Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
I did not grow up in a musical family and so started playing the piano relatively late, shortly before I turned 10 years old. I was bought a battery-operated keyboard for Christmas – soon outgrown! – and was instantly gripped. I frequently had to be torn away to do my school homework. The real catalyst for my wanting to pursue a career in music was when I attended by first BBC Prom concert. I was so captivated by the atmosphere, the music, the sound of the orchestra and the grandeur of the Royal Albert Hall!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My teachers have, without a shadow of doubt, been the greatest influences on my life as a musician. My first principle piano teacher during my formative years studying at the Purcell School and RCM Junior Department (2001-2007) was Emily Jeffrey, and she has had a remarkable and sustained influence on my life and music-making ever since. Ronan O’Hora, my subsequent teacher is a musician of the highest order whose teaching balances high demand on artistic integrity with a philosophical outlook that enables the individual within to find freedom. My current professor, Eliso Virsaladze, is an extraordinary person (not least because she can demonstrate any repertoire sublimely from memory at the drop of a hat, and that she can speak ten languages fluently!). Her artistry and teaching is legendary the world over, and justly so. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to work with her.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Maintaining the willpower to keep growing and developing all the time takes huge energy, but I suppose it gives a certain type of energy back. In real terms, I sometimes struggle with the public aspect of life as a performer – the need to be your best always, the business of “networking” and actively telling people about your work etc. It is sometimes at odds with my rather more introverted nature. Despite what people may see on the outside, or when I am on stage, I am, in principle, a private person and sensitive to my moods. Sometimes I really want to perform yet there is no concert until next week, and when there is a concert to perform, I just want to lock myself away practise late into the night by candlelight or read a wonderful book!
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Certain performances stand out as more memorable and for different reasons. In 2007 I performed Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto with the RCM Junior Department Symphony Orchestra having won the concerto competition the year before. I would probably dislike many things about that performance were I to listen it now, but I remember feeling at the time that it really represented my work over six years with my first main teacher and was somehow my “graduating” performance. Last year I gave my second recital for the Chopin Society, that time on Chopin’s own Pleyel piano. I just felt a complete sense of abandonment of all physical or psychological inhibitions and felt so engaged with the beauty of the music on the piano Chopin himself had played. It was a magical experience. Also, my latest CD for Willowhayne Records is a source of pride, not least because it features the first recording of Thomas Adès’s Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face other that the composer’s own. It’s a monstrously difficult piece (he’s arranged it for two pianos in the hope of having it played more!).
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Some pieces feel as though they come so much more naturally than others. I remember when I first started studying Chopin’s Barcarolle and his Andante Spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22 they felt as though I had played them before. It usually depends on my affinity with the qualities of individual pieces and sometimes this can change from day to day. Repertoire is rather like people and friends in that sense.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Mostly this would be wish lists, but I try to find interesting themes, or tailor programmes to suit the requirements of certain organisations. I think being flexible and open to discovery is really important.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I have been fortunate to have played in some really amazing halls, but the Brahms-Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna and the Philharmonie in Cologne were among the most heavenly experiences. Aesthetic beauty and superb acoustic made them particularly effortless joys. For a pianist, the instrument is every bit as important and, when I was on my ECHO Rising Stars tour, Kawai supplied me with a Shigeru Kawai concert grand (which I had chosen in Germany the year before) and a master piano artisan technician for the concerts. With every venue I could walk out on stage with absolute trust that the instrument would not only respond to my every demand but inspire me further still.
Who are your favourite musicians?
There are too many! At least among the living pianists I would include (in no particular order) Martha Argerich, Richard Goode, Eliso Virsaladze, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Radu Lupu. If I were to talk singers, string players, conductors we’d be here forever! However, I could not fail to mention the likes of Arthur Rubinstein, Cortot, Arrau, Richter, Clara Haskil from the past, however…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Purely for the fun of it: when the pedal lyre fell off altogether during a Tchaikovsky Concerto and another time when the fire alarm went off during my encore after a Chopin Concerto in Germany. When I played in the same hall the following season I just had to play the same encore to finish it!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Better for other people to decide!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Also a difficult question to find a suitable response to, because everybody needs different advice to follow their own unique path. The most important thing may be to have the courage to keep searching for the truth in the music, whatever that may be. Keep your integrity as high as you can, but be flexible and open to discover. Never imitate anyone, least of all yourself. Read lots of books and see as many great paintings as you possibly can!
Ashley Fripp’s CD of music by J S Bach, Ades and Chopin is available now on the Willowhayne Records label.
British pianist Ashley Fripp frequently appears as solo recitalist, chamber musician and concerto soloist in many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls, having performed extensively throughout Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Recent international highlights include the Carnegie Hall (New York), Musikverein (Vienna), Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), the Philharmonie halls of Cologne, Paris, Luxembourg and Warsaw, the Bozar (Brussels), Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, the Royal Festival, Barbican and Wigmore Halls (London), the Megaron (Athens), Konserthuset (Stockholm) and the Gulbenkian Auditorium (Lisbon).