I’ve enjoyed making and listening to music for a long time, but consciously choosing the piano as a career happened much later in my early-twenties. Neither of my parents are particularly musical – it was a local piano teacher who spotted my enthusiasm during a toddler’s music class and told my mum to get me started on something. My parents took me to theatre, art exhibitions and concerts from when I was still quite small, and I quickly developed a love for the morning recitals in the Queen’s Hall as part of the Edinburgh International Festival. It’s a perfect venue for soloists, chamber music and song and I’ve heard some amazing musicians perform there, including cellist Paul Tortelier playing Happy Birthday to himself shortly before he died.
Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?
Firstly, being at music school – I went to St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh for ten years where there was a regular focus on chamber music. I loved it and explored lots of repertoire, on recorder and clarinet as well as piano. Secondly, one of my teachers – I started studying piano with Raymond Fischer while at university. When he asked me what I wanted to do, I realised my dream job was making music with other people and that the piano was the best vehicle for doing that. He gave me the confidence and push in the right direction at just the right time.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Balancing commitments and managing my time – chamber music is my raison d’etre, but I enjoy a huge mix of accompanying work, coaching and teaching. And then there’s the admin!
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
The work I’m most proud of is where there’s a great understanding and partnership with the people I’m working with. That happens regularly with my duo partner, flautist Claire Overbury – we’ve worked together for about 6 years and have a totally honest and equal working relationship. It’s brilliant. More specifically, I’ll always be proud of my final recital at RAM which featured Enesco’s 3rd violin sonata. It’s a really dense score and massively complicated in terms of ensemble, but I fell in love with it, hence choosing it. It’s a brilliant piece that reflects the composer’s Romanian heritage and is full of lively rhythms and unusual effects; so despite needing hours and hours of study, it’s fortunately very rewarding to play. (The rest of the recital was Schumann’s Liederkreis which I worked on with Gareth Malone before he became famous!)
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Anywhere with a decent piano that’s not too cold, and preferably with some friends in the audience.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I love finding repertoire that’s less well-known but really shouldn’t be. Last week, Claire and I played pieces for flute and piano by Fikret Amirov and Erwin Schulhoff – the audience hadn’t heard of the composers but we had such a great reaction, they really enjoyed them. Poulenc’s Sextuor for piano and wind is lots of fun to play. Dohnanyi’s Sextet for mixed instruments is really unusual and has so much energy and optimism – the opening sounds just like something from the soundtrack to the Harry Potter films. To listen to: the opening of the Bruch Violin Concerto, the third movement of Barber’s Violin Concerto, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Schubert’s three last piano sonatas, any Bach, any of Brahms’ violin sonatas…
Who are your favourite musicians?
I think violist Lawrence Power is the most musical performer I’ve ever heard – he has a beautiful tone and his phrasing flows so naturally. I was really impressed by Susan Tomes and the Florestan Trio and I was so glad to have heard them live before they went their separate ways; Susan’s runs of semi-quavers were impressively inventive as well as being beautifully even. I admire pianists Stephen Hough and Steven Osborne for being both totally committed and apparently (from their written blogs) also very down-to-earth people. I love the fact that Hough also paints, writes and composes. How on earth does he do it?!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Hmm. They’re usually memorable for the wrong reasons! My first ever performance was done with two severely-bandaged knees as I’d been playing football just before and had fallen over quite spectacularly. Apparently I hobbled up to the piano and played loads of wrong notes but performed with style. One of the most nerve-wracking platform experiences was page-turning for Martha Argerich and Nelson Goerner in the Edinburgh Festival last year.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
It’s hard work but if you love it, it’s worth it. Play pieces you really believe in.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Performing around the UK with regular chamber music partners.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Good food, good company and a good practice/rehearsal session – perhaps not all at the same time.
Tuesday 12th April 2016, The Female Persona at The Forge, Camden, London NW1, with Amalie Trio. Further information
Scottish pianist Elspeth Wyllie specialises in accompaniment and chamber music. Based in London, she regularly works with musicians from major UK orchestras and with singers from Glyndebourne, Garsington and Opera Holland Park.
Elspeth has worked with the BBC Symphony Chorus, the National Children’s Choir, animateur Gareth Malone and Southbank Sinfonia. She has recorded film soundtracks at Abbey Road, Air and Dean Street studios, and sing‐along tracks for Novello publications. With the Orsino Ensemble as ensemble-in-residence at St George’s Bloomsbury, performances include Poulenc’s Sextuor for piano and wind and Janacek’s Concertino.
She has been working with flautist Claire Overbury as the Southbank Duo since 2007, performing in established London venues and throughout the UK. They were shortlisted for the Park Lane Group 2011 Concert Series and have recently been joined by cellist Sophie Rivlin. The trio’s first series of performances in 2011 was very well-received and culminated in a sell-out concert at Haddington Concert Society. Click here to visit the ensemble’s website.
Elspeth was a pupil at St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh, before going on to read music at the University of Oxford where she studied piano with Professor Raymond Fischer. Her training continued at the Royal Academy of Music with a Postgraduate Diploma in Performance, specialising in piano accompaniment under teachers Andrew West and Colin Stone. She has had masterclasses with Malcolm Martineau, Julius Drake and Clifford Benson as well as playing for various masterclasses, including with Tasmin Little and James Bowman.
Elspeth was supported in her studies by the Oldhurst Charitable Trust and won various prizes while at RAM, including the Vivien Langrish Prize, Evelyn German Prize and J E Reckitt Award.