Meet the Artist……Christina McMaster, pianist

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

I am the youngest of three girls and I always wanted to do everything my sisters did including piano – which I think they found quite annoying! I begged my Mum to allow me to have lessons too, and when I was finally allowed there was no stopping me! A few years on I remember listening to Ashkenazy play Beethoven’s ‘The Tempest’ Sonata in the car and feeling so excited about this fantastic piece and thinking how amazing it would be if I could play it one day. Forging a career as a pianist is not something I really thought about until I went to the Purcell School. Being surrounded by musicians already performing on the International circuit was slightly intimidating, but it motivated me to strive for a career as a performer.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There have been so many. More recently my mentor Joanna MacGregor has been an immensely important figure for me. Whilst at the Royal Academy of Music she taught me so much about programming, presentation, life skills, all in addition to playing the piano!  My parents have also been influential. They have been very supportive in a non-pushy way which has allowed me to find my own path and have a genuine passion and drive for what I do.

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

Maintaining balance and focus between my many musical projects, overcoming the post-concert come downs and performing Birtwistle’s Harrison’s Clocks in front of the composer!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I have just recorded my debut album Pinks & Blues which will be released later this year. It’s a mix of classical and contemporary to jazz and blues and includes music by György Ligeti, Bill Evans, Gerswhin, Rzweski, Ravel as well as two new commissions. It took me a long time to decide on the content and order but am proud of it because as well as being my first album I think it takes the listeners on an excursion of familiar and unfamiliar sounds which I hope they’ll enjoy discovering!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I feel a strong affinity to American Music of the 20th Century. The American ‘can do’ attitude resonates strongly with me. I love a challenge and that is what is often presented by these composers. Charles Ives’s music can often be extremely complex – 13 note chords for example! Ives, Henry Cowell, John Cage and others pushed boundaries, proving that we are not limited by the piano or traditional techniques.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

My concerts are often curated and informed by my interests – I like to keep adding new repertoire or presenting the old in new ways. For my next performance at St John’s Smith Square (June 25) I have programmed the Debussy Preludes interspersed with the lesser-known Ruth Crawford-Seeger Preludes for a new perspective. Other concerts coming up include an American programme with violinist Lizzie Ball, a two week residency at Dartington International Summer School performing Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine with fantastic soprano Sarah Gabriel and a Film and Piano programme – so I like to keep it varied!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

This year I performed at the Holders Season in Barbados; it was a grand outdoor venue and a beautiful place – I would definitely like to return there! I also recently performed in a private house concert in Holland Park; I loved the freedom of playing in this relaxed and intimate atmosphere, with some people sitting on the floor, others standing. Here I felt a real involvement and concentration from the audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

This changes all the time and depending on the season or even what time of day. I go through phases: recently I had a Mozart Sonata period, listening repeatedly to the complete recordings by Maria João Pires – this is good before noon and it helps to clarify my thoughts. The Britten/Pears recordings of Schubert’s Winterreise are another favourite – I would love to work with a singer on this work. I also spend a lot of time of Spotify exploring new pieces and for when I go running I definitely need something with a beat!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have so many, but to name one of them: Radu Lupu. I adore his deep and warm sound and in particular his Schumann and Brahms recordings.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Martha Argerich at the Royal Festival Hall. I was just a few seats back from the front row watching her play Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto and I could hear, feel and see everything – WOW!

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

Well, I am still learning myself, but I would say enjoy challenges, avoid imitation and explore other interests. There never seems enough time to practise at music college, but developing your character and having substance is absolutely crucial.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Practising (with a good coffee and high quality chocolate). When I first left Music College I found I had to do so much aside from practising in order to progress in my career. It was a basic yet incredible discovery for me that I am only happy if I have practised at least several hours a day. Without this I definitely notice a feeling of incompleteness and I’m probably not very pleasant to be around!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

New York. It’s a city I’ve always been drawn to – it’s a City for dreamers and big ambitions – I love that it never stops – a bit like me and I guess that’s why I am so attracted to it!

Christina is a highly innovative pianist and curator with a continually growing reputation for bold and vivacious performances.  Christina has performed extensively in major venues including at the Southbank Centre, Kings Place, Aldeburgh Festival and The Holders Season, Barbados. She has won numerous prizes including the Jacob Barnes Award, The Royal Academy Christian Carpenter Prize, The CAVATINA Chamber music trust prize and audience prize, and the audience prize in the Jacques Samuels Intercollegiate Competition.  

Christina attended the specialist music school Purcell School and achieved a first from the Royal Academy of Music in 2013, where she studied with her mentor Joanna MacGregor. Christina has continued her education and exploration of 20th Century French Music taking masterclasses with Maestro Bernard Flavigny who has a direct lineage to Debussy.

She has collaborated with a diverse mix of genres and arts, recently working with the Brodowski Quartet, violinist Lizzie Ball, rapper Tor Cesay, Director Richard Williams, actors from Central Saint Martin’s and a number of designers for London Fashion week. Christina is a strong supporter of diversity within and outside of the arts and recently founded Ensemble WOW – an organisation dedicated to promoting equality through unique and imaginative programming.  

Christina is a dedicated performer and discoverer of new music working with established composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Tansy Davies and Stephen Montague as well as emerging composers – collaborating most recently with Freya Waley-Cohen and Richard Bullen.

Christina McMaster is a 2016/17 St John’s Smith Square Young Artist