Meet the Artist……Julian Jacobson, pianist

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

Ultimately my parents! However that isn’t quite as simple as it sounds: they were both professionally trained pianists, and I never remember a time when I wasn’t absorbing beautiful music at home from my mother’s fingers, but I didn’t really get to know my father till I was 20. Nevertheless he was in the background guiding my musical training, so I owe my main inspiration to both of them though at different times and in different ways.

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

My fabulous teacher from 7 to 11 was Lamar Crowson. Without his thorough grounding I doubt if I would ever have become a pianist as I had a boyish rebellion at around 12 to 16 when I didn’t do any serious practice, at one point giving up playing completely. At that time non-classical pianists inspired me: McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk. I still love them.

Later on I was much inspired by some great string players, particularly Sandor Vegh, at Prussia Cove, who enormously influenced my thinking towards a more expressive, less literal and technical (and also less subjective) response. Also György Kurtág, perhaps the greatest musician I have ever encountered..

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

I don’t think anything came close to preparing the UK premiere of the first six Ligeti Études. In their early days they were only printed as a facsimile of Ligeti’s manuscript and I would pore over a single bar for hours just trying to work out what I was supposed to play, let alone play it. The three Beethoven Sonata marathons I did were a challenge, but at least I knew the music already!

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Hmmm – none particularly! Some I can live with – the Balakirev Sonata and other pieces, Weber 2nd Sonata, some chamber music recordings and some of the contemporary two-piano recordings I did with Andrew Ball 20 years ago or more. When I hear, for instance, John Casken’s “Salamandra”, the two-piano piece he wrote for us, I wonder what became of this furiously energetic young man! Though I keep going and still have recording plans, including with my current duo with Mariko Brown.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I think that if I stopped to think of it I would neither play those well nor anything else! I try to approach each piece and each performance as if it’s the first time I’ve played it. Nevertheless there have been some recurrent themes and composers I seem to feel more at home with: Beethoven and Debussy – perhaps two very different sides of me.

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

I try to play only music I love and feel I can say something to at a given moment. That can sometimes be a problem if a recital is booked a long time ahead though I usually find I can rekindle the love affair! I need enough variety, though sometimes reality puts a check on that – If you’re playing a Beethoven cycle you basically have to spend most of your time on Beethoven. Certain types of music become less interesting to me to play as I get older, for instance I don’t play much of the more abstract contemporary music any more. On the other hand I’m going to start playing Bach in my 70s.

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

A good concert leaves me on a high wherever it is. Having said which, I’ve only played a few times in the Albert Hall and it was fabulous. Just that unique, electric atmosphere.

Favourite pieces to perform?

Ravel G major Concerto. Oh for another chance to do that!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Fritz Kreisler. David Oistrakh. Arthur Rubinstein. Carlos Kleiber. Martha Argerich. Samson François. Yuja Wang.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing in the garden of the British Ambassador’s residence in Riyadh with an air temperature of 36 degrees, and the Ambassador’s wife’s falcons solemnly listening.

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

Love, love, love. The more they love the music, and themselves playing it, the more they will want to communicate with their audiences, the more technique they will want to acquire (for the right reasons) and the more closely and accurately they will want to read the scores of these incredibly great musicians who have written their inexhaustible masterpieces for us.

Julian Jacobson celebrates his 70th birthday with a series of Sunday afternoon concerts at St John’s Smith Square, commencing on 22nd October. Full details and tickets here

One of Britain’s most creative and distinctive pianists, Julian Jacobson is acclaimed for the vitality, colour and insight he brings to his enormous repertoire ranging across all styles and periods.

Read more about Julian Jacobson