Tag Archives: pianist

Searching for the real Beethoven – Concerto with Leif Ove Andsnes

Acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has been spending a lot of time with Beethoven: four years in fact, as Andsnes has journeyed physically and metaphorically through the five piano concerti to understand and interpret one of the greatest sets of works for piano ever written. This extraordinary journey ended, perhaps appropriately, at this year’s Proms, the greatest festival of classical music on the planet, where Andsnes performed to a packed Royal Albert Hall.

Along the way, Andsnes has been followed by award-winning film-maker Phil Grabsky and his Seventh Art team, and the result is a remarkably absorbing, insightful and beautifully-crafted portrait of both pianist and music. Following the chronology of the five concerti, we hear directly from this articulate and intelligent musician as he speaks honestly and humbly about the unique characteristics of each concerto, the development of Beethoven’s artistic vision, and his personal connection with this music. His decision to devote four years of his life to one single composer, and specifically the five piano concerti, is clearly one he relishes and he speaks of his special relationship with the music of Beethoven, which developed when he was still a young performer. We see Andsnes working with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (with whom he has also recorded these works), practising at home and interacting with other musicians, including the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, as well as friends, colleagues and family. These interactions are mirrored by glimpses, though Beethoven’s letters, of the relationship between the composer and his world. Detailed footage from the concerts in Prague forms the main structure of the film, offering the viewer wonderful shots of both pianist and orchestral musicians at work, as well as a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of a busy international performing and recording artist.

Part composer biography, part personal diary, this intelligent and accessible film is a must for anyone who loves this music, or who has enjoyed Andsnes in concert or on disc. The film is released on 7th September and is being screened at selected cinemas across the UK (details of screenings here). View a trailer of the film:

Director Phil Grabsky says “I knew this exclusive journey with Leif Ove would allow me access to great performance – but I had no idea it would be this great. These became the best reviewed concerts of the past few years and I was on stage to record them. Even more importantly the music and Leif Ove’s intelligent and accessible insight creates a staggeringly interesting new biography of arguably the greatest composer of all time. (source: Seventh Art press release).

Meet the Artist……Tania Stavreva, pianist

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

I started to play the piano at a very early age (I was 4 years old). I can’t remember exact details but my parents were telling me that every time I saw a piano, I always wanted to play on it. It was even hard to pull me out of it once I started playing. Then they decided to buy me a real piano at home. My father was a professional musician, a teacher and a child prodigy. His name was Georgi Stavrev. He played the violin, the guitar and his big dream later was to be a symphony conductor but he got very sick. I remember listening to classical music at home all the time (especially Brahms, Beethoven, Bach) and always playing the piano. Sometimes my dad would play The Beatles, Queen, Aretha Franklin and jazz but it was mostly classical music that I was surrounded by at home and at school. Music was just a part of my life and I was born at the right musical family where I was lucky to have my parents support to pursue music as a career from early age. There was music at home, music at school, I was going all the time to the school’s concerts, the festivals concerts and the local Symphony concerts. I was in an intensive professional music program for children since the age of 4. When my parents moved to Plovdiv two years later, I started working with the renowned pedagogue Mrs. Rositsa Ivancheva at the National Music School “Dobrin Petkov”. She is a major influence and she was my piano teacher for 13 years. During my last 3-4 years of music school, I started lessons also with Prof. Krassimir Gatev at the National Conservatory in Sofia (while studying in Plovdiv with Mrs. Ivancheva). I miss both of these incredible teachers because they left the world just few years ago…

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

Important influences from the past: growing up I was very inspired to listen to the interpretations of Horowitz, Richter, Gilels, Pogorelich, Van Cliburn, and Rubinstein. They all have influenced my musical life for years and here is an example how: after hearing Scriabin’s 3rd Sonata (performed by Horowitz) I immediately got inspired to learn it. I had big success with it at concerts and competitions. Later Horowitz inspired me to learn also Vers la Flamme and the Barber Sonata (my recordings of these works are all on YouTube).

New influences: 1) working with new composers (Mason Bates, Gil Shohat, Vasil Kazandjiev, Carl Vine, Penka Kouneva, Nikolai Kapustin etc.) – what is amazing about this, is that there are not that many recordings of these composers’ works. Often, there are even no recordings at all – which means that I have to learn the work on my own (can’t listen to another pianist to get inspired). This is a direction I would like to continue – to create from my inner self rather than get inspired by somebody else’s interpretation. 2) Contemporary pianists: I’ve had the pleasure to work with and share musical ideas with pianists such as Daniel Pollack and Frederick Chiu, whose unique program “Deeper Performance Studies” is a major influence on my musical life and career.

Acting: It might sound strange but acting had an important influence on me too. During my time in Bulgaria I also had 5 years of private acting training. I couldn’t do both – theater school and music school so I was taking acting lessons only privately and secretly (my parents didn’t allow me to study acting but I decided to do it anyway lol). Acting opened a special door in me as an artist and it helped me even further with music – being able to perform with imagination, to “speak”/connect to the audience, to transform into a different character depending on which composer/piece I am working on. These are classes musicians don’t learn at music conservatories and they help very much with interpretation and stage presence. In Bulgaria I was trained by the Stanislavski’s system and I am a similar performer when it comes to my piano works – I get very emotionally involved in the content. I feel that all the arts are connected within each other. They are like different languages we would like to learn or explore but only one is our mother language and in my case it is music.

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

Finances. When I first moved to the USA it was very difficult learning how to support myself, to rely on myself, to take care of myself all by myself. I was only 18 or 19 years old. I didn’t know anybody when I first moved to Boston, I wasn’t used to the language too. I had $20 cash in my pocket, two suitcases, a full scholarship and lots of dreams. The full scholarship covered my tuition and school fees but I had to work the max hours possible in order to pay by myself for rent/dorm, living expenses, etc. There was a law that freshman must live on campus during the 1st year. I wasn’t informed about it while in Bulgaria. I found out about it when I arrived. International students on a student visa F-1 were allowed to work only on campus, no more than 20h per week for only $8h. Imagine if this is really enough to pay $1500 per month for dorm required by the school (basically 3 girls in one room) without living expenses and if that would allow the needed time to focus on practice, studies, go to classes, etc. The stress was incredible! To keep long story short – my college years were some of the most difficult times ever in my life where I faced some serious challenges.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Recordings: My upcoming debut album titled “Rhythmic Movement” to be released this coming fall, depending on finances. It features music by Bulgarian composers Pancho and Alexander Vladigerov, Mason Bates, Ginastera, Kapustin and I composed 2 works as well. A lot of the pieces on the program for July 25th at the 1901 Arts Club are also on the album.

Performances: it’s hard to point just one. I would say probably my Carnegie Hall/Weil debut. Harris Goldsmith was one of the critics reviewing the concert and this debut basically was the start of a real career. Another performance I will never forget was a multimedia at a modern space in NYC featuring music, live body painting and photography. I like to experiment with the idea of synesthesia and connect my art to other artists work.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

The ones that I practice the most! Also the ones that I’m spiritually connected to and the ones I have something meaningful and something special to say. I also believe that music (art in general) is a reflection on personal life and that’s one of the reasons my programs are very unique. The program on July 25th features works that are very close to my hearth. Each piece is very special and very meaningful to me.

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

My repertoire ranges from Baroque to Contemporary. Sometimes concert presenters would ask me to play anything I would like to put on a program but sometimes they would specify if they have any specific preferences. For example when I performed at the French Cultural Center, the entire program had to focus on featuring French and French influenced composers. When I performed at the Bulgarian Center in New England, I performed works by all Bulgarian classical composers. New music concert series require all contemporary composers programs and other presenters prefer more traditional (Bach, Beethoven, Chopin) type of programs and more well-known composers.

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

In New York: I just recently performed at the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York – a beautiful and intimate concert venue and a gallery in West Village. I love the area (West Village in Manhattan), I also love art (the fact that it is a gallery) and that the setting is intimate (it allows a closer connection with the audience). There is a very good energy about the space and location and I just feel excited and comfortable performing there.

In Bulgaria: I was born in Sofia but my hometown is Plovdiv. There is a very unique amphitheater from Roman times in the center of the city that in the summer features film nights, concerts, dance performances, operas, etc. This would be a very magical place to perform – under the starts! The view from there is amazing too. I’ve never seen a piano on that stage but maybe one day soon… I started dreaming already

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

To perform: Right now I’m really into Schumann, I’m working on the piano concerto. Last month I was into Vladigerov. My current favorite pieces are the ones on the program for July 25th at the 1901 Arts Club but I assure you that I’m going to have more new favorites soon since I keep searching for new inspirations all the time :)

To listen to: I love “Gaspard de la nuit” (performed by Pogorelich), Scriabin’s 5th sonata (performed by Horiwitz), Beethoven – “Appasionata” (performed by Richter), Brahms – the 1st Piano Concerto (performed by Claudio Arrau), Prokofiev – the 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, works by Bach (especially when Glenn Gould performs them), Sonata for Violin and Piano (by composer Milcho Leviev). I love listening to orchestral music too: Daphne’s Cloe, Stravinsky – Firebird, Mason Bates – Alrernative energy. I also enjoy listening to jazz (Bill Evans, Miles Davis), some rock (a lot of British bands)

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Deceased favorite musicians: Bach, Richter, Horowitz, Gilels, Claudio Abbado, Evgeny Mravinsky, Rubinstein, Ginastera, Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, Anton Dikov, Krassimir Gatev, Maria Callas, Freddie Mercury,

Living/contemporary favorite musicians: Joshua Bell, Keith Lockhart, Ricardo Mutti, Mason Bates, Vasil Kazandjiev, Yo-Yo Ma, Frederic Chiu, Daniel Pollack, Evgeny Kissin, Martha Argerich, Penka Kuneva, Will Calhoun, Matthew Bellamy,

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Concert Hall: the Grammy Museum Auditorium (Clive Davis Theater) – I was a part of a great mix of artists and musical genres. I loved the red curtains at the back and the lightning.

Rock club: probably when I opened for Amanda Palmer at the Webster Hall in NYC. This is memorable since I got to play Ginastra in a rock club introducing the composer and a movement from his 1st sonata to several hundred fans of Amanda’s that never knew that classical music could sound like that. :D A lot of my friends from school were telling me that I was crazy and that this could affect my good reputation. It was fun. It’s a different type of energy on such stage. I like making classical music more accessible to untraditional audiences as well. Did you know that the British band ELP arranged the “Toccata” from the piano concerto by Ginastera and played it for Ginastera? He loved it and he said that this is how his music should be played

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

To be present in life and also when they perform on stage, to be very strong, not to be afraid to take risks and experiment with new ideas, to take a good care of themselves (eat well, sleep well, exercise, meditate, stay healthy), to know what they want and from there to know what they give and why, to perform live as much as possible, to stay always inspired and motivated, to never give up, even when they face difficulties.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

To travel the world while living in the present moment

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being present. You can tell that I am into meditation. Often the things we want are not the things that make us happy, even when we get what we want. There is something called “the wanting mind” that will never stop wanting no matter what we get. I feel happy the most when I do something to make somebody feel happy. I get happiness when I give happiness. Actually, when I give, sometimes I get even more than I expected.

What is your most treasured possession?

We don’t owe anything forever. We temporarily have things and people. We are even temporarily in our bodies. Greatest values in my life are my dearest friends, being surrounded by people who care about me and love me and people who made a difference in my life. But I don’t owe them, I’m just lucky to have them in my life…

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being on stage, collaborating with amazing artists, musicians, creating and sharing

Tania Stavreva performs in London at the 1901 Arts Club, 7 Exton Street, London SE1, on Saturday 25th July. The concert includes the UK premiere of her ‘Rhythmic Movement in 7/8’ as well as premieres of works by other composers. Further details and tickets here

More information about Tania here

Meet the Artist……Shai Wosner, pianist

(Photograph by Marco Borggreve)


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

My family owned a piano but no one was playing it. I was somehow intrigued by it and began to pick out all kinds of cheesy radio tunes and later tried to harmonize them. The piano is a very friendly instrument if you are 5 years old and eager to make a sound, much more so than the violin which makes you practically languish for months until anything more than a scratch is heard. But more than that, I particularly remember how gloriously rewarding it felt to be able to add my own crude chords to those tunes and to literally touch the magic that is melody and accompaniment.                                                                                                                          

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

I was very lucky to have a rich musical education from a very early age and the opportunity to study not only piano but also composition and improvisation since I was about 9 had a big influence, I feel, on the way music seemed to me. I would like to think that it enabled me to look at music also through the eyes of the composer and not only from the angle of the performer.

But I was also emotionally affected a lot by the life stories of the great composers, particularly Mozart (Amadeus had just come out as a movie and I went to see it 3 times! At the part where they sing the finale of The Abduction from the Seraglio I completely forgot I was at the movies and started applauding vigorously – I can still remember all those heads turning back at me…) and Beethoven (a dog-eared copy of a book on the lives of composers included a heart-wrenching account of the miseries of his childhood which left me devastated).

Later on, it was mostly recordings that I listened to endlessly as well as a few unforgettable concerts I was lucky enough to be taken to, that made me feel that music was an inseparable part of who I am.

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

The greatest challenge for any performer is to reach the feeling that he or she was able to bring across exactly what they see and feel in the piece and that the audience has been there with them in it throughout. The second greatest challenge is to persist in this quest without being distracted or discouraged by the more mundane aspects of the music business, which are inescapable in their own way.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

The performances that make me feel most satisfied are the ones where I felt as if (and I repeat, as if!) I was creating the piece as it goes along. Doesn’t happen too often, unfortunately but that’s the goal. As for recordings, I don’t really listen to my own recordings after they are finished because one’s views of pieces naturally changes with time and, of course, once a recording is done, it’s done…

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I try to avoid seeing works I play this way, because the ones I feel closest to also tend to be ones you spend a lifetime with and never cease to study. But in recent years, I have gravitated towards Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to a certain extent.

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

I try to start with a main piece that I feel an uncontrollable urge to learn and then see what could go with it in a way that would either illuminate it in an interesting way or that would provide an intriguing contrast to it. I also try to keep a healthy mix of new and less new pieces, as much as possible.

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

There isn’t a single one, but of course there are some that immediately come to mind, with very special acoustics and atmosphere, such as Wigmore Hall in London, to pick a famous example. But also places like Sala di Notari in Perugia, Italy – which is not a full-time concert hall but is absolutely ravishing.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I don’t get to listen to music nearly as much as I would like, but when I do I am always in the mood for one of the Mozart da Ponte operas, for example. But there are many others.

Who are your favourite musicians?

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a child growing up in Israel, one of the concerts that really left a mark was a recital by Radu Lupu which felt like a transformative experience in real time. Another was the first time I heard the Brahms D Minor Piano Concerto. I actually don’t remember the circumstances at all, but I vividly recall the terrifying bang of the timpani and horns in the very beginning and the overall impression that the opening tutti made on me, as if I was being let into the darker realms of music for the very first time.

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

That what we think we are doing is often perceived very differently to outside listeners and that learning how to listen that way to yourself while you are playing is single most important thing any musician can ever strive to accomplish.

What are you working on at the moment?

More Schubert, as well as Haydn (one of the pieces is subtitled “It takes Eight to sterilize a Sow”…), some Mozart, some Ligeti…


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




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:



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:




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).




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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

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?


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