Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?
I’m not sure. I wanted to be a dancer but where I was born it wasn’t easy. Then a friend of mine started having piano lessons and I became interested and wanted to take it up. My first teacher was a Polish Jew. She had her concentration camp number tattooed on her arm. My father was musical and my brother is a really good blues and rock guitarist so I guess it was in my blood.
Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?
Besides my teachers, my influences are varied. From visual artists to poets and dancers as well as composers and colleagues and friends.
Someone always close to my heart is Federico Mompou, the great Catalan composer. I love Curzon’s playing as well as Alicia de Larrocha who inspired me to study the great Spanish masters Albeniz , Granados and Falla. I admire Arrau’s honesty, Richter’s melancholy and Brendel’s intellect and scholarship and also like Schiff’s Mozart and and Gould’s originality and personal integrity. But I seldom go to concerts now.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Playing well and improving is a perpetual challenge. To keep going is sometimes a challenge. Recording under less-than-ideal circumstances with very limited studio time can be a bit of a challenge too. Dealing with rejection. Working with mediocre producers can also be a bit hairy.
Playing the Tavener piece was a big challenge because it was John’s first piano piece in many years and the stakes and expectations were high. I wanted people to see how great the piece was and not let John down.
What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?
Company…..colour, sharing, being enveloped and held by a group of musicians can carry one far afield.
Which recordings are you most proud of?
My first recording including the premiere of Sir John Taveners ‘Ypakoe’, which he wrote for me and my recording of Soler Keyboard Sonatas.
Do you have a favourite concert venue?
I like the Southbank Centre.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Mmmmmm, quite a few colleagues doing their own thing at their own pace whilst juggling mountains…..
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Many, but one that springs to mind was playing Night in the Gardens of Spain with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Caracas and opening for the wonderful Cuban pianist Bebo Valdez and El Cigala at the Royal Festival Hall.
What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?
To play early music is a favourite. When I first went to Dartington I met the Dufay Collective and forged a strong friendship with singer Vivien Ellis which fostered my love for this repertoire. I also listen to world and folk including flamenco which was a favourite of my father’s. To play, many but if I had to single out something it would be Mompou.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?
It’s a bit like being a new parent. Trust your intuition and look at your child and be guided by her. Don’t listen to just anyone. Explore, be inquisitive, work, work and work some more. Follow your own path. Hold on to your integrity and to who you are. Choose a teacher and be steadfast. You know the saying: when one is ready the teacher appears.
What are you working on at the moment?
Bach Inventions and inventions by contemporary composers who explored the form for my concert at Sutton House. Latin music with percussionist Adriano Adewale.
What is your most treasured possession?
My daughter. My body.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Having breakfast in bed, playing and swimming with my daughter, doing yoga and having a laugh with friends.
Elena Riu performs at Sutton House, Hackney, east London on Sunday 18th November with the debut of “Inventions”, a fascinating programme juxtaposing Bach’s Inventions with Inventions by contemporary composers including Ligeti, Gubaidulina, Finch and Shchedrin. Further details and tickets here.
Born and bred in El Sistema, Elena’s infectious enthusiasm for “boundary- jumping” (Time Out), and for bringing new music to a wider audience has brought her accolades all over the world.
A leading exponent of the Hispano-American, her CD of Sonatas by Soler was released to great acclaim by the Spanish label Ensayo. She is a regular visitor to the Festival Latinoamericano.
Elena has commissioned, edited, published, performed and recorded over 40 new works giving countless world premieres including Sir John Tavener’s “Ypakoe”, written especially for her. Elena’s efforts on behalf of new music and as a keen educationalist led to the publication by Boosey & Hawkes of ‘Salsa Nueva’ in 2006 – now on its second run and in 2009 ‘Elena Riu’s R’n’B Collection’ and ‘Out of the Blues’ CD.
Elena has toured extensively and has performed in all major concert halls in the UK and abroad.
An eclectic artist, Elena has pioneered collaborative work. She was the brain behind the sell-out multicultural Spanish Plus Series at the SBC and re-launched their Childrens and Families series. Her most recent collaboration: The Adventures of Tom Thumb was awarded a coveted Fringe First Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Riu studied at Trinity College of Music in London with Joseph Weingarten where she won many prizes ands competitions. She was also a student of Neil Immelman, Maria Curcio and Roger Vignoles. Later, Elena won a scholarship from to travel to Paris for advanced tuition from Vlado Perlemuter in Paris.