Stephen Reck, guitarist

Who or what inspired you to take up the classical guitar, and make it your career?

The rage to master happened after hearing a recording of the Concierto De Aranjuez during my teenage years. There were no classical guitar teachers in my native town of Donegal in the Northwest of Ireland so I had to travel an 8 hour roundtrip to Dublin every other weekend to study to renowned Irish classical guitarist John Feeley. Up to this point I had played electric guitar.

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

Andres Segovia, John Williams, Johann Sebastian Bach. My influential teachers were John Feeley, Carlos Bonell and Ricardo Iznaola

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

Adapting to the many skills that are required of the musician today.

Which performances are you most proud of?

Performances that were against the odds when either the material or the emotional state proceeding the performance has been challenging

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

National Concert Hall, Dublin

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Chaconne BWV 1004 Johann Sebastian Bach, Scarlatti Sonatas, music of Albeniz, Granados,

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who manage to transcend the technique and make each phrase sound loved. Segovia, Benedetti, Rheinhardt, Gould, Horowitz, Pollini

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Nigel North playing BWV 1004 on the lute

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

Practice smart not hard, enjoy the challenges and take risks.

What are you working on at the moment?

Various new compositions by French composer Colette Mourey and a second CD

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A good equilibrium between teaching and performing goals

Irish born classical guitarist Stephen Reck is regarded as one of the foremost players of a new generation of artists emerging from Ireland. Born in Dublin, Stephen grew up in a small town called Donegal in the northwest of Ireland. He holds a Bachelor in Music Performance from Trinity College, Dublin and a Masters Music from the London College of Music. Initially he studied with Irish virtuoso John Feeley before leaving Ireland to study in London with Carlos Bonell. Stephen also did advanced guitar studies over two years with Cuban guitarist Ricardo Iznaola in at the University of Denver, USA who said of Stephen’s playing “Great technique and beautiful sound”.

Based in London, Stephen has performed in Ireland, UK, France and America. He has made regular appearances at the John Field Recital Room of the National Concert Hall in Dublin and venues throughout the UK and has also performed and taught at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, Maine, USA performing such contemporary works as Mundis Canis by George Crumb and Tan Dun’s as part of the Gamper Music festival.

He has recently premiered two works written for him by renowned French composer Colette Mourey in Paris. Colette who recently won first prize in the 20th International Competition for Instrumentalists and Composers 2012 said “Stephen Reck is a complete, very sensitive, marvellous musician, with a great quality of inspiration in all the pieces he interprets; beautiful sound, very varied colours…and a great concentration in all his musical and guitaristic effects”.

Distributed by Con Brio recordings, his first album of recorded work “Saudade” was released early in 2007, and has been featured on many radio stations including RTE Lyric FM and WNYC radio New York. According to Jeremy Nicholas of Classic FM Magazine said “An imaginative choice of 12 works sensitively played, intimately recorded and nicely presented ” (June 2008), and American Record Guide “Clean pleasant tone….. his best work is the most challenging piece, Dodgson’s ‘Fantasy Divisions’, which he navigates with involvement and imagination…”

In addition to his solo work Stephen has collaborated for several years with the highly regarded flautist David Cuthbert as part of the group Flautarra and Gina Kruger as part of the Kruger-Reck Piano Guitar Duo

Stephen, one of the students on the course

Another excellent weekend on Penelope Roskell’s Advanced Piano course – my fifth course run by my teacher. Three friends were there, including Stephen Gott, who I met nearly three years ago on the first course we both attended. (Stephen has just entered his second year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.) With a total of just six students, instead of the more usual eight, there was plenty of time for discussion and appreciation of the repertoire we all brought to the course, to play and to share: it was supportive and inspiring. The standard of playing is usually pretty high, which means we get to enjoy quality music, every day.

I have blogged before about how useful I find my teacher’s courses: the small number of students (a maximum of eight to allow plenty of participation), the intimate setting (the course takes place in the spacious sitting room of Penelope’s home) and the (reasonably) relaxed end of course concert on the Sunday afternoon make for an atmosphere that is both stimulating, challenging and friendly. By Sunday, when we’ve all got to know each other better, the atmosphere is relaxed and we often spend the time simply playing music for one another. Sometimes all we need as pianists is to play for others. Helen Burford, a pianist based in Brighton, whom I’ve met a couple of times on these courses, and I even played a suite of tiny duets for beginner students, bringing a touch of elan to each miniature, to the accompaniment of laughter from our fellow students.

By the third day, people are transformed by the experience and someone who may have said at the outset that there is no way they are playing in the concert, feels secure enough to perform. And this, for me, is the major benefit of the course, to give confidence to nervous or shy performers, and to bring out the very best in people through gentle yet focused tutoring.
The course is organised as a series of masterclasses, and begins each morning with yoga-based exercises especially devised for pianists to help loosen shoulders and back, and warm up arms and hands, legs and feet. Everyone gets the chance to play at least once every day, and students can select when in the day they would like to play – some people prefer to play early on “to get it over with” and then sit back and enjoy others playing through the day. We take our lunch in the garden if the weather is fine, or in the conservatory, our musical conversations accompanied by the squeaking of the pet guinea pigs!

I took Liszt’s Sonetto 104 del Petrarca and Mozart’s Rondo in A minor to the course. Both pieces form part of my LTCL Recital programme and I really just wanted to put them before a small audience for some feedback. The Mozart in particular was very well-received, which was most gratifying since I’ve spent such a long time with this piece – playing it, studying it and reading about it. I also played it in the end of course concert.

Another lovely aspect of these courses is the great variety of repertoire one can encounter. Helen always brings interesting pieces, this time ranging from Bach to Chick Corea. On Saturday afternoon, at the very end of the day, she played the evocative Lotus Land by Cyril Scott, a piece we had both, coincidentally, heard, and liked, on the Radio Three recently. It has echoes of Delius, Debussy and Satie. We also enjoyed music by Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy, Haydn, Schumann, Shostakovich, Brubeck, and Vask. Hear a selection of the music we played here:

Autumn Piano Course (a Spotify playlist)

Live performances:

For more information about Penelope Roskell’s advanced piano courses and workshops for pianists and piano teachers, please visit

I’m flagging up this interesting collaboration on behalf of trumpeter Simon Desbruslais, a recent Meet the Artist interviewee……

On Monday 8th October, Simon will be performing with the Ligeti Quartet at Holywell Music Room, Oxford, in two works for the unusual combination of trumpet and string quartet. Both pieces are new commissions, and receive their world premiere on Monday evening: Quintet for Trumpet and Strings (2009) by Robert Keeley, and Simultaneously Sovereign and Invaded (2011) by his student, Steve Hicks. Completing the cycle, music by Keeley’s former composition teacher, Franco Donatoni, will also feature with works for solo trumpet and viola.

The concert will also feature music by Gyorgy Ligeti, including his Poeme Symphonique (1962) for 100 clockwork metronomes. If you have a clockwork metronome, the Ligeti Quartet would love to hear from you. Go along to the concert, and in exchange for the loan of your metronome, you will receive a free ticket.

This promises to be fascinating and unusual evening of music. Further information about the concert here

My Meet the Artist interview with Simon Desbruslais

Paul Smith of VOCES8

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

I think everyone in VOCES8 was very lucky to have some amazing music teachers as we grew up. Many of sang in cathedral choirs and 3 of the founding members were choristers at Westminster Abbey. When you get so completely immersed in choral music from such an early age, I think you either fall in love with it or move away from it completely, and we were the former! We’re very lucky to have a full time job making music with VOCES8 – it’s a wonderful career to have!

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

With 8 different musicians in the group, there are always plenty of musical influences flying around, and that’s what makes working together as an ensemble so exciting. Where Barney or Charles might revel in our early music, and Emily would probably sing Bach all day long, we also all love different genres of music too – Paul loves jazz, and Dingle has a very eclectic musical palette…. All of this feeds into our music making. While we’re an a cappella group, it also helps that some of us play musical instruments too. Rob is a professional organist whenever he has a spare minute to play.

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

Musically, I think our first couple of recording projects were really challenging, but for different reasons. We recorded ‘Aces High’, an album of jazz, pop and James Bond songs, in 2009 in California, and the process was incredibly challenging for all of us. Then, when we recorded the Bach Motets album in 2010, we were challenged, musically, in an entirely different way. We love both discs, but as we look back on those recordings, I think we’re so proud of them because we know how much effort went into them.

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

We spend a lot of our time teaching – we work with about 25,000 young people every year! – and last night we were talking with a group of singers about this very topic in Bedford!

Being a full time performer is wonderful, but there’s something special about being part of a small team. I love being onstage with the same group of people each night, sharing with our audience a concert that we’ve spent months piecing together in the rehearsal room.

Having a vibrant rehearsal environment in which we can all share artistic ideas and then bringing that to life on stage is just great fun! In VOCES8 we have 8 very different personalities too, and that can sometimes be a challenge! We’ve been together now for such a long time that any arguments are always resolved, and I suppose we feel rather like one big family! I know I’m lucky to be surrounded by such a talented and passionate group of people!

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Ha ha! I think I’ve answered this one – if I had to choose one, it would be ‘Aces High’. I think, looking back on this in years to come, we’ll realise that we created something completely new with that album, and I don’t think I’ve found another album in that genre that I prefer, which means I must be happy with how it turned out! It was also amazing to be recording in California and working with the most amazing production team you could possibly imagine.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

In VOCES8 we’ve been really lucky to perform in some fabulous venues…. And while it’s hard to beat some of the top London venues (nothing is ever quite as scary as performing in your home town!), the NCPA in Beijing was just staggering, and the outdoor amphitheatre in Vaison-la-Romaine was a joy to sing in.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many that I couldn’t even start to name check them all, but I’d go for Miles Davis as one…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Headlining the first ever classical music festival in Kenya on a huge outdoor stage will live forever in my mind I think! But we’ve had so many inspiring, emotional, spiritual and sometimes simply funny places to sing… every day is different!

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

That depends entirely on my mood. This week in rehearsal we’ve been looking at Byrd, Panufnik, Marcello and Simon and Garfunkel…. All for different upcoming projects, and all great in different ways.

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

Be open to as much as possible, dedicate yourself to what you want to achieve and then work out how you’re going to get there. Don’t every worry about someone telling you that they don’t like what you’re doing. Art is subjective. And in the world that we live in, being as multi-faceted as possible is always going to be helpful for you.

What are you working on at the moment?

We’ve just finished recording the music for the Olympic Mascots with our composer-in-residence, Thomas Hewitt Jones; we’re working on music by Roxanna Panufnik for a recording linked with our publishing house, Edition Peters, next month; we have a recording project in France with our good friend Patrick Ayrton in the summer and then a busy touring schedule to France, Germany, Spain, Taiwan and Italy to keep us on our toes! Oh, and we’re publishing our first VOCES8 Songbook in July too… then throw into the mix all of the education projects that are coming to an end as the school holidays beckon, and you can imagine we’re not getting to sleep very much at the moment!

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

Happy wherever I am!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

That changes by the day, but feeling like I’m enjoying my life and also able to contribute to the happiness of others.

What is your most treasured possession?

My iPhone and I are pretty inseparable…!

What do you enjoy doing most?

When I’m not making music, I love sport…. And food, wine, films, books…! Hmm.

What is your present state of mind?

I need another coffee!

Like several members of the group, Paul’s musical life began as a treble in Westminster Abbey. His singing continued at Bedford School, where he held a music scholarship, and later at King’s College, Cambridge, during his gap year. Whilst studying PPE at the University of York, he spent much of his time performing musical theatre and jazz, most notably appearing in a production of Candide. At this time he was also a member of the RSCM’s Millennium Youth Choir. Upon graduating in 2004 he embarked upon a successful career in corporate training and events with the New London Orchestra and the Irish Chamber Orchestra. In August 2006 Paul assumed the position of CEO for Voces Cantabiles Music.

Paul’s light baritone has made him the perfect choice for VOCES8′s early repertoire. An experienced performer in jazz and music theatre, he also provides the group with the American twang for the lighter repertoire. A height-based comedic partnership with his fellow bass, Dingle, has amused audiences the world over.

Alongside his singing duties with VOCES8 Paul leads the Hatch My Ideas! initiative run by Voces Cantabiles Music. Paul shines both as a Workshop Leader and Manager, and the projects he and his team have designed have innovated music education in UK.

Visit for more information.


The international award-winning octet, VOCES8, has established itself at the forefront of British a cappella. Performing a repertoire ranging from Renaissance polyphony to unique Jazz and Pop arrangements, the group has been praised for stunning performance, exquisite singing and creating a sound that spans the entire range of vocal colour.

Founded in 2003 by ex-choristers of Westminster Abbey, VOCES8’s career has developed both in the classical choral scene and the world of a cappella with an annual touring schedule that takes the group to Europe, the USA, Africa and Asia. Highlights include performances at the Royal Festival Hall, the Wigmore Hall, Tel Aviv Opera House and the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

With an ongoing programme of recordings and live broadcasts VOCES8 is heard regularly on international television and radio including Deutschlandradio Kultur, ARTE TV and the BBC.

VOCES8 plays a key role in the education work of the non-profit foundation VOCES CANTABILES MUSIC. The group leads innovative workshops as part of larger outreach projects in two hundred schools throughout the UK and internationally. VOCES8’s education work extends to workshops and master-
classes for people of all ages and abilities with the aim of inspiring creativity through music.

Acclaimed British pianist and joint silver medal winner of the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition (1982), Peter Donohoe opens the new season of concerts presented by Sutton House Music Society, at Sutton House in Hackney, east London.

In a programme wittily entitled ‘Opus 1’, Peter explores the early works of the great composers – Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Schumann, Berg and Brahms. This promises to be an excellent concert not to be missed, and early booking is recommended.

Concerts at Sutton House take place in The Barn, and the intimate venue is a wonderful place to hear top-quality international artists as well as up-and-coming musicians. Other performers in the 2012-13 season include Elena Riu, The Roskell Piano Trio and the Fitzwilliam Quartet.
Further details and tickets here

My Meet the Artist interview with Peter Donohoe

John Reid

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

First of all, the piano chose me. And secondly, I’ve always felt myself to be a musician who happens to play the piano. Both of these clichés seem to have more than a grain of truth in them in my case. Music has been at the heart of my life for as long as I can remember, but there was a period of over twenty years between the time my parents would put me in front of the record player or radio to keep me quiet and my first day as a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy. My childhood and formative years were spent in the world of church music; as a cathedral chorister, playing the organ, dabbling in conducting, trying to be a good academic. I was a decent all-rounder.

I made the decision to pursue further piano studies, quite consciously, as an adult. I had always been drawn to the keyboard instruments because I could be self-contained, playing multiple musical lines and harmonies without the need for anyone else to be involved. The irony is that I was compelled, in the end, to concentrate on the piano because I found the organ such a lonely and dauntingly mechanical instrument – and I needed to make colours, dynamics and nuances with my own fingers, in close proximity to other living and breathing musicians.

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

Singing was at the centre of my life as a child. That’s why accompanying singers has always felt the most natural thing in the world to me: my default setting, as it were. I was bitten by the Lieder bug later on and, of course, I’ve had to learn a good deal about the technicalities of playing with singers; but I’ve had to work much harder when taking on other, far less instinctively-felt, roles as a performer. I still tend to think of a vocal ideal when I’m learning all but the most thornily anti-lyrical pieces: how a singer might phrase, or colour, this or that idea.

I’ve been very lucky with my teachers: most have appeared like good angels at exactly the right time for me to absorb their particular ideas and qualities. I also owe a huge debt to the many wonderful colleagues with whom I’ve worked – I’ve learnt something from every single one of them.

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

When you start out as a musician, nobody will ever tell you that it’s an easy life. And the doomsayers are right, of course! But, if you can rise above the insecurities and uncertainties of what can often seem a cruel and arbitrary profession, then challenges can energise and inspire. Finding a reasonable work-life balance requires constant reappraisal for any freelancer: you’re either too busy, or panicking if the diary looks blank. In terms of performing and preparing for concerts, I tend to find the moments of anticipation the hardest. How will I ever learn this music for this time next week? Will I have the courage to walk out onto the stage (even with the most sympathetic colleague by my side)? Taking the suitcase out from under the bed is never fun. But once I’ve played the first note, or have closed the front door, I tend to be fine.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?  

I’ve never listened to my few recordings beyond the final edit. There will be an interesting psychological reason why I have a horror of doing so, I’m sure. I feel very proud of some of my performances, although I suspect that these concerts take on a kind of retrospective glamour in the memory. Generally speaking, the tougher the preparation (for whatever technical or musical reason), the greater the sense of achievement at the end of the performance. This summer, for example, I played the Korngold Suite for piano left hand and string trio at Wigmore Hall: a remarkable piece, but not one I would have ever chosen to learn (for fear of its difficulties). But I accepted the challenge, the months of work paid off, and even my right hand forgave me in the end…

A handful of times, when I have felt totally connected to the music, the adrenaline has kicked in during performance and I’ve thought, fleetingly: Yes! This is why I do it!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

It tends be easy to understand why the prestigious venues develop the reputation that they do. And it’s always a pleasure to play on a wonderful instrument in a hall with a glorious natural sound; indeed, it’s much, much harder to give of your best on a sub-optimal or anodyne piano in an unforgiving acoustic. But, in my experience, it’s the quality of listening from the audience which determines (strongest of all) whether or not a concert might fly; and the most responsive and open audiences are not necessarily to be found at the ‘ideal’ venues.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

One of the reasons why I would never wish to concentrate exclusively on one area of expertise or repertoire is that I would miss everything that I wasn’t specialising in: the grass would always be greener on the other side. I would never wish to be without the Mozart concertos on the one hand, or the songs of Schubert and Wolf on the other. Having spent ages not missing playing alone one bit, I now hanker after learning vast tracts of the solo repertoire – and the several lives needed in order to achieve that goal. But I don’t believe in reincarnation, so some music – like the 48 – will almost certainly, and regrettably, remain private practice material, if that.

My listening history, viewed chronologically, would come across as being somewhat quirky; I first became obsessed by Wozzeck when I was sixteen or thereabouts, but I only discovered Traviata and Steely Dan about five years ago. These days, it’s hard to find time to listen to music regularly, but I hope that my tastes are more discerning and wide-ranging in spite of (or as a result of) my relative selectiveness.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I’m drawn to artists who risk intimacy even in large concert halls, who draw you in, who challenge any preconceived ideas that you might have about the music (or them), and who command your attention from first note to last.

I don’t listen much to piano music, although I hear recordings by Arrau, Gilels, Lupu, Barenboim (also live) Argerich, Nelson Freire and Geoffrey Parsons, hoping that I might absorb something from their playing as if by osmosis – quite a vain thing to do, come to think of it! I listen avidly to singers in all kinds of repertoire. I’ve become fascinated by the string quartet repertoire, largely through my wife who is a wonderful amateur violist and chamber musician. I’ve heard so many evenings of wonderful music making direct from our living room; these players come directly from the office, hungry to play late Beethoven quartets. That’s inspiring!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

This is an impossible question to answer in brief. Certain experiences from last Autumn, however, will always remain with me: playing Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the King’s Place Festival, and then hearing and seeing (in close succession) Boulez and the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Pli Selon Pli and Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in Bruckner 5.

On another note, I could write a book about numerous carry-on style exploits at concerts, especially incidents relating to page-turners: memorable experiences for all the wrong reasons…

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

To develop an exceptionally thick skin for the practical side of being a musician, and as thin a skin as you can bear for the creative side. To be open to inspiration from wherever it might come. To find a balance between work and play during the necessary long hours at your instrument. To know your musical values, but to know when and how to be flexible. To go into the profession with aims other than being rich and famous. To develop some long-term objectives, while tearing up the five-year plan. To have integrity.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m co-curating a series for the Britten centenary at King’s Place in February 2013. Over the course of three concerts (and a few talks), we’ll be exploring some of Britten’s lifelong preoccupations (his pacifism, his work as pianist, festival director and conductor at Aldeburgh) through his own music and the composers that he championed, alongside a handful of new works from representatives of the post-Britten generations in the UK.

Otherwise, I have a large pile of music by the piano, ready for learning or revising.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Standing on top of a mountain, having climbed it: that moment when the clouds part and you see the view.

John Reid will be performing at the Music at Malling Festival, which runs from 27th-30th September. Further details here.


John Reid’s career to date has shown him to be a pianist of notable versatility and range, with wide experience as an outstanding chamber musician, song accompanist, soloist and exponent of new music. 

Current and recent projects have included a Brahms and Schumann series with The Sixteen in London, Manchester and Bruges; recitals to mark the centenary of Kathleen Ferrier’s birth in Manchester and at The Sage Gateshead with mezzo-soprano Diana Moore, and at Wigmore Hall (in a programme devised by Graham Johnson); and collaborations with Maxim Rysanov (at Kings Place in London) and clarinettist Sarah Williamson (at Wigmore Hall). He is a regular guest with the Northern Sinfonia in the chamber music series at The Sage, and is a principal of the Aurora Orchestra, with whom he has appeared at the major recital venues in London, and at the BBC Proms and BBC Proms Plus series. 

John Reid studied at Clare College, Cambridge and at the Royal Academy of Music with Michael Dussek. As a student, he was the recipient of the Gerald Moore Award and the Kathleen Ferrier and Maggie Teyte prizes. He currently works with Christine Croshaw.