Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
I owe everything really to Charlie and Ciss Hammond, who were our next-door neighbours when I was a toddler in Kent; they had an upright piano on which I used to fiddle around. Although I don’t come from a musical background it must have been apparent to my family that I was musically inclined very early on. I was too young to remember much about it, but my guess is that it was exactly the same instinct which makes us learn language as children. I was extremely fortunate that my first teacher, Dr Jennie Coleman currently of Dunedin, was beyond excellent and gave me a very solid foundation at a very early age.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Originally I had intended to be a violinist. At that time Yehudi Menuhin was it! I think the experience of having been a good string player has shaped my way with the piano.
Later on I hero-worshipped (and still do) Sviatoslav Richter and I am lucky enough to have been one of the few of my generation to have heard him live outside of Russia, an experience I shall never forget. No recordings represent what I heard on those evenings.
As I get older two figures return to my work over and over again; if I face a thorny technical problem or one of those little niggles where the head contradicts the heart I will ask, “what would Graham Fitch or Peter Feuchtwanger recommend?”. I believe the advice of these two men will always be a guiding light.
Being a pianist is less about playing the piano than it is about being a human being. The numerous extra-musical things which have made me who I am have also made me the artist I am. A musician can only express what they are and what they know.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I’m in my early forties and still a musician – that is challenge enough.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
My complete Faure Nocturnes. I recorded it in tremendously difficult emotional conditions. My whole heart is in it and it is the recording I feel most accurately mirrors my inner being.
Although I move forward from past stuff quickly, I will always take pride in my Liszt and Erard project. The concert at the Wigmore was a definite high point in my career and I can still bear to listen to the CDs, which is unusual for me. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_wSsz-K8Cg)
Which particular works do you think you play best?
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I am a Gemini and my mind is always jumping from place to place, this has given me a very large repertoire so my choices are more often than not subject to passing whim.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Give me a piano that works and people who want to listen and I will play.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
This changes by the hour though I always seem to return to Schubert and Liszt who I think of as artistic brothers. Last year I subjected my home village of Brenchley to the entire first book of the Frescobaldi Toccatas, which I was in love with at the time – the following week I performed Liszt. I have a hungry mind and like not only to know the music posterity calls great, but the music around it.
Mostly I listen to music other than piano. I love the Organ and wish I were clever enough to play it well. I listen to the Symphonic repertoire most and lately I have been much impressed by the Symphonies and Cantatas of Sergei Tanayev.
I listen to the Monteverdi Vespers every Christmas and I love them.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I favour different artists for different qualities. Some because they resonate with my nature, others because they challenge my nature. For example, I have long loved Ignaz Friedman, and there is something in his improvisatory streak that I recognise in myself. On the other hand, Daniel Barenboim, a pianist who couldn’t sound more different from me in many ways, fascinates me. The tone production is extraordinarily concentrated. I can’t get enough of his late Beethoven at the moment. I have worn out Stephen Hough’s CDs of the Saint-Saëns Concertos and I’ve lately very much enjoyed listening to Maria Joao Pires play Chopin with unusual depth. I just bought a splendid recording of Bart van Oort playing Field and Chopin Nocturnes on original pianos with highly original extemporisations. I could carry on…there are so many of us! But what is amazing is that we all have something totally different to say.
I can’t not mention Ingrid Haebler – hardly anyone I know has heard her Schubert Sonatas yet it is some of the most cultivated music making I have ever heard.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
One in a London hotel where a leg fell off the piano.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Follow your own instincts at all times. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Know your audience – all of them – and always remember that music is a birthright not a luxury. Never forget that we are the luckiest people alive; our job is our hobby – however difficult a life in music gets, and at times it really, really does – never lose sight of how much you love your art.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In front of a piano
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Dvorak in the bath by candlelight…
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you enjoy doing most?
Outside of music, running
What is your present state of mind?