At the Piano with Mikael Pettersson

2720374What is your first memory of the piano?

I had a plastic red toy with keys on it that looked like the keys on a piano.  I enjoyed playing on this and so my parents asked me if I would like to learn to play the piano and once I started having lessons and had my own piano I really enjoyed it.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

It was almost by chance. When I studied at Birmingham Conservatoire my landlady was also a pianist and piano teacher.  She had a request from a prospective student and luckily she forwarded it to me and I found that I liked teaching very much.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

They were all memorable and significant.  I am so grateful to them for all they taught me and for all the inspiration they gave.  In my native country Sweden Irmeline and Irma Ericsson helped me develop sight-reading skills by giving me three new pieces to learn every week (compare with three new pieces per year in the exam syllabi!).  Christina Lindwall inspired me to go into music professionally with her great musical ideas.  At the beginning of my professional studies at a music college in Sweden Anders Peterson was a wonderful teacher with very careful musical work who organised numerous concerts and study trips in Sweden and abroad for me and my fellow students, giving me a first taste of performing and inspiring me to do more.  Hans Leygraf demonstrated incomparably methodical practice techniques during a Masterclass in Darmstadt.  Gordon Fergus-Thomson provided advice on very detailed score reading.  Peter Feuchtwanger taught me a natural approach to piano playing, which I instantly admired and which has influenced my thinking of the physical aspects of performing.  He has also inspired me greatly musically and helped me always to remember the cantabile qualities of the piano playing.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

Experiencing arts in its different forms; visiting museums, art galleries, the ballet (I also work with ballet as one of my employments as a pianist at Elmhurst School for Dance) attending concerts and going to the opera are all examples of pursuits which influence both my teaching and performing, as are travelling and meeting interesting people.  It is a privilege to be able to draw on a vast number of experiences and to pass that on to students and audiences.

What do you expect from your students?

To love music.

What are your views on piano exams, festivals and competitions?

They are good sometimes as goals to work towards.  More beneficial still are masterclasses and concerts which is why I organise these regularly for my students.  Last summer I took my students to Sweden where I gave a masterclass and they then performed in a Grieg concert.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

This pursuit of beauty that piano studies constitute, which encompasses intensely intellectual, spiritual and emotional aspects.  This applies to both categories of students.

What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?

It is a wonderful advantage to be able to draw on past and present experiences of performing when teaching performance-related issues such as stage presence, stage conduct, memorising and stage fright.  Also all musical aspects of the piano teaching will be enhanced from having a performance background since every piece of music improves enormously during a public performance.  And it is also worth keeping in mind (my students point this out to me regularly) that every piano lesson is a miniature performance with all that it entails.

Tell us why you decided to develop a series of piano exercises and how do you feel these will benefit pianists?

I wanted to pass on my ideas on the physical approach to piano playing.  Following my studies with Peter Feuchtwanger, I teach my students various exercises where the focus is on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’.  So the movements, relaxation of certain muscles and tension of others are all important, while the notes in this case are almost incidental. I therefore  encourage the students not to be overly concerned with accuracy but instead to learn a new movement and degree of relaxation that can then be incorporated into the repertoire.  There is a great advantage to having this one aspect in isolation since when performing a piano work there are so many musical elements to consider.  Technique and teaching of movements at the keyboard is often neglected until the teaching becomes quite involved, by which stage bad habits have often set in and are hard to correct.  The DVD may be used to learn the exercises from scratch in which case it is paramount to try copying the movements demonstrated as closely as possible.  In the case of my own students the DVD is used as a reminder of the exercises and to support the information I give in the lessons.  Closely related to these exercises are fingerings which are chosen to encourage a particular movement when working on repertoire.  The traditional ‘five finger position’ is not present; in fact there is rarely a position but always a movement which gives much more suppleness and freedom at the keyboard.

Mikael Pettersson’s DVD of piano exercises is available to order from his website or as a download

Swedish concert pianist Mikael Pettersson obtained a B Mus (Hons) degree at Birmingham Conservatoire in the year 2000.  He has also attended  Masterclasses with Prof. Hans Leygraf and has studied with Prof. Peter Feuchtwanger.

Mikael Pettersson has taught piano for several years, mainly for the higher grades and at Diploma level and has competition prize-winners amongst his students.  He is also Head of Keyboard Studies for Undergraduate and Postgraduate students completing a Music Degree at the University of Wolverhampton.  He regularly organizes Masterclasses and concerts for pianists.

He received a Diploma in the summer 2007 for his attendance at a Masterclass at Universität Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria where he also performed in concert.  In December 2010 Mikael Pettersson performed in Florida, USA, with mezzo soprano Virginia Alonso, who has appeared in performances together with Placido Domingo.   Recently Mikael Pettersson released his second CD featuring Mendelssohn’s Lieder ohne Worte.  

In 2012 Mikael Pettersson was a semi-finalist in the International Adilia Alieva Piano Competition which took place near Geneva.

www.mikaelpettersson.net