Meet the Artist – James Kreiling, pianist

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

Initially my grandmother who played, though not to a professional level, and taught me how to read music when I was about 5 years old. Also I think for a large part I have been motivated by my love of music and have always enjoyed the challenge that learning a new work brings. I remember as a teenager learning progressively more challenging pieces and there was a certain thrill in challenging myself. As I have got older it has been the desire to share the music that I love with as many people as possible, especially the music of Scriabin and less well-known composers. In addition, music is endlessly fascinating and you never really ‘master’ anything; each performance brings new challenges and the more you perform a work, the more you discover about it.

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

I have been lucky enough to study with a number of fantastic teachers, including: John York, Charles Owen, Martin Roscoe and Ronan o’Hora, and have of course learnt a great deal from all of them. I have always been excited by discovering composers and works which are not so well known – from the age of around 19 I found myself being drawn away from what might be considered the ‘core’ repertoire. This curiosity has led me to the performance of a lot of contemporary music, which is an area I am still very interested in. Most importantly it led to my ongoing obsession with the music of Scriabin, and particularly Scriabin’s late music. My desire to understand this music, and to comprehend how it came about has really shaped my career in the past 5 years, leading to 2 recordings and the completion of my Doctorate (which was based on the performance of Scriabin’s Sonata no. 6).

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

At times, simply keeping going. There are always periods where things are quiet, or perhaps teaching has momentarily taken over. During these times I have always tried to challenge myself with something new – this is partly why I decided to work towards a Doctorate, and partly what led me to crowdfund 2 recordings. The music profession is changing and you have to make your own opportunities, which can be tough at times, as well as daunting.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The two Scriabin discs I have recorded, which cover the complete ‘late’ piano music. Both records were organised by myself: everything from the crowdfunding, to the CD design. This is not easy music to record and the second disc (completed in January) was recorded in 18 hours over two days, which was very taxing, but completely exhilarating. The resulting recordings I have now heard and am quietly very proud of.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That’s difficult to say, but the works I enjoy performing best would certainly include the late music of Scriabin, Ravel and Debussy, Brahms and Schumann, as well as quite a lot of contemporary music – in particularly James Macmillan’s piano sonata and Thomas Adès’ ‘Traced Overhead’.

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

It’s important to play to your strengths, as well as to perform only works that you enjoy playing (where possible). I like varied programmes, particularly as I often include quite a lot of more unusual repertoire, so it’s nice to break this up with something more familiar.

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

I love the new Milton Court hall [near the Barbican]; it has a wonderful acoustic. I have also been very lucky to be able to participate in the ‘En Blanc et Noir’ festival in the south of France for a number of years now. Their concert venue is open air, in the main square of a little village called Lagrasse, under the covered medieval market. Despite the odd gust of wind, this is a really magical setting, especially when the sun is setting.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have become a very big fan of Stephen Hough’s playing, for me it encapsulates what I love about live performance; it is at once extremely exciting and passionate, and completely controlled. Having studied a lot of Scriabin, I have got to know the recordings of Norwegian pianist Hakon Austbo, and these have been a real inspiration to me throughout my preparation. I have been lucky enough to play to Hakon a couple of times and have always been struck by the reverence with which he treats the music, as well as his musical imagination. Finally I would have to add Martin Roscoe, who I studied with at Guildhall. He is one of the most exciting and versatile musicians I have ever met and I will never forget his performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata at Guildhall: it remains for me one of the most memorable concert experiences of all time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I have performed a couple of recitals of Scriabin by candlelight, which were both very special occasions. The first was in the monks’ dining room in an old monastery in France – it had a wonderful vaulted ceiling and was a perfect setting for the music. The second was in the Asylum chapel in Peckham, which was to launch my first Scriabin disc – it was extraordinarily cold, but no one seemed to care as the venue and music were so perfect together. It was this performance that convinced me that some works are simply better suited to certain locations – Scriabin in the concert hall works fine, but in the ruined chapel of the Asylum, it took on new dimensions.

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

The musical world changes and to survive you must be in touch with how this is happening. For instance Facebook is now arguably one of the most important methods of publicity, and artists must be able to engage with this form of promotion and communication. In addition, you have to make things happen for yourself, and cannot expect opportunities to be handed to you. This means being willing to put yourself on the line, as well as being forthcoming – not something I find easy. Constantly finding new and innovative ways of presenting yourself seems to be the way forward. I would also add that it is very important to know your strengths and play to them.

What is your present state of mind?

Determined.

James Kreiling has performed in most of the major London concert halls, as well as throughout Europe. His interest in contemporary and new music has led to performances in the Royal Albert and Barbican Halls – most notably in the summer of 2007 he performed solo in the BBC Proms’ composer portrait of David Matthews. In 2008 James was selected as one of the Park Lane Group’s young artists and this resulted in a solo recital in 2009 at the Purcell Room to great critical acclaim, as well as recitals in St Martin in the Fields and in the Little Missenden Festival. In addition James has broadcast regularly for BBC radio 3, including performances of the music of Jonathan Harvey, David Matthews and Peter Eotvos. Together with his wife Janneke Brits, James is a member of the Brits-Kreiling piano duo. They have performed together regularly since 2009 and have been regulars at the En Blanc et Noir piano festival in Lagrasse, France. They have performed in many of the major venues in London, and broadcast for BBC radio. They are both teaching assistants at Music at Albignac, a summer course based in the south of France run by pianist and French music specialist Paul Roberts. One of James’ biggest passions is the music of Alexander Scriabin and he is currently working towards a performance-based research doctorate at the Guildhall school of music, which is focused on the analysis and performance of Scriabin’s late piano sonatas. He gives regular lecture-recitals on Scriabin’s piano music and as part of the celebrations for Scriabin’s centenary in 2015, he will be making his first commercial recording in June of this year, which will centre around Scriabin’s late piano music.