Meet the Artist……Kathryn Stott, pianist

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(photo Nikolaj Lund)

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

I’m not sure I was particularly inspired by anyone at the age of 5, but we had an upright piano in the house as my mother gave piano lessons to little ones after her day job. I don’t remember she pushed me to start but I was easily drawn to the instrument and picked up the basics pretty quickly. I had no wish to sit there for hours on end, so I think my saving grace was being able to read music quickly and get on with whizzing through my little book! I’ve never felt that I made a conscious decision to pursue a career in music. I went to the Yehudi Menuhin School at the age of 8 and it just naturally led to studies at the Royal College of Music – actually I never felt there was a choice NOT to continue!

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

Although my lessons were infrequent with Vlado Perlemuter, he did influence me a lot in the way he approached clarity and intensity of sound. Nadia Boulanger influenced my ears to be as wide open as is humanly possible but the teacher who actually had the most profound influence, was Kendall Taylor who I studied with for 4 years at the Royal College of Music. He basically put me together after I had become very fragmented and most important, was the first person who believed in me. I’ve known Yo-Yo Ma for all of my adult life (and worked with him for 31 years) and without doubt he has influenced me tremendously, both as a pianist and a person.

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

I’ve had a number of challenges along the way. Perhaps the greatest was balancing being a mother and trying to maintain a focus on having a career which often took me away from home. My other great challenge was to accept I didn’t really like performing from memory and just deal with the fact I prefer using the score. I’ve now been doing that for about 20 years. I remember a promoter told me the critics would shoot me after I gave my first full recital using the score. It appears I’m still here.

You’re performing in the inaugural London Piano Festival in October – tell us about your programme?

I initially thought it would be a good moment to perform the Dutilleux Sonata again – a piece I absolutely love. I performed it for a whole season 10 years ago but then it disappeared from my repertoire until I recorded it for BIS 2 years ago. Then of course comes the question of what to perform with it. Somehow I couldn’t escape the idea of F sharp and now here we are with music by Ravel, Messiaen and Fauré. I’m often fascinated by keys and why music sounds the way it does because a composer chose a particular key. I think it will be interesting to explore the contrasts of F-sharp for an hour. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I don’t particularly dwell on whether I’m proud of something or not so there are probably performances which went especially well which I’ve totally forgotten about. I think I’m proud of the fact that I performed Rachmaninov’s 4th Concerto for the first time only a few years ago. As I get older, adding works such as this seem a bigger mountain than when I was younger, but I would have been gutted to get to the end of the performing road and never have played it…what a piece! Recordings – I’d probably have to say my complete Fauré for Hyperion. Not because I think it’s better than anything else I’ve done but it was such a beautiful labour of love to learn the complete works. I know I would play everything differently now but that’s how these things go. I don’t listen to my recordings – that’s for other people to do.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I think there are certain pieces I perform better now simply because I’ve had some life experiences which have definitely affected how I express myself. For example I feel I now play the Britten Concerto in a way which makes much more sense than when I was younger – same with works by Shostakovich. I have no idea really – my interest in repertoire is vast so sometimes it’s good to explore even if I don’t think it’s for me.

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

It depends on the season and what is generally going on. I always have a lot of chamber music in my season, so as that repertoire is not necessarily determined by me, I might decide my own recital repertoire according to other things in place. Concertos I don’t play as often and it’s always been rare to dictate repertoire. Then of course, there are festivals where you might have a million things to play in a short space of time. I try to think how I’m going to be able to prepare everything time wise and so some choices are made on that. It goes without saying that I’ve programmed or hinted strongly I want to play a certain piece just simply because I have to play it!

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

I don’t have one favourite but on the list would be Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for its beauty and history, the Concert Hall in Luzern for being contemporary but warm and Symphony Hall in Boston for its acoustic, relationship to audience and wood floor (stage) which tells a thousand stories. I generally dislike very high stages so even a great hall where I’m too far from the audience is not in my top ten.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

No favourites – depends what day it is. I love silence more and more but I love listening to Symphonic Music, Opera, Lieder –rarely piano music just for pleasure

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I don’t have favourites but I’m currently enjoying listening to Philippe Jaroussky.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

If you mean me performing then performing at the Hollywood Bowl with Yo-Yo and lots of lovely, wonderful Brazilian musicians. I remember we all held hands to take a bow and I said to guitarist Sergio Assad ‘remember where we are’. He knew what I meant. It was a happy evening for us all in an iconic venue. If the experience is me sitting in the audience – I’ve just been to my first Wagner Ring Cycle performed by Opera North. Truly memorable.

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

I always think it’s important for young musicians to find their own voice and I often discuss the concept of being true to ones self, to think about why they want to be part of the music profession and to try to balance the wishes of a composer with what they have to say as an individual. Learning to tell stories via their instruments is what I’m interested in and most important, I do like to stress we all mess up and performances are not ruined thanks to some wrong notes. In the end, I hope to help them be creative, independent, courageous and above all curious.

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

Anywhere where I feel to be alive and well

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

I don’t think it exists

What is your most treasured possession? 

My photo albums – I’m very nostalgic

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Walking in the countryside with my dog, Archie

What is your present state of mind? 

Always lots going on!

Kathryn Stott performs music in F-sharp by Fauré, Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleux as part of the inaugural London Piano Festival at Kings Place on Saturday 8 October.

Further information here www.londonpianofestival.com

www.kathrynstott.com