Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
No one. My sister 10 years my senior played the piano so I followed in her footsteps, and it sort of developed from there. I did already realise when I was quite young that music would play a huge part of my life.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I was fortunate enough to earn a place at the Yehudi Menuhin School and there teachers came and went, but were many of Yehudi’s friends and colleagues. Amongst them was the great Nadia Boulanger who gave classes when I was a student there, and Vlado Perlemuter who inspired my love for Ravel, as did the even more elderly Marcel Ciampi, my love of Debussy.
You are performing in the London Piano Festival this October – tell us more about this?
This is my first appearance at the Festival and I am looking forward to it immensely. One of the highlights for me is the world premiere of Kevin Volans’s piece L’Africaine for Piano solo. I have known Kevin for years but this is the first piece I am performing by him. The programme will also comprise Ravel’s great set of 5 pieces Miroirs, as well as his Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and Weber Invitation to the Dance.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
There have been many, but a few are etched firmly in my memory. Spitalfields Festival invited me to perform Messiaen’s great piece the Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus a few years back, and after much deliberation I decided to go for it. Learning that piece changed my life, not just musically, but as a person. Its one of the strongest pieces of music I know.
Another occasion was my coming back recital in Singapore after an absence of nearly 34 years, and I simply did not know how the audience would respond and react. It proved to be a memorable occasion, not least for my parents who waited so long for that day to happen.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I have fond memories of everything I have done. But I would specially mention my latest CD ‘Master and Pupil’ which traces Liszt’s influences back to Beethoven and especially Czerny, who was devoted to his talented pupil and continued to be an inspiration all through Liszt’s life.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
My performing range has widened significantly over the years. From Beethoven and Mozart through the French Impressionists and the 21st century. It would be very difficult to choose a period or type. I really do feel at home in everything I do.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Depending on the engagements that come up. Sometimes one does not have a choice. I tend to keep or try to keep a nice balance between concertos and solos, but there is always a new solo repertoire each season which I like to try out.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
The concert halls in Asia are superb, and I am very proud to go back to Singapore to perform in the wonderful halls there, particularly the Esplanade and the Hall at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of music. Having said that the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is wonderful as is the Wigmore Hall and Kings Place in London.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I love the golden oldies – Schnabel, the Busch Quartet, Arrau, and many many more – too many to mention here.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
The occasion when I first performed Weber’s wonderfully funny witty piece the Konzertstuck with Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players at St John’s Smith Square many many years ago. It was the one of the most exhilarating evenings I can remember and on the strength of that concert EMI eventually invited me to record with them and Sir Roger.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To believe in what you are doing. To take the rough with the smooth. We can’t always have success. Sometimes failure can teach us more about something than success ever can.
Humility. Nothing I detest more than diva-ish behaviour. We are all human.
What is your most treasured possession?
My 60th birthday present from my partner Paul by sculptor Geoffrey Clarke and his son, who designed the altarpiece at Coventry Cathedral. It’s of a phoenix about to take flight… Maybe quite appropriate at this stage in life!
Melvyn Tan performs music by Weber and Ravel and premieres a new work by Kevin Volans at King’s Place on Saturday 7 October as part of the 2017 London Piano Festival