Meet the Artist……Sofia Matsagou, pianist

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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My instrument fell into my hands at the age of ten, as a present from my father. I immediately liked it and spent a lot of time practicing, attending concerts, reading books about composers, listening classical music radio stations, collecting cds… I never actually asked myself about having a career, until I reached the age where we’re asked to choose what we want to do in our lives. It just came up logically.

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

My professor, Agathe leimoni. She encouraged me to play in concerts, festivals and competitions, but also masterclasses where I met many other pianists and teachers. This was very enlightening.

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

I consider any performance a challenge in itself. It always involves lots of stress, which adds a difficulty to daily practice. Also, being able to preserve my self-confidence while facing the audience.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Perhaps the series of concerts I gave in Moscow, at the Gnessin Academy, Tchaikovsky State Conservatoire and the Scriabin Museum.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Although I don’t make this kind of judgment very often, I would say: L’isle joyeuse by Debussy, Liszt’s transcription of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor for organ and the Bach/Busoni Chaconne.

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

I play the music I like the most. Since I already have a list, I could plan concerts until I reach the age of 120! Though I’m always likely to add some pieces to it, as I listen to a lot of music.

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

As long as I have a good piano and a good acoustic, I don’t really mind. But even without that, I’m always glad to be invited to play somewhere.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

The one I like to play most is Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

As I also dance a little ballet, so I couldn’t not love this composer and his ballet classics like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. generally, I like all kind of ballet music.

If I had to choose another one, it would be Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, both listening to and playing as it is really wonderful.

Without naming any particular piece from this era, I listen to a lot of Baroque music. I must also add Prélude a l’après-midi d’un faune by Debussy and The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky (I recently discovered the four hands version of this last piece as well as a four piano version both of which I love).

Who are your favourite musicians?

Since I already mentioned some composers in the last question, I will mention some interpreters: Horowitz, Cziffra, Arrau, Cortot

Apart from classical, I also love jazz. I can listen to hours of Nina Simone (I particularly love her way of incorporating classical piano into jazz with her Bach-like improvisations), Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole in his early years, Bill Evans, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson to name but a few.

Last but not least, some musicians from Chanson française like Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I will call the jury for a joker on this one.

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

The clichés are true: Believe in yourself, don’t compare yourself with the others, enjoy what you do, and work hard. Also, you have to know how to take breaks from time to time and avoid exaggerations that can lead you to obsessive compulsive disorder.

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

Living in my “tour d’ivoire”.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It’s not something I could describe with words

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Travelling and visiting new places

Sofia makes her UK debut at the Hebden Bridge Piano Festival on Sunday 24th April in works by Scarlatti, Rameau, Bach/ Busoni, Chopin and Debussy. Further details here

Sofia Matsagou studied at the Hellenic Conservatory of Athens and at the Schola Cantorum in Paris and went on to win prizes at several international piano competitions. She has performed extensively in Greece and also in Belgium, Paris, Italy and Russia.

More about Sofia here