Meet the Artist……Ursula Oppens

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career? 

My mother was a piano teacher; my father a musicologist and piano tuner. I was far from imagining that I wanted to be a professional pianist, though. When during the one hour of career counseling I received in college it was suggested that I learn to type, I thought that I can already play the piano, and the two skills are somewhat similar.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing? 

Of course, my parents. As a child I spent every summer at the Aspen Music Festival, and heard many concerts. I was especially moved by the Juilliard String Quartet, whom I heard play the complete Beethoven Quartets, the complete Bartok, and the Carter Quartets as they were being written.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

The daily challenge is to remain positive and with focus.

Which repertoire/composers do you think you play best? 

I find it personally necessary to practice a variety of music each day. I have had wonderful experiences with composers whom I know and have had significant works written for me. I have also performed all the Beethoven piano sonatas. At the moment, some highlights of my daily practice are the very different, but both very romantic Franck Piano Quintet and Carter Night Fantasies.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season? 

They are a combination of my own thoughts and the wishes of presenters.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

In recent years, I have been asked to perform Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated to commemorate various historical anniversaries: The 40th anniversary of the Portugese “Carnation” revolution, and the 50th anniversary of the coup that resulted in the Brazilian dictatorship on the 60’s.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

In New York City these range from Carnegie Hall to the Barge on the East River

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I am always excited by whatever I perform. I love to go to operas, both those written by my friends and the greatest of all the classics, Wagner, Mozart, Verdi, etc.

Who are your favourite musicians?  

It is impossible to name all the truly exciting musicians – there are so many. Right now, I am listening to pianists from Claudio Arrau to Yuja Wang.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Always remember that performance is communication with another person. What you will say will change all the time, and that is good.


Ursula Oppens makes a rare UK appearance in Brighton on Friday 19th September, performing music by Carter, Ravel, Rzewski, Bolcom and Wuorinen. Further details and tickets 

Pianist Ursula Oppens, one of the very first artists to grasp the importance of programming traditional and contemporary works in equal measure, has won a singular place in the hearts of her public, critics, and colleagues alike. Her sterling musicianship, uncanny understanding of the composer’s artistic argument, and lifelong study of the keyboard’s resources, have placed her among the elect of performing musicians.

Ursula Oppens studied piano with her mother, the late Edith Oppens, as well as with Leonard Shure and Guido Agosti. She received her master’s degree at The Juilliard School, where she studied with Felix Galimir and Rosina Lhévinne. After 14 years as the John Evans Distinguished Professor of Music at Northwestern University, Ms. Oppens is now a Distinguished Professor on the faculty of the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. (source: Colbert Artists)

Full biography