Nathan Williamson
Nathan Williamson

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and start composing, and make it your career? 

My sisters and I had piano lessons when we were young, but I was never very impressive, or serious about it. One day, aged 12, I thought I would try composing, something that had always fascinated me. I became utterly absorbed, and after a few hours there were 6 bars of wonderful music on the page. I had no idea how I had written them, and certainly no consciousness of having thought of them in the first place. But there was no one else in the room, so I concluded it must have been me. Something just switched on, and suddenly everything was about music. But I had no interest in being a pianist at this stage – that came much later, because of what I learned about music through composing.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing and composing? 

My teachers, above all. Malcolm Singer taught me that being a musician is about being creative and that you have to have something new to say. He also showed me to study music objectively, rather than clouded by personal perspective. Joan Havill taught me basically everything I know about how to play the piano, as well as Beethoven, Liszt and Brahms. Joan Panetti taught me to hear music like a language – something with meaning, a living object. Ezra Laderman taught me just to relax and enjoy composing…. And while it’s a bit of a cliché, the most potent influence was my first music teacher, Geoff Cummings-Knight. I was a completely blank canvas and he threw music at me in bucket loads – Mahler, Strauss, Stravinsky, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, Holst, Britten, Verdi, Elgar, Liszt… He also made singing the most important musical activity and had a knack for writing music for children at exactly the stage they were, giving everyone a specific role to play suited for them, which is a truly remarkable gift. That’s where everything started for me.

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

Realising that the success of what I do is not defined by comparison to certain models. There’s a big difference between being equipped for the profession with a robust CV, and evaluating yourself as an artist through how well you fare in a set of stereotypical tasks. I never minded jumping through hoops (and we all have to), but lining up and doing the same thing as everyone else for the sake of getting noticed seemed so pointless it almost led me to give up music altogether. Fortunately, I had some teachers (particularly in America) whose philosophy was simply to make music and, if it was any good, people would support you.

In terms of the creative process, I think the hardest thing, in a post-modern world where literally anything goes, is where on earth do you start? But you have to just flip it round and see it as the most fun instead.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I’m a perfectionist, so whilst I am proud of things I do I always feel I should have done them better. I am very pleased with my new CD of Schubert and Brahms. As a composer my pieces Crystal, Loss, Endings, and Solitude, as well as my opera, A Fountain Sealed, are things that really say something new and individual, and I am proud of that.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Anywhere I am welcomed to play. I just want to perform wherever people will listen.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I have felt most at home performing Schubert’s music, particularly his A major Sonata D.959, which is on my new CD. Looking at that piece feels a bit like looking in a mirror. Listening to, particular favourites are Ameriques by Varese, Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, Brahms’ 4th Symphony, Durufle’s Requiem, Schubert’s String Quintet, Liquid Song by Mark Dancigers, and Westhoff’s Violin Sonatas.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Radu Lupu, Claude Franck, Anthony Marwood, Olli Mustonen, Otto Klemperer, Gustav Leonhardt, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and Edwin Fischer.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The Notting Hill Symphony Orchestra playing Brahms’ 1st Symphony in 1999. They were an amateur orchestra, their ability such that they could barely play the notes at all. Earlier in the concert they had played the Grieg Piano Concerto with a rather aged pianist who at one point skipped about 20 bars, obliging the conductor to down baton and shout ‘Figure E’ (or whatever) to the orchestra, gesticulating wildly and bringing them back in with the most terrible scrunching noise. Somehow they carried on and held it together. But the enthusiasm and utter wonder with which they performed was quite simply the most moving thing I have ever heard in my life. I wept over it for days afterwards. Then there was Claude Frank performing Beethoven’s op.110 and the Schubert B flat Sonata. The lament in the slow movement of the Beethoven was searing with grief, and the sound he made was such you felt you could reach out and grab it in your hands. It made any other pianists I had ever heard play that repertoire (and most of them I have heard since) sound drab and meaningless.

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

The temptation to dish out, and try and live off, little nuggets of wisdom is big – but out of context I don’t think they are that helpful. You need good teachers and masses of time to focus purely on your art, and if you haven’t got/had those and are serious about being a musician, you need to get them now.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Mozart’s D minor Concerto, Brahms and Bridge ‘cello and piano works for concerts with Alexander Somov, and lots of new solo repertoire. I’m composing pieces for the De Villiers Ensemble, NOW ensemble, a ‘cello sonata for Charles Watt, and I’ve just been commissioned a big set of variations for solo piano.

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

Exactly where I am now, but with greater support to fulfil ideas and projects.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Achieving something you are trying to do and then doing whatever you want afterwards.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My wedding ring, my own tankard in the Lord Nelson in Southwold, and a cricket bat signed by Andrew Flintoff.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Lots of things, with music at the centre of every day.

What is your present state of mind?

Thriving under pressure.

Nathan Williamson’s debut solo CD, funded by a private sponsor, of late works by Schubert and Brahms is launched on 7 March 2013. For further details please visit Nathan’s website

Nathan Williamson has regular commissions for new work from artists and ensembles from around the world and performs as solo piano recitalist and chamber musician with a wide range of vocalists and instrumentalists at home and abroad.

Current commissions include a major Sonata for cellist Charles Watt, a work for the De Villiers Ensemble (Piano Quintet) for their UK tour in autumn 2013, and a work for the acclaimed NOW ensemble of New York for performance in 2013-14 season.

Nathan studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Joan Havill and Malcolm Singer, and at Yale University with Ezra Laderman and Martin Bresnick. He also worked closely with John Adams, David Lang, Aaron Jay Kernis, Joan Tower, and Joan Panetti, under whose direction he served as a teaching fellow at Yale upon graduating. He now teaches harmony, ear-training and music history at the Yehudi Menuhin School.

Read Nathan’s full biography here

The other day I was talking about John Cage’s infamous 4’33” with one of my students, while giving the student an overview of music history. When we got to 20th century music, it was Laurie, not me, who offered Cage’s iconic – and iconoclastic – piece as an example of 20th century music. Laurie seemed both bemused and confused that a piece of “music” should exist, with a full, written out score, which requires the musicians to stay silent. This prompted a discussion about silence in music, and what Cage was trying to say in the work.

When Cage conceived it, in the years immediately after the Second World War, he was attempting to remove both composer and artists from the process of creation. Instead, by asking the musicians specifically not to play, Cage allows us, the listeners, to create our own music, entirely randomly and uniquely, by listening to the noises around us during four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence, and removing any pre-conceptions or pre-learned ideas we may have about what music is and how it should be presented and perceived. The work is an example of “automaticism”, and was, in part, Cage’s reaction to a seemingly inescapable soundtrack of “muzak”.

Neither composer nor artists have any control or impact on the piece; the piece is created purely from the ambient sounds heard and created by the audience. In this way, the audience becomes crucial: this aural “blank canvas” reflects the ever-changing ambient sounds surrounding each performance, which emanate from the players, the audience and the building itself.

On another level, as I pointed out to Laurie, Cage was challenging – and exploiting – the conventions of modern concert hall etiquette. By programming the work to be performed at a prestigious venue, with high-status players and conductor, the audience’s expectations are heightened before the performance begins. No wonder the audience felt “cheated” the first time they heard it, and the piece remains controversial to this day.

Cage was not the first composer to conceive a piece of music consisting entirely of silence: examples and precedents include Alphonse Allais’ 1897 Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man, consisting of twenty-four blank bars (Allais was an associate of Eric Satie, a composer whom Cage much admired), and Yves Klein’s 1949 Monotone-Silence Symphony, an orchestral forty minute piece whose second and last movement is a twenty minute silence. And there examples from the world of visual art too: American artist, and friend and occasional colleague of Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, produced a series of white paintings, seemingly “blank” canvases, which change depending on the light conditions of the rooms in which they are hung, the shadows of people viewing them and so forth. Like Cage’s work, Rauschenberg’s canvases are brought to life by their viewers and the venue in which they are exhibited.

“They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.” John Cage, speaking about the premiere of 4’33”

Robert Rauschenberg ‘White Painting’ (seven panel), 1951. Oil on canvas.

I’ve never been to a live performance of Cage’s 4’33”, though I did hear it on Radio Three, a “live” broadcast of a performance given at the Barbican Centre by the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2004. Listening at home, one could easily be distracted and drift off to do something else. Thus, I would love to go to a performance of the work to fully experience it, to sit and listen to the sounds of the concert hall – all the murmurations, breathing, whispering, programme-rustling, snuffling, air-conditioning humming, street sounds from outside (sirens, tube trains rumbling). And also to have the opportunity to “imagine the sound” in one’s own head.

Silence is very important in music. Why else do we have rest markings and fermatas (pauses) to demand silence from the performer? Composers use silence to create drama, suspense, anticipation, to allow us to savour a particularly delicious or sumptuous phrase, a really rich harmonic sequence, or cadence, and to prepare us for, or surprise us with new material. Composers such as Messiaen and Takemitsu employ carefully-nuanced silences to create atmosphere, and to allow the listener (and performer) time for repose or contemplation. And think about the two minutes of silence we observe on Remembrance Day and during the Cenotaph ceremony on Remembrance Sunday. While people fall silent in remembrance, we hear sounds around us more acutely. In 4’33” Cage is asking us to focus on the sounds around us, to listen to background noise, rather than blanking it out.

These days, in our busy lives, we are bombarded with sounds, and noise pollution is the companion to modern life. I quite often have the radio on all day when I am at home (even when I am practising), and when my son gets in from school, more often than not, he plays music on the computer via iTunes or Spotify, or turns the tv on. Then there are sounds from outside: street sounds (traffic, roadworks, aeroplanes), people sounds (voices, mobile phones, footsteps), nature sounds (dogs barking, birdsong, wind whistling, rain falling). Often, if I’ve had a houseful of people over a weekend, the first day I am alone, I leave the radio off and simply savour the “silence” around me – which of course isn’t silence at all, because I live on the edge of a huge metropolis.

So to me Cage’s 4’33” is important not just in the history of modern music, or the concept of artistic “creation” and our notions of what constitutes “music”, but because it forces us to listen to silence, to take time out to listen, and really listen. It is also the best example, in my mind, of audience participation: it is music which invites us to “join in”, take part, and make our own unique contribution to the whole experience.

A video of a performance of 4’33” at the Barbican, London in 2004

Toru Takemitsu – Piano Distance

‘A sparkling picture of Whig society in the years running up to the Reform Bill – Linda Kelly captures all the fun as well as the political excitement of the best known salon of the age.’ Lady Antonia Fraser

ImageSituated in the heart of London’s Holland Park are the remains of Holland House – the site of what was once England’s most celebrated political salon. In the first thirty years of the nineteenth century – when the Whig party was almost constantly out of office – the home of the third Lord Holland became the unofficial centre of the Opposition. Devoted to the ideals of the prominent Whig statesman Charles James Fox and enriched by the progressive views of a new generation of writers, critics and politicians, the influence of Holland House permeated the political climate. At a time when revolutions threatened to engulf Europe, the Whig tradition of aristocratic liberalism proved to be one of the chief factors in the peaceful achievement of parliamentary reform. Presided over by the beautiful and clever Lady Holland and combining discussion of politics and the arts, the salon attracted the greatest names of the age – Byron, Talleyrand and Madame de Staël were all frequent visitors. In this book, Linda Kelly brings to life the colorful world of Holland House.

Linda Kelly is a writer and biographer specialising in late 18th and early 19th century subjects. She has written for numerous papers including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Times Literary Supplement, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Wordsworth Trust.

£25.00, hardback

Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd

ISBN: 9781780764498
Publication Date: 28 Feb 2013
Number of Pages: 288

Click here to order

How long have you been playing the piano? 

I guess, in total, nearly 20 years. I started when I was 7, and had lessons until the age of 18. Then restarted again at around 25-ish after spending too long at university doing science degrees.

What kind of repertoire do you enjoy playing, and listening to? 

I have very broad listening tastes – any type of music from anywhere really. I’m a composer too so I think listening widely is really important for broadening your musical horizons. I’m much more conservative when it comes to playing though. I recently discovered I love playing Bach, which is great for the fingers, brain and soul! I played a lot of classical repertoire at school, but now love playing the Romantics (Brahms, Chopin and Rachmaninoff particularly) and really enjoy Debussy. I’d like to learn some works from more modern composers too, particularly Kapustin and Ligeti. I also like playing jazz – Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Herbie Hancock, anything really.

How do you make the time to practise? Do you enjoy practising?

I think people make time for what’s important. I love practising so I usually find time at the expense of other things (like exercise!). I play at least an hour a day, often more. Learning to play a really great piece is quite addictive I think – and really life enhancing to spend so much time in the company of a great work of art. Usually I play in the evenings, but sometimes manage 45mins before work too.

Have you participated in any masterclasses/piano courses? What have you gained from this experience? 

Yes, both, multiple times. My masterclass experiences have been mixed – some have been wonderfully enlightening and encouraging, and some rather soul destroying! I think it depends on how well you know the piece (don’t even consider doing it unless you know the piece absolutely inside out!) and the personality of the teacher. As for summer schools – I like to go to one every year or so, to sort of turbo-charge my enthusiasm for practising. I’ve been to Chetham’s a few times, which is amazingly invigorating but absolutely exhausting! I always come back fresh with new ideas for how to practice, and an enormous wish-list of pieces to learn. I’ve also done a week at Dartington and been to the COMA (Contemporary Music for Amateurs) summer school a few times, which are much more varied as they don’t just focus on piano. It’s always a real pleasure to meet like-minded people at summer schools and share you passion.

If you are taking piano lessons what do you find a) most enjoyable and b) most challenging about your lessons?

I think being challenged to think and hear in a different way is the most enjoyable aspect of lessons, as well as being introduced to new repertoire. The most challenging aspect of lessons is probably not playing as well as I know I can when I’m home alone. Which is really frustrating!

What are the special challenges of preparing for a piano exam as an adult? 

Fear of making an idiot of yourself! I was scared of having a memory lapse, as I always play from memory. Finding enough time and courage to practice the whole program in front of people can be a challenge too. But overall I’ve really enjoyed preparing for the two exams I’ve done as an adult (ATCL and LTCL performance diplomas).

Has taking piano lessons as an adult enhanced any other areas of your life? 

I’ve certainly met more pianists through lessons, which has been great. I think playing piano and challenging yourself to continue learning has enormous benefits in all areas of life, and makes you more mentally alert.

What advice would you give to other adults who are considering taking up the piano or resuming lessons? 

Do it! But find a teacher who enthuses you and makes you want to practice, not one who makes you feel like you have to start from scratch every week.

If you could play one piece, what would it be? 

Something very long – like Bach’s Goldberg Variations – so I didn’t run out of music!

Though actually it might be Chopin’s Fourth Ballade

Caroline Wright has an MMus in musical composition from the University of London, and a Licentiate Diploma in Piano Performance from Trinity College of Music, London. She is a scientist by profession, and blogs about musical memory at

Spotify is a music streaming service, offering content from a vast range of mainstream and independent record labels and artists. Music can be browsed by artist, album, record label, genre or playlist as well as by direct searches.

Until fairly recently, I thought the Spotify catalogue only contained pop music and jazz, and therefore of almost no interest to me: I was wrong. Spotify has a vast and wonderful archive of classical music, by mainstream artists and lesser-knowns (and even some real oddities!). There are the latest albums by the artists “du jour”, there are “classics” and “standards”, and there are some fantastic archive recordings of great performers of yesteryear, including Horowitz, Heifertz, Wilhelm Kempf (I love his Liszt ‘Legendes’), Gilels, Gould, Lipatti and many more…. There is a whole album of Rachmaninov playing his own music, including the E flat Etude-Tableau I have (possibly foolishly) included in my LTCL programme, and taken at such a lick by its composer, it is over almost before it has begun.

Purists and lovers of vinyl and cassette tapes bemoan the fact that we can’t make “mix tapes” like we used to. Wrong. With services like Spotify, you can create your own personal playlists and “mixes” and share them, so that others may enjoy them too. You can subscribe to other people’s playlists, and even see what your friends on Facebook are listening to – in real time (and you might be surprised by some of their choices!). You can share tracks to Facebook and Twitter, email a track to a friend, and waste hours of your precious time (when you should be practising) browsing the vast catalogue. And all for £9.99 per month. (There is a free service, but your listening is frequently interrupted by adverts.)

I really started to fully utilise Spotify when I began my reviewing for Bachtrack. I tend to like to know what I’m going to hear in advance, so I’ll make a playlist of the programme to familiarise myself with the music, and sometimes I might listen to a recording of the performer I’m going to hear. I have two ever-lengthening playlists called Stuff I Like 1 (Classical) and Stuff I like 2 (Other) where I save tracks that interest me. When I was devising the programme for my LTCL Diploma, I created four different playlists of the pieces so that I can tinker with the programme order and listen to the complete programme to see if the ordering worked or not. When the programme was finalised, I sent a link to the playlist to my page turner so that he could acquaint himself with the pieces ahead of our rehearsals.

My latest playlist is called New Repertoire Ideas and contains tracks of pieces I would like to tackle after I’ve taken my Diploma in April. It’s a way of reminding myself of the music, while also giving me the opportunity to familiarise myself with it before I have even laid eyes on the score. And as regular readers of this blog will know, I often include links to tracks on Spotify so that readers can hear the music being discussed.

Recently, while reviewing a new CD of Brahms’ sonatas for violin and piano, I was able to do some “comparative listening”, to check out the competition, or the “standards” against which certain pieces are benchmarked. It was really interesting to compare different performers’ approaches to the same works, something I could do without having to load-eject-load-eject a stack of CDs. (Damian Thompson of The Spectator has written a very positive review of this particularly useful and enjoyable aspect of Spotify – read his article here.)

Spotify has a use in my teaching studio too: I can compile playlists for students, to enable them to “listen around” the music they are studying, or offer examples of one composer’s output. For example, while teaching Beethoven’s Rondo in F (Trinity Guildhall Grade 4), I have directed those students who are studying this piece to Beethoven’s ‘Rondo A Capriccio’, the famous ‘Rage Over a Lost Penny’ as a way of introducing them to Rondo form. Or for those who are working on the witty Fanfare for the Common Cold (Trinity Guildhall Grade 2), a link to hear Aaron Copland’s iconic Fanfare for the Common Man, which inspired this quirky piece. In lessons, I often want students to listen to music, and it’s quick and easy to plug my iPhone into the speakers in my piano studio, and call up a few tracks on Spotify. And of course the kids love it because they are all so techno-clued up these days……

Spotify has surpassed iTunes as my music app of choice – because I can set a playlist to be available offline and enjoy listening to it even when I don’t have access to WiFi. One of my recent and best discoveries on Spotify is a series of albums called Rarities of Piano Music, which a friend and colleague of mine flagged up. These live recordings from the annual Husum Festival of Rare Piano Music are fascinating, offering some little-known but no less wonderful piano works, a number of which have migrated onto my New Repertoire Ideas playlist. Here’s a handful of my particular favourites:

Ferruccio Busoni – Astrologo op. 33 No. 5 – Live

Cyril Scott – Lotus Land op. 47 No. 1 – Live

William Baines – “Tides”: Goodnight To Flamboro

Jean-Baptiste Lully – Sarabande in E Minor

Francisco Tárrega – Recuerdos de la alhambra

My Stuff I like 1 (classical) playlist

Spotify is available on PC, Mac, iPhone, iPod and other smart phones and similar devices, and synchronises across your devices. Clever huh? Go on, give it a try and open up a whole new world of music and listening……

Details of this year’s Rarities of Piano Festival in Husum here

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

My recorder teacher and my godfather were jointly the ones who nudged me towards getting my first piano lesson at the age of seven. None of my family play and I wasn’t brought up listening to a great deal of Classical music, but as soon as I started lessons, I took to it like a duck to water and digested every new thing I learnt with a great enthusiasm. Surprisingly, for once, my habit of impetuously discarding the latest hobby in exchange for a new one didn’t happen; something was a little different about playing the piano, and it stuck with me and I with it. I still can’t quite put my finger on what it is I love so much about playing. Maybe it is the very essence of intangibility itself; the idea of crafting something so magical and beautiful for an instant, passing moment. Who knows? But it captivated me then and still does now, and that’s why I have chosen to pursue music as a career.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

My teachers, for me, have always been the most wonderful influence on my playing, not because they have dictated what I do – what does anyone actually learn from that, after all? – but because I have been lucky enough to have grown up and continued to study with teachers who have encouraged me to question everything I do and to do it my own way. I think finding your own path of understanding with music is essential because, at the end of the day, it’s an art form and art is a very personal thing.

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

Starting to make the leap from amateur to professional has definitely been a difficult one – playing for family and friends and people in the local area who support you is one thing; playing for a new and unfamiliar audience in a venue you’ve never been in, and knowing your reputation is at stake, is entirely another. As with any transition, it requires gently testing the water at times, and at others just jumping on in and not fearing the consequences. I seem to have struck the balance fairly successfully so far, but it is most definitely a tricky one to strike!

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an ensemble?

Ensemble playing is (mostly) a wonderful experience for me because as pianists, we spend far too much time cooped up on our own, and getting to explore music with other people is a refreshing change! A spectrum of different but equally valid viewpoints to consider is exciting beyond measure, but of course, with conflicting viewpoints comes scope for disagreement and if you’re not working with open-minded individuals, deciding anything new can be like banging your head against a brick wall. I seem to generally have been lucky on this front so far, but I do have one or two unsatisfying experiences of working with less flexible musicians. It seems to me that the vital thing is to have the same vision of where the music is heading and what it’s about. If you can connect with others musically and conceptually in the macro sense, the little details fall into place pretty much seamlessly.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I absolutely delight in going to watch concerts at the Royal Festival Hall; it is quite simply my favourite venue in the whole of London. I particularly enjoy sitting in the choir seats when an orchestra is playing because you can feel the buzz of the excitement from being in such close proximity to the performers and see every nuance on the conductor’s face. To play in the Royal Festival Hall would be an absolute dream-come-true, and is something I aspire one day to do.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have to say I think Marin Alsop is an incredible musician. I went to see her for the first time last year conducting Liszt 1 and Liszt 2 with Stephen Hough and was so bowled over I bought a ticket for her next concert two days later! She’s incredibly animated and passionate about what she does, and I find that inspiring. I also adore Murray Perahia’s recordings of Mozart – he just captures the cheeky yet graceful nature touch that Mozart playing requires sublimely and his recordings are always an absolute joy to listen to.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’d probably have to be the Medway Young Musicians Awards Finals 2006, the first year I got into the finals, which take place in The Brook Theatre in Chatham. It’s not exactly a large venue, but monumental to a fourteen-year-old who used to practise on a Clavinova in her dining room, and stepping onto a real stage with a real spotlight and performing live to an audience was absolutely captivating. The playing itself didn’t go so well from what I remember – I played Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and made a bit of a mess of it due to being wracked with nerves – but the experience itself was addictive beyond measure and that’s probably the first time I was truly awakened to how thrilling a performance experience can be.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

My favourite music to play has probably got to be Mozart or Purcell, Mozart for its deceptive simplicity (such detail and intricacy hidden within such seemingly uncomplicated music!) and Purcell for the tortuously beautiful harmonies. To listen to, I’m currently obsessed with Tchaikovsky’s later symphonies (the first three are indeed delicious, but 4, 5 and 6 absolutely blow my mind) and I also love Louise Farrenc – I think she’s sorely underrated as a composer, and it’s a shame more of her works aren’t played and recorded.

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

I think the concept that music is an art and not just a skill and, as a result, is something that you mature into; the process simply cannot be rushed or artificially induced. By all means, practise hard, listen, play, perform, read as much as you can, broaden your mind in every possible direction, but don’t expect to magically blossom into a fully-formed artist overnight. Allow yourself time to grow and while challenging yourself at every turn, don’t have completely unrealistic expectations you’ll fall short of and grow bitter about. I myself am only a young pianist, and I know that with time to grow and mature, I’ll have a deeper insight into what I’m doing and a broader base of knowledge and experience to draw from when approaching new music, but that’s something I accept and feel strongly is an important part of the process. If there was a magical ‘cure-all’ solution to all our technical and musical problems, the beauty in the process of feeling your way into music would be completely meaningless. We have to take it for what it is and, though it can be frustrating at times, it’s ultimately more rewarding for it.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, I’m tackling the Strauss Cello Sonata, among other things, with my duo partner cellist Daniel Edwards. We’ve just aired the programme for the first time, and have concerts coming up in Birmingham and London over the coming fortnight. I’m also starting a new programme for a recital at the Maritime Museum, inspired by the current Ansel Adams exhibition: the programme will be officially announced shortly, but it’s going to be an interesting mix of miniatures including some rarely played pieces by MacDowell.

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

Tricky one. Not sure I know how to answer that! I would like to think I’d be a better musician and have a better sense of self. But as to where that will take me? On to bigger and better things is the most specific answer I can give. I don’t like the idea of being too single-minded about the future; I’d far rather make sure I’m prepared as I can be and just see where it all takes me and what exciting directions I end up going in.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano, of course, though primarily for sentimental reasons. It was given to me by a gentleman whose wife sadly passed away, and he let me have it on a long-term loan since he personally had no use for it. A few months later, after I had sent him a few update letters and CDs to show my gratitude and so that he could see how I was getting on, he sent me a letter and told me wanted to give me the piano as a gift as he wished it to go to a young musician who would use it regularly and treat it well. I’ve simply never been so touched and surprised, and the gesture was made even more wonderful by the fact that the letter arrived about two days before my birthday – a coincidence, but a fantastic one. We still keep in touch with each other, and if you’re reading this, Michael, thank you very much, I am forever indebted to you!

What do you enjoy doing most?

I assume you mean aside from music? Learning, in whatever shape or form that comes. When I’m not devouring music, I love devouring books. I also love talking (anyone who has ever met me face to face will tell you that, I’m sure!), giving speeches to audiences is something that lights my candle – I’m most definitely a performer at heart! Writing is also a passion of mine. I used to write a lot of poetry, but sadly don’t find the time so much nowadays. But obviously I still get to exercise my pen a lot, what with reviewing for Bachtrack and writing for various other websites and blogs.

Madelaine’s full biography, and details of forthcoming concerts and her writing can be found at

Madelaine performing at Normansfield Theatre, 20 May 2012
Madelaine performing at Normansfield Theatre, 20 May 2012