What is your first memory of the piano?
Playing by ear on an instrument belonging to a neighbour.
Who or what inspired you to start teaching?
My own teachers.
Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?
E. Marie Oswald (Woking) Michael Matthews, John Barstow, Kendall Taylor (RCM) Paul Badura-Skoda; Vlado Perlemuter, Louis Kentner.
Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?
Experience of the lessons of Louis Kentner and Vlado Perlemuter given to my own pupils at Yehudi Menuhin School. The writing of: Friedrich Wieck, Heinrich Neuhaus, Günter Philipp, Donald Tovey and others.
What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?
Adults understand concepts but they are set in their ways and find it difficult to change habits.
What do you expect from your students?
What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?
They are useful focuses and inducements and experiences of performing but should not be ends in themselves.
What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?
Rhythm and sound, in both cases.
What do you consider to be the best and worst aspects the job?
Very rewarding to work with dedicated students. Deadly to work to predetermined criteria.
What is your favourite music to teach? To play?
All good music – whatever the piece (if good) that we are working on – that is my favourite.
What are your thoughts on the link between performing and teaching?
When I am working on a performance or doing concerts I have more ideas for teaching. So I try always to be practising something, however busy I get.
Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why? Heinrich Neuhaus – huge general culture, telling comparisons in teaching. Great artistic concept. Alfred Cortot – ditto. Vladimir Sofronitsky – complete unselfish possession by the music. Tatyana Nikolayeva – ditto. Mariya Yudina – ditto. Edwin Fischer – ditto, plus inspiring poetic writing. Imogen Cooper – singing quality. Mitsuko Uchida – compelling focus and beauty of concept. Evgeny Kissin – perfection of gift and supreme achievement, with effortless physical aspect. Murray Perahia – focus and concentration. Stephen Kovacevich – ditto. Grigory Sokolov – ditto.
Simon Nicholls studied at the Royal College of Music with John Barstow and Kendall Taylor, winning many awards and prizes, and attended master classes by Paul Badura-Skoda in Germany. For ten years he taught the piano at the Yehudi Menuhin School, working with Louis Kentner and Vlado Perlemuter, and for twenty years was a professor at the Royal College of Music, London. He now teaches piano, accompaniment and song interpretation in Birmingham Conservatoire. He has often been a visiting artist at Dartington International Summer School, teaching improvisation, piano and chamber music.
Simon Nicholls has performed frequently at London’s major recital venues, at Snape Maltings and Dartington International Summer School, and toured and broadcast on radio and television in Britain and abroad. He has performed in the United States, including at New York’s Lincoln Center, and he has also played in the Czech Republic (Prague Spring Festival), Eire, France, Germany, Greece, Holland and India. He has recorded for Chandos Records and Carlton Classics, and written for many musical journals. Compositions by Simon Nicholls have been published by Faber Music and Bärenreiter.
Simon Nicholls’ interest in the music of Skryabin is long-standing. He has made many research visits to Moscow, and in October 2007 he gave a lecture and masterclass on Scriabin interpretation at the State Memorial Skryabin Museum, Moscow. He has had articles on Skryabin published in the U.K., America and Russia.