Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and make it your career?
I think it was the piano itself that initially inspired me to learn music. I was fortunate to live in a household with a piano, though my parents didn’t play, nor did they listen to any classical music. But I sat at the piano and played and concentrated and soaked everything up. As I went along I discovered great music and by the time I was in my mid-teens I really didn’t want to do anything else but continue discovering the world of music and sharing it with people.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Leah Horwitz – my teacher for seven intense years in Brisbane, from the age of 14. She has continued to be a mentor to me and we talk regularly about repertoire ideas, forward planning and goal-setting etc. She has been inspirational and time and time again she helps me to play better by “digging deeper” into the music and into myself to find “more to give” (her phrases).
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think the greatest challenge is the challenge that composers set for us. Trying to understand and recreate their music for new audiences is more than one life’s work. Other more mundane challenges include finding work, not becoming overwhelmed by the amount of work or by too many options, balancing practice with administrative work and other activities that feed my creativity, and keeping going on a daily basis whether or not one is motivated or inspired at that particular moment.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Possibly the performance that I’m most proud of (that has been recorded for people to hear) is the Schumann Quintet I performed with the Brentano String Quartet at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. You can watch it here:
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I think probably Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms, although I also love Bach and French repertoire. In my opinion Mozart and Schubert are the most unforgiving but are incredibly rewarding and I do hope that I play their works well too!
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I usually try to include “something old, something new” – so a combination of works that are comfortable in my repertoire with some new pieces. I usually perform a broad range of repertoire in my recitals rather than showcasing just one composer or period – although I have successfully played all-Chopin recitals which have been well-received. Sometimes an overall view is necessary and I try to fill in some gaps in my repertoire. For instance I am working on adding some French repertoire (Chabrier, Dukas, Poulenc) and am delving into the world of Scriabin. I think one of my strengths is Brahms, and so I want to start exploring his music more thoroughly. I am learning both concertos for when the opportunity arises.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
For me the venue is less important than the audience vibe and the capabilities of the piano. Of course it is nice to have a favourable acoustic, but usually what I remember most is the enthusiasm of the audience. Two recent performances that come to mind are the Two Moors Festival in Somerset, and the Bangalow Music Festival in NSW, both of which have very eager dedicated audiences – their attentiveness and enjoyment helps me to play better!
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
To perform, I would say one of the most satisfying pieces for me is the Chopin B minor Sonata. It feels like everything has been said, it is intensely personal as well as epic, and as always with Chopin it feels great to play on the instrument.
To listen to, I love Mozart. He cleanses and re-orders my brain, feeds my soul and makes me want to sing and dance (which I frequently do!). I think my favourite is the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony – it gives me faith in humanity.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I have so many musicians on my favourites list, and the list just keeps growing. If I were to pick just two of my favourite pianists they would probably be Artur Rubinstein and Geza Anda. I admire people who use music as a platform for increasing awareness about important issues, and in this instance I think Daniel Barenboim is an impressive role-model. Conductors – probably Kleiber and Bernstein, and from the string world – Kreisler. Musicians who communicate generously and joyously, and are at once true to the music and to themselves. But really there are just so many great musicians, past and present.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
My most memorable concert experience would be performing in the Leeds Town Hall with the Hallé Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder, for the final round of the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition. I played Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto and it was broadcast on BBC TV and radio.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
It has to be done for the music. If you have something to say – say it with conviction and find people who want to hear it. The usual – don’t do it unless you absolutely have to do it and you couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But at the same time, keep playing even if you can’t have a career – play for yourself for pleasure. Engage audiences.
What are you working on at the moment?
On 27th January I am playing a Wigmore Hall recital and so I am working intensively on that programme: Beethoven Two Rondos Op. 51, Sonata Op. 101, and Schumann Symphonic Etudes Op. 13.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I find happiness comes from sharing and giving – from working towards a shared goal, from recognising that we are part of a community with responsibilities to each other, not from personal gain or possessions. Perfect happiness is focussing on someone else’s happiness. Which is a hell of a lot easier said than done.
What do you enjoy doing most?
When I’m not playing the piano I love to sing and whistle and dance. I practice yoga, and within that I particularly like doing inversions (headstands, handstands) and backbends. Train travel is something I look forward to and enjoy very much – when the train is fairly quiet, that is. I like to balance time with friends with periods of solitude and silence.
Australian pianist Jayson Gillham was a finalist in the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition and a semi-finalist in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Competition