Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
It was my mother who first took me off to piano lessons age five although I can’t really say it was a particular calling at that age – I’m fairly sure I was going to be Prime Minister. It was not until I was a bit older and not really practising enough that my mum made me sign a contract promising that I would practise every day or the piano and the lessons would be gone! It was only then that I began to realise just what an important part of my life music was and became determined to dedicate myself to it further. Actually pursuing a career in music was never a particular ambition, however, until age 16 I was on the Chetham’s Piano Summer School and one of the professors simply said ‘why are you not here?’. Well, I didn’t have an answer so the next year I enrolled as a student and haven’t looked back since!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I’ve been so lucky with my piano teachers over the years and they have all been hugely influential, but the person who really believed in my abilities as a pianist and really challenged me to be the best I could be, was John Railton. John was an astonishing man – with only one arm he managed to have a successful career as a pianist and conductor, recording for the BBC, conducting at the major concert halls and being the central point of many different communities music making. He had a total disregard for potential obstacles and just believed firmly that I would be a pianist – I really wouldn’t be here without him!
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The biggest challenge for me is performance anxiety – I wouldn’t say I get crippling nerves but I have found it frustrating sometimes when I can’t achieve the same focus on the music because my mind is worrying about being worried! The challenge is to find techniques to control any anxiety and transform it from something destructive into a positive energy. As an accompanist I have also had to become very time efficient. Our job often involves learning lots of repertoire in very short periods of time and the ability to practise efficiently without getting injured is paramount.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I recently launched the Devon Song Festival and I was so pleased with our inaugural concert. There was an unusual amount of pressure in organising the event, trying to keep the audience happy and performing but it went brilliantly and our reception was so enthusiastic. I’m so thrilled it was success and we can expand the festival next year.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I definitely feel most at home in the song repertoire, specifically German lieder and English song though I also love the sound world of cello and piano sonatas and am beginning to explore this further. I love playing with singers because I am able to find a deeper connection to the music when text is set. I rarely perform as a solo pianist these days but when I do it’s nearly always Russian: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev being particular favourites!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Last year I played at the Wigmore Hall for the first time and I absolutely loved it. It’s such an intimate space and from the piano it feels perfect as a hall for song. There is incredible clarity in the acoustic and you can really challenge yourself as to how quiet you can play and what extremes of articulation you can reach. It of course helps that the piano is absolutely beautiful too!
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
This year I’ve been working on Stephen Hough’s ‘Other Love Songs’ (for a performance at Wigmore in May 2016) and it is just the most brilliant cycle. It was written as a companion piece for the Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes and really cleverly picks up on themes from the original work but set to a wonderful selection of texts covering all forms of love and emotions from the heart-breaking to the comic. My personal highlight in the performance comes near the end where the pianists get to join in singing and my part is mostly just hitting the piano!
Who are your favourite musicians?
I’m lucky enough to be taught by one of my favourite musicians, Eugene Asti. I have huge admiration for his attention to detail and respect for the score and the history of every work he plays. Importantly it is not only theoretical but you can really hear all that detail in his playing and it brings the music to life amazingly. Another is Iain Burnside, his playing is so robust and clear and I find his recordings of English song especially moving in their simplicity.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I suppose as I’m still a student I would consider myself to be still aspiring! But I definitely think all young musicians need to think about more than just practise and performing. I’ve been working with Alisdair Hogarth recently and he has shown me the importance of being savvy when it comes to self-promotion and the commercial side of music making. He suggested that we should be spending as much time promoting performances and developing our career as we do practising. Whilst I can’t quite bring myself to do that just yet, I can see that when I leave music college, working hard to find performances and creating appealing programmes will be just as important as working on technique!
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In ten years’ time I would like to be living in London enjoying a fledgling career as a song accompanist and working as a broadcaster for Radio 3. Basically, I would like to follow in the footsteps of Iain Burnside!
Originally from Devon, Natalie Burch initially studied with John Railton before moving to Manchester to study solo piano with Peter Lawson at Chetham’s School of Music. In 2014 she graduated with first class honors from King’s College London where she studied musicology and took lessons at the Royal Academy of Music with Daniel-Ben Pienaar and Andrew West. Natalie is currently studying for a masters in accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama under the tutelage of Eugene Asti and Andrew West.
Recent and future highlights include performing at the Wigmore Hall alongside Alisdair Hogarth and the Prince Consort, a new commission for the Leeds Lieder festival, rehearsal pianist for Tchaikowsky ‘Rococo Variations’ with Guy Johnston, a recital for the Elgar Society and a number of concerts and masterclasses as resident pianist for Opera Prelude.
Read more about Natalie here