Meet the Artists – Worbey & Farrell, piano duo

Worbey & Farrell are Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell….

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

We’d both say it was really a natural ‘calling’. We’re both from musical families and had a piano in the house. We have similar stories of our parents having difficulty getting us away from the piano. At school neither of us ever went into the playground – we could always be found at a piano somewhere in the music department surrounded by fellow students. A career in music was a happy option. What could possibly be better than doing something you love and being paid for it?

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

We both come from families involved in many aspects of the arts. Kevin’s mother was at the Royal Ballet School and Steven’s grandfather was an accomplished Jazz pianist who toured with a famous dance band. We were both fortunate to be raised with wide a range of great music around us. Steven had inspiring teachers from an early age. Kevin’s college professor Peter Wallfisch was an excellent teacher and rather intimidating but looking back Kevin says he was the most inspiring of them all. Steven’s first Royal College professor was Phyllis Sellick who was wonderful teacher and enormously influential.  He then went on to study with Yonty Solomon and Peter Katin.

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

We’re always challenging ourselves with new arrangements. When we first launched our duo, to stand out we included a fair amount of musical comedy. We soon realised that our strengths were really in the music and arrangements so had to make the changes subtly making the emphasis on the music. This lead to more concert engagements.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

We recently recorded and filmed our arrangements of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. There are a couple of versions of the Bach arranged for four hands on one piano but we thought them too embellished and heavy with not enough colour and contrasting textures that the piece requires being composed for organ. We were inspired to arrange the Gershwin for four hands on one piano as we feel the versions available don’t quite use the piano to it’s full orchestral potential which can mean crossing hands a lot.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

We like to take orchestral works and try and create orchestral sounds on the piano. You could say we like to think of the piano as our very own symphony orchestra. We wouldn’t take a well written sacrosanct piano piece (i.e. Chopin) and arrange it for four hands as it would simply spoil it. With the use of four hands and some clever trickery, it’s amazing that you can make a piano sound like a lush string section, a muted trumpet or like triangles and Glockenspiels.

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

We’ve discovered that changing repertoire every season isn’t ideal as some of it can go to waste and not be heard by enough audiences. We now add and take away gradually throughout the year making sure that each work is performed to its best and also gets a good airing. We simply choose music that we love rather than trying to pander to our audiences. It wouldn’t be fun for us to play a work that we’ve chosen just because we think the audience may like it.

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

We tend to perform in concert venues and theatres. Concert venues often have wonderful acoustics for the piano but on the flipside they’re not ideal to talk to your audience as your voice gets lost. Conversely playing a piano in a theatre tends to sound very dry but is good for the voice. In those cases we sometimes add a little concert reverb to the piano. Our recent favourite venues were the Dora Soutzker Hall at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the Sejong Centre in Seoul, Korea and the Newbury Corn Exchange as part of the Newbury Spring Festival. This coming November we’ll be performing at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall which acoustically is wonderful.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are two – and we have to tell you about both! We were once performing our own Paganini Variations (which we called ‘Deviations on a Caprice’) and both had one of those wonderful and very rare moments of sheer bliss – where we completely lost ourselves in the music and nothing got in the mind’s way. It was what we all strive for. The other moment was when we were performing at the Grassington Festival and during a comedy moment a young boy on the front row burst into laughter and simply couldn’t stop. His father was holding his hand in front of his mouth and had to take him out. We later received an Email from the father thanking us for introducing his boy to music and fun. It was very moving for us.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

There’s lots of talk of ‘making it’ and unfortunately musicians often compare their careers to others’ careers but as far as we’re concerned if you can make a career out of any aspect of music you’re definitely a success.

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

We’d say “be yourself”. If that means re-inventing the traditional recital do it. If you love to talk, be funny or tell stories then do it. When a performer enters the stage the audience doesn’t really know if they like you. Why not smile, say hello or chat first. Concerts don’t have to be so glum anymore. We’ve been to some amazing performances recently by world famous pianists that just look so unhappy. There’s no reason why they couldn’t enhance their stage technique a little.

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

If we’re still doing what we do now we’d be most happy. Making a good living out of something we love. Sometimes we spend so much time striving for more we forget to enjoy what we’ve got. We’ve come to realise that a moderate amount of ambition is fine.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Aside from the obvious music we enjoy socialising and cooking. We rarely have a night at home and watch very little television. There’s so much going on in the real world such as theatre, concerts, parties, restaurants etc

Worbey & Farrell are internationally acclaimed concert pianists with a wicked sense of humour. They have played with the world’s leading symphony orchestras, achieved over a million hits on YouTube, and entertained in over 150 countries around the globe with their barnstorming blend of sparky comedy and utterly sensational piano playing.