Rachael Young

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting, and make it your career?

As a cellist I was playing in orchestras right from the start and immediately loved the colours and drama of the orchestra. Then as I progressed and began to play more demanding works I fell completely in love with the orchestral repertoire.

Who or what were the most important influences on your conducting?

I love German conductors like Furtwangler, Karajan and also Carlos Kleiber. I went to the Jarvi Summer Academy in 2007 and saw Neeme Jarvi and his son Paavo conducting. Apart from their musical personas, I was greatly impressed by their technical command of the orchestra. They both have masterful conducting techniques that are able to ‘play’ the orchestra as if it were an instrument – which of course it is – a complex and wonderful instrument. They are both trained in a ‘Russian School’ of conducting – Maestro Neeme Jarvi studied with Rabinovich in St Petersburg in the room next to Ilya Musin’s class, and Paavo studied with Maestro Leonid Grin, a graduate of Moscow Conservatory, who studied with Leo Ginsberg and Kyrill Kondrashin. He then went on to be the Associate Conductor of The Moscow Philharmonic before defecting to to the West. After working with me at the masterclass and seeing me performing in the concerts, Paavo Jarvi kindly recommended me to Leonid Grin, with whom I began studying in 2008.

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

Finding my way from a rather lovely but rather small town in NZ to Leonid Grin.

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

It was a great pleasure and privilege for me to perform with Viktoria Postnikova. We performed the Schnittke Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra together last year in London. For me she plays that work magnificently and she was the first to record the work with her husband, the legendary conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. They were both friends of Schnittke’s and his wife, and it very much felt like a kind of meeting with the composer himself. Also, Leonid Grin knew him well, so he was able to give further insights about both the work and the composer.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

It’s always a real pleasure to perform in spaces that allow the audience and the orchestra a certain intimacy, and in this sense the Royal Albert Hall is very interesting. But the acoustic of a venue is usually the most significant factor in creating something.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Whatever I am working with/performing at that moment.

Who are your favourite musicians?

For me it depends on the repertoire, but I love artists such as Maria Callas, Jacqueline du Pré, and the Russian pianist Maria Yudina for me is extraordinary.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was young my mother took me to hear the Borodin String Quartet playing Beethoven in what must have been its second incarnation, I think. It gave me an early experience of what was possible when you have a great composer being performed by wonderful artists.

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

To find every way to love what you do and transmit that.

What are you working on at the moment?

Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich.

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

Working in a challenging and creative environment

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

see above

Rachael Young makes her Cadogan Hall debut on 23 November 2012, conducting the Russian Virtuosi of Europe in a programme of music by Schnittke, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky.

Rachael Young began her conducting career in 2007, having been a professional cellist, first in her native New Zealand, and then in the UK. Rachael is trained in the Russian system of conducting, and for the last three years has been under the tutelage of renowned conducting teacher Maestro Leonid Grin – Paavo Jarvi’s former teacher and former assistant to Leonard Bernstein throughout the 1980s.

Rachael has worked with a number of ensembles, including the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, the London Soloists Chamber Orchestra, the South Bohemian Chamber Orchestra, the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra, the English Sinfonia and the Russian Virtuosi of Europe.

She has participated in a number of prestigious conducting masterclasses, including Neeme Jarvi’s Summer Academy in Estonia, the Celebidache Foundation Masterclass held in the Czech Republic, and ‘The London Masterclasses’ at The Royal Academy of Music, and classes with Jorma Panula.

Recent engagements include guest conducting the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra in the Ukraine in a programme of works by Haydn and Mozart, and conducting the English Sinfonia and Lara Melda at St John’s Smith Square, London in May 2011, and with Viktoria Postnikova in September 2011. For the 2012/2013 season Rachael is embarking on a series of concerts with the Russian Virtuosi of Europe at London’s Cadogan Hall.

Rachael began her musical studies at 13 and went on to take her B.Mus at Victoria University, Wellington. A scholarship from The Boston Conservatory, Massachusetts enabled her to pursue post graduate studies in America. In 1994 Rachael came to England and, with the help of a New Zealand Arts Council grant, studied ‘cello with William Pleeth (teacher of Jaqueline du Pré) and later Moray Welsh.

Rachael Young’s website

A guest post from Grace Miles, founder of artiden.com, a blog about the musician lifestyle. She helps pianists get the most out of music with psychology.

Remember the “spotlight”?

When all eyes are on you, every little action feels 100 times more obvious.

We all want more sparkle in our performances– and it comes with the right mix of confidence and nervous energy.

Being confident is easy.

So is performing comfortably.

You just need to make the right choices and behave the right way.

How People Really See You

Imagine giving a speech, making it up as you go, to a crowd.

How will you look?

There’s something I call the ‘glass wall’ effect.

In one study, people gave speeches (made up on the spot) and were asked to rate their own nervousness.

These ratings were compared with the audience’s ratings, and they found that the audience always thought the speaker was less nervous than they really were.

In other words, people looked more confident than they really felt.

Not many people notice how much you’re really shaking inside– that’s the glass wall effect.

People see you, but you’re separated by the glass wall and your emotions don’t come across as clearly as you might think.

This is consistent with tons of other studies–we think our feelings are more obvious than they really are.

(But don’t get carried away: your feelings aren’t invisible to everyone else– it’s a glass wall, remember.)

Of course, looking less nervous isn’t the same as looking confident and composed, and actually feeling that way.

The answer is so simple yet so powerful.

The Secret to Being Confident

The first step is knowing that people can’t see how nervous you really are.

When they told the speakers that they project more confidence than they actually feel, the speakers gave better speeches and felt more confident overall.

To be more confident, we just have to remind ourselves that people don’t see how nervous we really are.

Shy, clipped phrases may be taken as calm and controlled speech, and so on.

When this burden is gone, then we’re free to focus fully on whatever we’re doing.

But remember that you do want some nervous energy in you– this adds the spark and excitement that amazing performances thrive on.

Act it Out

You smile because you’re happy but you’re also happy because you smile.

Your actions change your feelings.

To let this hit home, let’s look at a study where two groups of people are watching the same cartoon.

The first group holds a pencil between their lips in a way that makes them frown while watching the show.

The other group holds the pencil between their teeth so the “smiling muscles” are activated while watching the show.

It turns out that the people who smiled actually found the show a lot funnier (and enjoyed it a lot more) than those who frowned.

So fix your posture and let yourself smile.

This sends signals to your brain: you’re ready and you’re not afraid to have fun.

People don’t expect to see a nervous trainwreck when they first see you, and they’re not going to think you’re nervous at all if you behave with confidence.

But how does confidence come naturally?

“Natural” Habits

It comes without thinking when you make it a habit.

Confidence just means faking it until you get it right. (Click here to tweet this)

The first few times you try this and remind yourself of the glass wall effect, it might feel like you’re forcing it. And you might be.

But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re on your way to forming a habit and you’ll reap the results when the time comes.

(Some people say that performing puts them in the state of flow, and who’s to argue with that?)

Personally, I’m not the most extroverted person, but I can work a crowd like anyone else.

The Confidence Kit

1. Remember the glass wall effect.

2. Fake it until it comes naturally.

3. Rock on.

The trick to performing is having the right mix of nervous energy and confidence. (Click here to tweet this)

The most technically sound performance falls flat when there’s no underlying hint of nervous energy.

So make sure you leave a comment letting me know how you plan to use these new insights. 🙂

And here’s where you come in: if you know anyone– absolutely anyone– who might benefit from this knowledge, just send them a quick email with a link to this post.

They’ll thank you.

Grace Miles blogs about the musician lifestyle at http://artiden.com/, designs good designs, and makes great music on the piano.

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

I’m not sure. I wanted to be a dancer but where I was born it wasn’t easy. Then a friend of mine started having piano lessons and I became interested and wanted to take it up. My first teacher was a Polish Jew. She had her concentration camp number tattooed on her arm. My father was musical and my brother is a really good blues and rock guitarist so I guess it was in my blood.

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

Besides my teachers, my influences are varied. From visual artists to poets and dancers as well as composers and colleagues and friends.

Someone always close to my heart is Federico Mompou, the great Catalan composer. I love Curzon’s playing as well as Alicia de Larrocha who inspired me to study the great Spanish masters Albeniz , Granados and Falla. I admire Arrau’s honesty, Richter’s melancholy and Brendel’s intellect and scholarship and also like Schiff’s Mozart and and Gould’s originality and personal integrity. But I seldom go to concerts now.

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

Playing well and improving is a perpetual challenge. To keep going is sometimes a challenge. Recording under less-than-ideal circumstances with very limited studio time can be a bit of a challenge too. Dealing with rejection. Working with mediocre producers can also be a bit hairy.

Playing the Tavener piece was a big challenge because it was John’s first piano piece in many years and the stakes and expectations were high. I wanted people to see how great the piece was and not let John down.

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

Company…..colour, sharing, being enveloped and held by a group of musicians can carry one far afield.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

My first recording including the premiere of Sir John Taveners ‘Ypakoe’, which he wrote for me and my recording of Soler Keyboard Sonatas.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I like the Southbank Centre.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Mmmmmm, quite a few colleagues doing their own thing at their own pace whilst juggling mountains…..

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Many, but one that springs to mind was playing Night in the Gardens of Spain with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Caracas and opening for the wonderful Cuban pianist Bebo Valdez and El Cigala at the Royal Festival Hall.

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

To play early music is a favourite. When I first went to Dartington I met the Dufay Collective and forged a strong friendship with singer Vivien Ellis which fostered my love for this repertoire. I also listen to world and folk including flamenco which was a favourite of my father’s. To play, many but if I had to single out something it would be Mompou.

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

It’s a bit like being a new parent. Trust your intuition and look at your child and be guided by her. Don’t listen to just anyone. Explore, be inquisitive, work, work and work some more. Follow your own path. Hold on to your integrity and to who you are. Choose a teacher and be steadfast. You know the saying: when one is ready the teacher appears.

What are you working on at the moment?

Bach Inventions and inventions by contemporary composers who explored the form for my concert at Sutton House. Latin music with percussionist Adriano Adewale.

What is your most treasured possession?

My daughter. My body.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Having breakfast in bed, playing and swimming with my daughter, doing yoga and having a laugh with friends.

Elena Riu performs at Sutton House, Hackney, east London on Sunday 18th November with the debut of “Inventions”, a fascinating programme juxtaposing Bach’s Inventions with Inventions by contemporary composers including Ligeti, Gubaidulina, Finch and Shchedrin. Further details and tickets here.

Born and bred in El Sistema, Elena’s infectious enthusiasm for “boundary- jumping” (Time Out), and for bringing new music to a wider audience has brought her accolades all over the world.

A leading exponent of the Hispano-American, her CD of Sonatas by Soler was released to great acclaim by the Spanish label Ensayo. She is a regular visitor to the Festival Latinoamericano.
Elena has commissioned, edited, published, performed and recorded over 40 new works giving countless world premieres including Sir John Tavener’s “Ypakoe”, written especially for her. Elena’s efforts on behalf of new music and as a keen educationalist led to the publication by Boosey & Hawkes of ‘Salsa Nueva’ in 2006 – now on its second run and in 2009 ‘Elena Riu’s R’n’B Collection’ and ‘Out of the Blues’ CD.

Elena has toured extensively and has performed in all major concert halls in the UK and abroad.

An eclectic artist, Elena has pioneered collaborative work. She was the brain behind the sell-out multicultural Spanish Plus Series at the SBC and re-launched their Childrens and Families series. Her most recent collaboration: The Adventures of Tom Thumb was awarded a coveted Fringe First Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Riu studied at Trinity College of Music in London with Joseph Weingarten where she won many prizes ands competitions. She was also a student of Neil Immelman, Maria Curcio and Roger Vignoles. Later, Elena won a scholarship from to travel to Paris for advanced tuition from Vlado Perlemuter in Paris.


An episode from Alan Yentob’s ‘Imagine’ series for the BBC, in which Yentob traces the meteoric rise of Chinese poster-boy pianist Lang Lang from child prodigy to international superstar.

Despite my dislike of Lang Lang (his playing and his manner in general), this is an interesting programme, if only for the dreadful pushiness of Lang Lang’s father – a lesson, perhaps, for all over-ambitious parents of talented children.

In an interesting piece of parallel programming, the film ‘Shine’, biopic about Australian pianist David Helfgott, whose downward spiral into mental illness has been attributed to his father’s attitude, was broadcast after the feature on Lang Lang. A moving and insightful film.

‘Do – or Die: Lang Lang’s Story’ on the BBC iPlayer

What inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I loved the sound of the cembalo (harpsichord) very much when I was a child. Having no musical background whatsoever, my parents sent me to a local music school, where I was told that I would need to learn some piano before I could learn the cembalo. I fell in love with the piano immediately and quickly forgot about Bach’s harpsichord concertos!

In my teenage years, playing the piano was the activity I loved most. Nobody had to tell me that I should practice. As soon as I came home from school, I ran to my piano and played for hours. My time at the piano was quite evenly split between playing classical music and improvising or composing my own music. When I was discovered by a manager at age fifteen, I knew already that music would always be my main career, although my role as an interpreter of classical music – mainly of the romantic repertoire – was outweighing my activities as a composer at that time.

After two intensive years of touring and recording, I felt burned out. The growing success as a concert pianist had no positive impact on my happiness at all, quite to the contrary: I felt more and more isolated, and it became clear to me that I could not ignore my need to compose any longer. My manager considered my compositions as some kind of private hobby, but to me it was much more. As much as I love the music by the great masters, and as much as I enjoy playing it, composing (and performing) my own music had to come first. It was a difficult decision, since my possibilities as a soloist seemed to be endless and so many promising opportunities were at my fingertips. But I did what I had to do as an artist: I withdrew from the traditional career as concert pianist and immersed myself into the development of my musical language.

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

Being so well acquainted with the romantic repertoire, the music of Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov and Scriabin definitely had a strong influence on my early style. But since I am a child of the 20th century, I have also drawn inspiration from pop and rock music, maybe also a little bit from jazz music. When I discovered Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts and Arvo Pärt’s music in the late nineties, I was deeply moved by the sheer beauty that was still “allowed” in our time. My educational background had suggested to me that contemporary music had to be disharmonic, to put it politely, and I never cared for serialism and all the cacophony that followed. So, essentially, I am in constant search for truth and beauty in my music. My love for Gregorian chant, religious choral music and my Catholic faith have a great influence not only on my compositional style, but also on my understanding of music as a whole.

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

When the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz asked me to compose piano accompaniments for the follow-up of their hugely successful album ‘Chant – Music for Paradise’, I did not want to mess up. They were putting “their” sacred chants into my hands and let me interpret them! In plainchant you have so much freedom and detachment from clearly definable emotions in the sense that have become so accustomed to over the last centuries. It is indeed the most universal and pure musical language on our planet. Putting a piano part underneath it would naturally interpret the chants in some direction. Through hard work and constant rewriting of many passages I found a very personal, yet worthy and unsentimental style for these pieces. The monks liked them so much that they commissioned another four chants for their latest album ‘Chant – Stabat Mater’, which was released  recently.

Which compositions are you most proud of?

Many of my choir pieces are very special to me. Unfortunately, not many of them have been performed so far, which makes me all the more excited that the wonderful Platinum Consort under the direction of Scott Inglis-Kidger will sing the world premiere of my ‘Consecration Prayer’ on 16th November, which is a very personal composition of mine. I am also very happy with my piano piece ‘Obsculta’ and the really beautiful video that my friend Vitùc created for it.

Who are your favorite musicians?

At the moment I am very fond of so many magnificent British choirs: Tenebrae, The Sixteen, Polyphony, Platinum Consort, to name a few. You really are blessed with a unique choral tradition in England!

There are countless pianists that I admire and love, but if I had to pick one, it would be Dinu Lipatti. I love his unpretentious and pure musicianship. I try to follow this role model, and I have never liked musicians who take themselves too seriously and want to be more important than the music. It is the musician’s duty to serve the music, not the opposite.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was crying from beginning to the end when I attended my first live performance of Bach’s B minor Mass in Luxembourg ten years ago. I have never been so moved by a piece of music. It was then that I realised that there is no such thing as old or new music. If music is true, it is timeless and will always reveal a glimpse of eternity to us mortal beings.

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

For the interpreter:

  • Never take yourself too seriously.
  • Always play with open ears and an open heart.
  • Look for the essence behind the notes and remain faithful to the text.
  • Find your personal sound by pursuing meaning rather than virtuosity.
  • Practice hard and value technical exercises and scales. They help you to become better servants of the music you love.

If you’re a composer:

  • Compose with open ears and an open heart.
  • Look for the essence inside your musical ideas and omit what can be left.
  • Let the music write itself by listening as deep as you can.
  • Always question your work. If it can still be improved, don’t shy away from the work.
  • Study the masters, again and again, but be yourself when you compose.

What are you working on at the moment?

I practice Brahms’ Cello Sonata in E minor for a performance with a very special young talent next week. After that I will orchestrate my children’s opera ‘The Little Gnome’ which will be premiered on 19th January in Luxembourg. And I expect the master CD of my new solo album ‘Prayers of Silence’ (which I recorded in August) to be ready any day soon, so I will definitely spend some time with listening and preparing the publication of my most important album so far. In December I will play Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, a piece that is not in my repertoire yet, so I’ll have to practice a lot in November.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness is a gift of the moment and it wouldn’t be special if it were a constant state of being. That being said, I can say that I suffer from failures and bad moments like everyone else, but I am also regularly blessed with happiness when I compose or when I play the piano. But the most blissful moments are those that I spend with my family and especially with my three little children. I should also mention that I find peace in prayer, and it is the hidden driving force of my life.

David Ianni’s ‘Consecration Prayer’ receives its world premiere in a concert by Platinum Consort, under the direction of Scott Inglis-Kidger, on Friday 16th November. Further information and booking here

David Ianni was born in Luxembourg in 1979. He was accepted in the piano class of Daniel Feis in the Conservatoire d’Esch-sur-Alzette at the age of nine. At fifteen, he completed his piano diploma in Luxembourg with a “Premier Prix avec grande distinction”. He continued his studies in London at the Purcell School and later with Tatiana Sarkissova, teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. He also studied with Dimitri Bashkirov, Anatol Ugorski, Radu Lupu and Dirk Joeres. In 2005, he completed his studies with Tonie Ehlen at the Maastricht Conservatory.

After winning a number of prizes in national and international competitions, the sixteen-year-old musician began a career as a concert pianist, performing solo recitals as well as with orchestras in many European countries, India and Japan. His debut CD, with works by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, was released in 1997. In 1999, the recording ‘Theodor Kirchner: Piano Music’ followed.

Since 1998, David Ianni has increasingly dedicated himself to composing his own works. He has written about 100 works, including the oratorio ‘Abraham’s Children’, ‘Pater Noster’ for piano and orchestra, a children’s opera, a string quartet, chamber music as well as numerous choral and piano compositions, which have been performed in Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, India and Japan.

David Ianni’s album Night Prayers with his own piano compositions was published in 2011.

That same year he composed and recorded the piano accompaniments for the album Chant – Amor et Passio by the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, which was awarded a Platinum award in Austria. In 2012 the monks commissioned David to compose and play four chant accompaniments for their album Chant – Stabat Mater.

His new solo album ‘Prayers of Silence’ will be released by Obsculta Music.


The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians – From Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between [Hardback]

Stuart Isacoff

Hardback/paperback: 382 pages
Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd
Language: English
ISBN: 9780285641129

Anyone who has read Charles Rosen’s intelligently-written Piano Notes will find plenty to enjoy in this new book on the “life and times” of the piano by Stewart Isacoff, writer, composer, pianist and lecturer, and founding editor of the magazine Piano Today.

This compact, well-designed book traces the history and evolution of the piano in a richly erudite and engaging narrative, from the unveiling of Mozart’s concertos through to Liszt’s fainting female fans, the rise of the modern travelling virtuoso pianist, to the ‘greats’ of the piano such as Rubinstein, Horowitz, Richter, Gilels, Gould, Peterson, Evans, Tatum, and many more. The book examines why the instrument has had such a fascination for generations of listeners and practitioners, how it can be used as a vehicle for emotional expression and individuality of style, and how it developed into the sleek, beautifully-crafted modern instrument of today. There are numerous sidebars and byways in the text, offering the reader a comprehensive survey of all aspects of the instrument, with plenty of amusing anecdotes, essays, and entertaining rambles around the subject.

Following a schematic course through the chapters, Isacoff’s wide-ranging and accessible text covers subjects such as the groundbreaking music of Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and Debussy to the breathtaking techniques of the great pianists, such as Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, Arthur Rubinstein and Van Cliburn. Asides to the main text serve to amplify and spotlight particular aspects: we have Murray Perahia on shaping the piano’s sounds, Brendel on the challenge of playing Mozart, a profile of Duke Ellington by Oscar Peterson, Garrick Ohlsson on playing Chopin, plus many other contributions by both contemporary commentators and pianists of today, including Piotr Anderszewski, Emmanuel Ax, Billy Joel, Yundi Li, Menahem Pressler and Gabriela Montero. (A section before the index gives further biographical details about all the contributors.)

Jazz, too often overlooked in more traditional histories of the piano and its music, is celebrated with great affection, and the author shows how it grew from the same sources of inspiration as classical repertoire. The text segues comfortably between subjects, enhanced by 100 black-and-white illustrations, and there are copious notes, bibliographical information and a comprehensive index.

This book will delight and enthrall pianists and pianophiles everywhere, and at c£20 is excellent value as a gift for the piano enthusiast.