chamber orchestras. Then suddenly I met a great pianist and person- Felicitas LeWinter- she has been a pupil of Emil von Sauer who had been a pupil of Liszt. She had the most amazing sound and talked about Friedman’s sound. She inspired me- I was 16 – and I was then determined to be a pianist- I had had wonderful teachers in Ireland but she had a very distinctive and important lineage of course! Later on I was touched when she said that I had finally achieved the Arthur Friedman sound!

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

I studied with John Barstow at the Royal College and he was very important in my musical development- great passion for music and all music including opera- he opened my eyes. Then Maria Curcio who had studied with Schnabel was central in a very different way. She had a complete command of the piano and a great integrity – there was no showmanship unless it helped the expression of the music.

Other influences are of course- Richter, Giles, Carlos Kleiber and all the wonderful musicians I have worked with and continue to work with such as Svetlanov, Kurt Sanderling, Previn and Maazel – all great conductors.

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

Right now I am recording the complete Brahms and Schubert solo works for Chandos – this is a huge task and very daunting but I am taking it slowly and methodically and I am learning so much.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I love all my recordings. However, the ones I did with Janowski in Paris hold a special place for me. And of course I love these Chandos recordings.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I am not sure – I wouldn’t like to say. It is for others to decide I guess?

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

I play anything that inspires me and that I feel I bring something to. Of course Brahms and Schubert figure a lot at the moment- that is a privilege!

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

I don’t have one. There are great acoustics all around the world, there are great halls in beautiful places, there are places I like because of personal connections, like Ireland.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I don’t often listen to music per se as I want to concentrate on my own solutions – but I adore opera and go to performances a lot. When I was 18 and fresh in London I practically lived in Covent Garden and the ENO.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I love my friends who come to my festival every August in Clandeboye, Northern Ireland. They are warm passionate and brilliant people. I love Alison Balsom – she played with my orchestra Camerata Ireland many times. I love Lynn Harrell the cellist and Chio Liang Lin the violinist – we worked together often.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I think there are many – too many. I can’t choose one in particular.

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

You must be true to the music and be honest. Performance is not for show, but it must also look good- it is an entertainment (a refined one of course) but people want to see and hear something that will change them, and inspire them.

What are you working on at the moment? 

My next Brahms and Schubert CDs – sonatas, Impromptus and intermezzi and the Paganini and Schumann variations of Brahms,

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Sitting in Provence reading a book by the pool – perfect antidote to the pressurized concert season!!

What is your most treasured possession? 

Apart from my family whom I don’t “possess” of course…….my Steinway piano I guess, and my Audi Quattro!!

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Driving around Provence in the summer and eating a long lunch

Barry Douglas has established a major international career since winning the Gold Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, Moscow. As Artistic Director of Camerata Ireland and the Clandeboye Festival, he continues to celebrate his Irish heritage whilst also maintaining a busy international touring schedule.

Barry Douglas’s complete biography

Meet the Artist……Hiroaki Takenouchi, pianist

(photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega 2013)

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

I don’t remember the inspiration per se; just remember that I liked it from the beginning!

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

Leaving Japan at the age of 18 and coming to the UK.  For a long time I was undecided about whether to stay in Japan to study or to emigrate to see the “wider” world.  I feel the choice I made was the right one and I’m still here.

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

It often feels like extra work, having to learn pieces that are really hard and that I know I won’t play again for a while, if ever.  Then again, I do this all the time, as I love the so-called rarities so I can’t exactly complain…

On a slightly different note, I had a period when I seriously considered a career-change in the middle of my undergraduate studies.  My confidence level was at a record low then. In the end I came through to the other side and I am glad I didn’t change career only to escape the negative feelings I suffered from.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

For my latest Haydn disc from Artalinna, I intentionally chose his middle-period sonatas for harpsichord and fortepiano and recorded on a huge Steinway. I think it worked out pretty well.  I’ve been in love with these sonatas ever since I found out about them when I was a teenager and there’s a talk of doing Vol.2.  Please help us to make this happen!

The two great piano concerti (Catoire and Sherwood) I recorded with the RNSO for Dutton back in 2011 are both world-première recordings and I am rather proud of it too.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Beethoven: Piano Sonata Op.111

Boulez: 12 Notations

Chopin: Sonata No.3 Op.58

Elgar: Enigma Variations

Grieg: Ballade in G minor

Medtner Sonata minacciosa Op.53 No.2

Parry: “Hands Across the Centuries” Suite

Schumann: Concerto

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

I love exploring the lesser-known repertoire, both new and old, so if it is appropriate, I like putting together a whole programme with my recent discoveries.  That’s why I love playing in places like the Husum “Rarities of Piano Music” Festival in Germany.  At other times, I tend to recycle my old mainstream pieces as the framework of a programme and insert a few curios.

I am becoming more and more aware that I don’t have forever to learn everything I love, so I try to digest a few pieces from my “Learn by 40” list every season.

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

Not in particular.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I keep finding new favourite pieces.  My pattern is that I obsess over a piece for a while then move onto another obsession.  I remember my first real obsession was Ravel’s La Valse: I would listen to it numerous times day after day when I was 13.  Most recently, I’ve just graduated from Poulenc’s Dialogues des carmélites.

When I want to relax, I might listen to Nancarrow’s player-piano studies: they never fail to make me have a good laugh. Songs by Miyuki Nakajima are also on the list.  She is a singer/songwriter who has an iconic status in Japan.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

In no particular order and just off the top of my head – I’m bound to be missing many more.

Nelson Freire

Roger Muraro

Krystian Zimerman

Oleg Boshnyakovich

Rudolf Serkin

Wilhelm Furtwängler

Glenn Gould

Pierre Boulez

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

This is more to do with the state of mind I would love to be in before each performance: I was preparing to go on stage in Salzburg. My mental conditioning was as best as I could imagine. I was not nervous but felt calm yet so sharp, I could feel I was going to play really well.  Then I went to the bathroom.  The lock in the cubicle was a kind which I was not used to.  And because I was so concentrated on my imminent performance, I couldn’t work out how to open the door and panicked thinking I got locked in.

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

I mostly find musicians who have serious non-musical interests inherently more interesting, not only as people but also as musicians.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m always trying to raise funds for the next recording projects, which I have so many!  Also just starting to push my new CD of Haydn CD mentioned above.

To coincide with this release, I will be presenting a programme including two of the Haydn sonatas, Nancarrow & Prokofiev in a new festival in Paris Festival Piano-Oxygene on 3 October 2014.


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

In a South American jungle looking for butterflies and orchids.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

I had a great cigar lesson with the great Cuban pianist Jorge Luis Prats recently (with his custom-made Havanas).  As a master of that art like him, one might get close, or at least I was made aware that that was the objective of the cigar culture.  For this knowledge, I thank you, Jorge!  My whole body stank of cigars for the next two days though.

What is your most treasured possession?
 

If music-related, it would be the first edition copy of Medtner’s book Muza i Moda (The Muse and the Fashion) signed by the composer.

Heralded by The Times as “just the sort of champion the newest of new music needs”, while being praised as “impeccable in his pianism and unfailing in his idiomatic grasp” by Gramophone, Takenouchi’s curiosity and a natural penchant for integrity makes his playing and vast repertoire unique amongst his generation of pianists: his love for the music of classical masters – particularly Haydn, Beethoven and Chopin – sits side by side with his passion for the music of Medtner and Rachmaninov, lesser-known British composers such as Sterndale Bennett and Parry, and the contemporary repertoire.

As a soloist, he has recently appeared on many concert platforms including the Wigmore Hall, Tokyo Opera City, the South Bank Centre.  He has also performed at festivals in Bath, Cheltenham and Salzburg and given recitals in the UK, Japan, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy and Canada.  His future engagements will take him even further to the Far East, including performances in Singapore and Vietnam.  His more unusual recent appearances include the Rarities of Piano Repertoire Festival in Husum (Germany) and the BBC Four documentary The Prince and the Composer on the life and music of Parry alongside HRH The Prince of Wales. Takenouchi’s discography includes Cosmos Haptic: Contemporary Piano Music from Japan (LORELT) as well as the world première recordings of works by James Dillon (NMC), Edwin Roxburgh (NMC) and Jeremy Dale Roberts (LORELT).  2012 saw two further releases: two piano arrangements of Delius’s orchestral works (SOMM with Simon Callaghan), and a highly acclaimed disc of piano concertos by Catoire and Sherwood (another world première recording) with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Dutton Epoch).

Since 2012 Takenouchi has been teaching piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Glasgow).  He also returns every summer to give masterclasses at the Poros International Piano Academy (Greece) and Ingenium International Music Academy (UK).

  

Website:

http://hiroakitakenouchi.com

Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/takenouchipianist

Twitter

https://twitter.com/giroaqui

 

 

Music Notes – Stephen Hough plays Liszt’s ‘Benediction…..’

by James Holden

Stephen Hough’s recording of Liszt, ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans le solitude’, Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S.173/III on the CD Rhapsodie espagnole; Mephisto Waltz; Bénédiction de Dieu  released on Virgin as 724356112926.

There are moments when the piano ceases to sound like a box full of hammers being thrown against metal. It ceases to be a blacksmith’s instrument, all anvil-struck notes, all blows and impact.

Stephen Hough’s performance of Liszt’s ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude’ is one such moment.

I first heard this recording when I was still relatively unversed in the nineteenth-century piano repertoire. I had listened to some Chopin and knew a few of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words.I wasn’t familiar with anything by Schumann and knew no Thalberg, Alkan or work by any of the other virtuosos.What little I knew of Liszt I had learnt from reading, and not least from those references to him in Proust.

Like so many other happy cultural discoveries, I first borrowed the CD on which this recording is to be found from the local library (Barnsley). It was there on the racks with the other discs, compilations, popular classics, opera box sets and the like. Stephen Hough, Liszt: Rhapsodie espagnole; Mephisto Waltz; Bénédiction de Dieu.I turned it over, looked at the track listing on the back, weighed it up and then walked it to the desk. I thought, ‘Why not?’

The love I immediately felt for the ‘Bénédiction’ made me a confirmed musical Romantic.There is something in its combination of simple melody and complex accompaniment that, from the very first notes, seems to care for me, the listener, and seeks to protect me. This is not just music to love but music by which one is loved. I’ve only ever had this same feeling with a few other recordings, including Björk’s song ‘Undo’ from her 2001 album Vespertine.

Under Hough’s hands, Liszt’s notes spread outwards; they diffuse themselves. There is nothing struck here, or so it seems, nothing metallic. All is radiated.

Hough’s gestures respect both the work’s grandeur and the composer’s profound religiosity whilst never straining for emotion or effect. Consider, for example,the moment when the right hand part is extended by a series of arpeggios (the passage marked ‘poco a poco animato il Tempo’ on the score). The upper notes seem to open out of the main melodic material, as though the chord was always already there, in the tune, and has only now risen to an audible volume.What great touch on the keyboard; what pedal control!

No other performance of the ‘Bénédiction’ has affected me in quite the same manner. Leslie Howard’s recording of it for Hyperion is undoubtedly brilliant but its brilliance is that of the bright midday sun reflected off of polished stone surfaces. It’s a little too insistent, too sharp edged, a performance whose volume and clarity causes the overall effect to be lost. The more Howard makes things visible the harder it is to see the work. I own a recording of Claudio Arrau playing this piece that is, by contrast, seemingly formed of those reflective stone surfaces themselves. It gives the impression of blocks of notes being moved into place. The Andante is especially hard, too clearly delineated, too marked in outline.

For all its wavering poetry, Hough’s performance is unwaveringly certain of the work’s coherence. As the piece stretches out to over seventeen minutes this is very welcome – essential, even. To take some examples: we can sense the connection between the partial melody in bars 44-49 and that in the later ‘quasi Preludio’ passage; and at the end of that same Preludio, just before the return of the main melodic material, Hough calls our attention to the communication between the hands, the passing backwards and forwards of the notes. In the Coda we can feel everything combine in one final, calm cadence.

Hough’s recording has affected my own playing. I’m only an enthusiastic amateur at best and doubt that I’ll ever be able to play the ‘Bénédiction’ properly and in full (I can play the comparatively simple Andante and quasi Preludio sections). However, my joy at listening to this recording did lead me to learn Liszt’s ‘Schlummerlied’, another work in F♯ major, one with a similar, albeit much simpler, repeating C♯-D♯ right hand figure. When I worked at this piece it was like working at a ‘Bénédiction’ in miniature, only one within my ability range.

As the piece ends, as the last chord dies away I have felt myself suspended, unwilling to speak or move, to intrude into the space created by Liszt and Hough.

Dr James Holden was born in Ashford and educated at Loughborough University. He graduated with his PhD in 2007. He is the author of, amongst other things, In Search of Vinteuil: Music, Literature and a Self Regained (Sussex Academic Press, 2010). His website is www.culturalwriter.co.uk and he posts on Twitter as @CulturalWriter

© James Holden 2014

The Roskell Piano Trio at Sutton House

Heather Tuach (cello), Penelope Roskell (piano) and Colin Scobie (violin)

Following their previous sell-out concerts, the popular Roskell Piano Trio returns to Sutton House, a fine Tudor house in east London, to play trios by Haydn (“Gypsy”) and Schubert (No. 2), alongside works by Bartók and Armenian composers.

All the performers are well known to Sutton House audiences: Heather and Colin in their performances as part of the Fitzwilliam Quartet and Penelope as solo and also chamber pianist.

The Haydn Trio is one of his most popular, with the famous violin virtuoso “Rondo in Gypsy style” as the last movement. This is followed by solos and duos with a similar gypsy or folk theme, including some wonderfully tuneful cello pieces based on Armenian folk tunes that Heather has recorded recently on CD, piano solos by Albeniz, and the Rumanian Dances by Bartok.  The first half in particular is extremely attractive to all ages (and under 26s get in FREE). The second half features the glorious second trio by Schubert, full of lyricism, charm and drama. The soulful slow movement is particularly one to treasure: Heather says she loves it so much she wants it played at her funeral – may that not be for a very long time….

For a short taste of their last concert at Sutton House see http://crosseyedpianist.com/2013/03/19/roskell-piano-trio-at-sutton-house/

Before the concert there will be a FREE tour of Sutton House at 6pm by Richard Griffiths, the architect who restored the house for the National Trust in the 1990s.

Tickets: £10; concessions (proof required) £8; people under 26, disabled people and their carers FREE. Tickets can be purchased online at www.shms.org.uk or by telephone on 07505 609757. Advance booking is recommended for this concert.

The café/bar will be open before and after the concert and during the interval.

Click here for a leaflet for this concert.

 

Meet the Artist……Douglas Finch, composer & pianist


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

I can’t remember exactly, but I just got more and more into music as a child – hearing my mother play the piano, listening to my parents’ collection of vinyl recordings of Chopin, Beethoven etc., improvising along with my paternal grandmother on the piano: sort of soft jazzy honky-tonk type things. Before I could read music (I started lessons quite late) I would experimentally fill up music paper with random notes and try to get my mother, or my neighbour down the street in Winnipeg to try to play it for me. Eventually I figured out how to make it sound better, and started to be able to play the stuff myself. When I was about nine, I remember announcing at the dinner table to my parents and two sisters that I wanted to become a composer, if not a psychologist, which was my second choice. But I ended up becoming a pianist first.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Though I’m mostly self-taught as a composer, I received encouragement and help from S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté and Peter-Paul Koprowski, and my musical and aesthetic grounding was greatly influenced by my piano teacher William Aide. My mother introduced me to lots of books when I was young – from ‘Wind in the Willows’ to novels by Joyce Carol Oates. I think this helped me develop creative instincts. Though I never got to meet him, Glenn Gould – with all his individuality and eccentricity – had a profound effect on me growing up. As far as the musical canon is concerned, the inventiveness, depth, and universality of Beethoven’s music grabbed me in my teenage years, and still does. I think of him as the beginning of the modern musical age. My personal interpretation of the term ‘modernism’ is that the individual voice of the composer can deliver ‘truths’ which have a value beyond their fashionability, enjoyability or marketability. There is also J.S. Bach and Mozart, of course, and Schubert, Schumann and Chopin are recurring passions. Of the more recent composers, Bartok, Shostakovich, Ives, Messaien, Xenakis, Weill, (pre-America), Ustwolskaya, Vivier, Feldman, Janacek and Mompou have all offered something special to me. Ronald Stevenson, who I am fortunate to have gotten to know in the last few years, has been an inspiration not just because of his own music (including his masterful Passacaglia on DSCH) but also through his open-mindedness to a wide range of lesser-known music which he’s shared with me – including some wonderful choral folksong arrangements by Percy Grainger.

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

As a player, performing Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, Ives’ Concord Sonata and Beethoven’s op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. Those experiences (including the task of memorising) helped develop my imagination and sense of structure – not only for composing, but for improvising. Balancing a career performing and composing has itself been a challenge, and I’m still trying to grapple with that. Improvising, besides being an artistic end in itself, has played a mediating role in this inner conflict. Perhaps one of my biggest challenges as a composer was finishing my first ‘opus’ – a piano sonata – in my last year at Juilliard, when I was also busy entering international competitions as a pianist. It was a kind of act of faith to switch gears in this way and start composing seriously. If my improvisation class teacher hadn’t taken me aside and said to me ‘look, from what I’ve heard you do, I think you should consider becoming a composer’, I may never have taken that plunge. It was the last, and practically the only thing he ever said to me in that class, and I’m still grateful for that. My first film soundtrack (Painted Angels, Jon Sanders dir.1999) scored for chamber orchestra was a similar plunge in the dark – very stressful yet exhilarating. From a curatorial perspective, the few festivals I’ve organised posed different challenges – perhaps the most hair-raising being the biggest ever Frederic Rzewski retrospective ever mounted – the first day beginning with the first (and only?) complete performance of his solo piano work ‘The Road’, lasting ten hours. His big compliment to me at the end of the two weeks was to say I was ‘one of the crazy people’.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I haven’t had many commissions, but I particularly enjoy it when there is an element of collaboration. My Viola Concerto (Night Love Song) which was premiered in Toronto last year had two collaborative angles – firstly, working directly with Rivka Golani developing the viola part and secondly working with musical and historical/mythical material from the Blackfoot – specifically the ‘Blood’ tribe in Alberta.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Well, Rivka who I just mentioned was (and is) very inspiring. I also recently worked with a young Canadian pianist, now studying in Germany, Everett Hopfner who played my Preludes and Afterthoughts – fantasy-transcriptions on Chopin’s Preludes op. 28 across Canada after winning the É-Gré Competition in Brandon – Canada’s most important competition for contemporary music. To feel such enthusiasm and empathy from a young performer just starting out in his career is something that really lifts the spirit. I guess these are the positive experiences, which I tend to remember and look forward to. What I can find a bit difficult to deal with at times is when performers don’t try to read between the notes on the page – to go beyond the score and ‘interpret it’, which is after all what performers are meant to do!

Which works are you most proud of?

Usually the one I’ve just finished – in this case Three Chorales for piano (which Aleksander Szram will be recording next year as part of a CD of some of my piano and chamber music). I just hope that I can keep developing.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I’ve never thought about that much. But one of the worst, I think, was a place that used to be called the ‘Communist Club’ in Warsaw. I played a concert there on an abominable piano in 1980 during the Chopin Competition. I was told afterwards that Richter had just come to town a couple of weeks earlier and asked to give an impromptu recital there. That humbled me!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I mentioned some earlier, but out of the myriad musicians I admire, I’ll also say Rudolph Serkin and Sergiu Celibidace.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing Jesse Norman sing Wagner’s Liebestod and Strauss’ Four Last Songs with an orchestra in London, Ontario when I was about 19. It wasn’t just the singing, which was overwhelming enough, but her stage-presence, and the magisterial slowness of her entrance.

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

Try to be open-minded. Opinions are easy to form, and aren’t worth much. But you also have to learn discernment. This might seem paradoxical, but there is a fine balance required – the kind of thing that Zen philosophy seems to be dealing with.

Be generous to others, and as far as possible disinterested in your dealings – doing things for the betterment of the art of music and society rather than entirely for your own career. I think James MacMillan shows an admirably healthy attitude in his interview for this series when he says he never thought of music as a ‘career’.

What are you working on at the moment?

A piece for erhu (a 2-stringed Chinese ‘violin’) and piano for a Canadian duo.

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

Somewhere where I could experience both solitude and friendship in equal measure.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Solitude and friendship. And, more specifically, lying on a nice quiet beach somewhere with my wife and two daughters.

What is your most treasured possession?

Music.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Making music.

What is your present state of mind?

Tired, happy and just a little uneasy

Douglas Finch was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and began improvising, composing and performing on the piano from an early age with the help of his mother. He later continued studying with Winnifred Sim, Jean Broadfoot and at the University of Western Ontario with William Aide. After receiving a Masters from Juilliard in New York under Beveridge Webster, Douglas won several awards and was a finalist at the Queen Elisabeth International Piano Competition in Brussels.

After moving to London, he co-founded The Continuum Ensemble in 1994 and has collaborated in premiering many new works. He appears regularly with the ensemble at the Spitalfields and other Festivals and at the Southbank Centre, featuring composers such as Julian Anderson, Georges Aperghis, Henri Dutilleux, Charles Ives, Claude Vivier, Errollyn Wallen, Iannis Xenakis and many others.

He has composed for piano, chamber ensemble, orchestra, theatre and film and his score for the feature film ‘Painted Angels’ , was described in The Independent as ‘an extraordinary triumph of artistic will’.

Interview date: November 2013

Paul Badura-Skoda at St John’s, Smith Square

Paul Badura-Skoda (Photo @ DR)
Saturday 10th May, 2014 – St John’s, Smith Square, London
Chopin
Waltzes – A minor, Op.34/2, C sharp minor, Op.64/2, D flat, Op.64/1; Nocturne, op. posth., Four Mazurkas, op. 30, Barcarolle, op. 60
Schubert
Impromptu in B-flat D935 No. 3 ‘Rosamunde Variations’

Sonata in B-flat D960

The words “great” and “world class” are all too frequently bandied about in reviews and articles about musicians (and artists and writers too). But how does one truly define these over-used descriptions? If “greatness” comes from a life spent living with, and performing and writing about, some of the finest music ever written, forming a profound relationship with it and its composers, understanding with intimate detail its structures and nuances, then Paul Badura-Skoda is a living example of this.

Paul Badura-Skoda is a pianist I have long wanted to hear live. I was aware of him more as a respected pedagogue, writer on music and editor of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin and others. My teacher frequently refers to him, I have met pianists who have studied with him, and I have listened to some of his recordings (including his latest in which he plays Schubert’s final sonata on three different pianos) with interest and curiosity.

His concert at St John’s Smith Square was an opportunity for me and my companion for the evening (a fellow pianist) to share a unique musical experience – and one which will resonate with us for a long time to come. To attempt to “review” the playing, the pianism, the musical understanding and insight of such a master would be churlish.

Badura-Skoda created a special and intimate soundworld and atmosphere from the opening notes of the bittersweet A minor Waltz to the life-affirming closing cadence of Schubert’s final Piano Sonata, a place where generosity of spirit and good humour ruled, a place of great intimacy, as if we had been invited into his own musical salon for the evening. Of course, Paul Badura-Skoda is steeped in that particular European tradition of music-making, and his teacher, Edwin Fischer, connects him to an earlier golden age of music making and culture.

Despite his age (86), Badura-Skoda cuts a sprightly figure (compare his twinkling eyes and brisk gait with the frailer Maurizio Pollini at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in April, who is more than 10 years Badura-Skoda’s junior) and displayed an obvious pleasure in being at St John’s Smith Square. And if there were some smeared notes and uncertain rhythms, the overall effect was of a musician who has lived with this music for many years and whose knowledge and understanding allowed the music to speak for itself, free of ego and unnecessary gestures.

Before the Sonata in B flat, D960, Paul Badura-Skoda said a few words about the piece, how he regarded it as Schubert’s “farewell” (it was completed less than two months before the composer’s death in 1828), and how the sublime opening theme suggests the words of a hymn or prayer. The first movement had a spacious serenity in the main theme, and the range of colours and nuances which Badura-Skoda brought to the music shone a new light on a familiar work for me: for example, the bass trills were voiced differently each time which gave them a greater resonance and sense of foreboding, and the exposition repeat was observed. The slow movement’s ominous tread was relieved by a middle section of great warmth. The third movement bubbled with all the exuberance of a mountain stream, the darker Trio hardly interrupting the mood, while the finale had drive and energy coupled with wit and humour, despite one or two uneven moments. This was an engaging and entirely satisfying performance, which was met, deservedly, in my opinion, with a standing ovation.

Meet the Artist……Vatche Jambazian

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

I cannot pin point where the inspiration came from, I guess I was just very passionate and still am about the piano.

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

My first teacher, Edvin Alamshah, who was a former student of Arturo Michelangeli, was a huge influence in my younger days.  But I think the greatest influences are the great composers, and great music.

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

I like to think of the challenges more like journeys; however I think for most pianists the greatest challenges are communication.  Once you have the ability to communicate with your audience you have overcome one of the greatest challenges.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I haven’t recorded a CD yet but I have made many videos for YouTube and radio broadcasts. I think my favourite performances/recordings have to be the Scriabin and Janáček piano works.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

It depends on how the coffee tastes in the morning!  There is no work I think of in that way, each piece of music has a soul and its own personality which breathes like we do, and on many occasions I’ve been proven wrong with a work I thought I could play best. However, Janáček sits very closely to me and agrees with me.

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

By reading lots and lots of music and seeing what speaks to me. I never listen to recordings to make these decisions.

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

I have to say the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Verbrugghen Hall. It has lots of memories and a huge acoustic which fits my personality on stage.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?  

I absolutely adore Haydn and all of his works, and I have so much fun with him while I perform.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Really don’t have favourites, just very open/honest interpretation from many musicians young and old.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I think my most memorable was a recital where I performed lots of Galina Ustvolskaya’s chamber works. She was a student of Shostakovich.

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

My friends and colleagues will laugh at this, but I always believe you must spend more time outside your practice room, meet people, go to concerts, classic or not, drink lots of whisky and take it easy.  I am not saying you should never practice – it’s very important: however some people really lose the sight of how it really is in real life. Spending 8-9 hours in a practice room can get very lonely: how are you supposed to communicate with people on stage when you can’t do that in real life?

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am working on the complete works of Janáček to perform and record in 2015.

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

Where I am now, happy and healthy.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Where I don’t feel happy 24 hours of the day.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My piano scores

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Eating

What is your present state of mind? 

Panic (about to start teaching)

Vatche Jambazian performs works by Shostakovich, Mozart and Ustvolskaya at the 1901 Arts Club on Friday 16th May as part of the South London Concert Series. This concert is now **sold out**. Details of future South London Concert Series events here

Vatche Jambazian recently completed his BMus at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and is now based in London performing many recitals in the UK and abroad. He has been a prizewinner in many international piano competitions such as The Russian Music Piano Competition in San Jose and the Australian National Piano Award. He is a highly dedicated piano teacher who aims to bring enjoyment as well as discipline to the lessons.

Vatche has recently been appointed Ambassador for the Commonwealth Piano Foundation.

The Practice of Practising

An interesting programme broadcast on BBC Radio Three in which concert pianist Stephen Hough talks about the activity of practising, memory, how to balance perfection in practise with a sense of “letting go” in performance, and much more. With contributions from Nicola Benedetti, Joyce Di Donato, and Julian Bream. Many interesting insights from top international artists which have relevance to musicians of all levels.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03lzrsk