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

My parents couldn’t afford a babysitter, so I was attending concerts at the Belgrade Philharmonic from the ripe age of three months with a milk bottle – thus food became an important part of my musical life later on.

My older brother and sister already played violin and cello respectively, but it was in one of the concerts that I heard the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto (as you see, a certain modernity was always a necessity for me) and I decided I was going to be a pianist, to the utter dismay of our neighbours who then had to endure the practicing of three instruments.

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

Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Boulez, Thomas Mann, Rembrandt, all sharing a strength of disciplined thought and lack of self-indulgence.

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

My country (former Yugoslavia) was in multiple wars in the 1990´s. Having moved from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia to Cologne, I lost all concert bookings, the opportunity to travel freely and, most importantly, all financial help in the form of scholarships. Everything was annulled as sanctions were imposed on Serbia. My life subsisted on a couple of hundred Deutschmarks a month, working strange jobs, having not more then handful of concerts in almost a decade, eating once a day for prolonged moments of studying and traveling with considerable difficulties due to visa issues.I have never practiced as much as in those years.

But the question of changing the profession was a daily one. I worked but my work was not used – and for me not being useful is close to a sin.

Some years later I was offered series of concerts with Pierre Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata, which I had to learn, and it became my inspiration, the re-start of a career and a source of energy for now more then 15 years – the mix of courageous, revolting, poetic and young energy in this piece transformed me and gave me the hope that my talent could be useful.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Playing all Boulez piano works in a series of recitals in the USA, and traveling with my husband and 6 month-old baby was a tour de force like none other. Performing all 6 Bach Partitas in one evening in Germany, or Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphonie 10 times on 10 consecutive days are high on my list of excitements. Seeing Maestro Brendel giving me a standing ovation in London still gives me shivers. Accompanying Matthias Goerne were experiences with an intensity and beauty that is unmatchable.

My CD of Bach/Bartok (available online) is where I have produced the truest portrait so far of what is close and true to me as an artist.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

The unpretentious ones that have a considerable complexity on all levels – emotional, structural, aural – and that represent a huge amount of challenge as well as surprise.

Bach, Boulez, Stockhausen, Ives, Szymanowski for the moment.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
In constant dialogue with organisers as it shouldn’t be about me, but teamwork between my given curiosity, possibilities of the instrument, hall, timing of the season and openness of the public for a given evening. Thankfully I have a wise agent who after 17 different programmes does ask if it is not just maybe a little bit too much of repertoire for one season.

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

Kolarac in Belgrade, loved by Richter as well.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The uncompromising ones – John Eliott Gardiner, Harnoncourt, Boulez, Richter, Oistrakh, Annie Fischer, Rosalyn Tureck, Matthias Goerne, Salonen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hopefully the next one…..but recently having Maestro Pollini come to my recital in La Scala.

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

Think about what the role of a musician is today and how you can be at best useful for today’s society – for me certainly not playing only older repertoire, but thinking how to link music of all times and span it to extraordinary creations of today. Challenge yourself by not copying someone else’s path, and be more open to creation of today then re-creating old career structures. In short, less image more substance.

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

Admiring my, then, teenage son, finishing a literature degree and gaining a driver’s licence, completing all ashtanga yoga series.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Health

What is your most treasured possession?

My son

What is your present state of mind?

Gratefulness

Known for captivating interpretations of a wide repertoire, Tamara Stefanovich performs at the world’s major concert venues including Carnegie Hall New York, Berlin Philharmonie, Suntory Hall Tokyo and London’s Royal Albert and Wigmore Halls. She features in international festivals such as Lucerne, La Roque d’Antheron, Ravenna, Aldeburgh, Salzburger Festspiele, Styriarte Graz, Klavier-Festival Ruhr and Beethovenfest Bonn.

Highlights of the current season include her return to the Philharmonia Orchestra with Esa-Pekka Salonen, performances of Szymanowski’s Symphonie concertante on tour with the National Youth Orchestra Great Britain and the presentation of Quasi una fantasia and the Double concerto with the Ensemble Asko|Schönberg and Reinbert de Leeuw at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw as part of ECM’S complete recording of Kurtág’s works. She will give recitals at International Piano Series London, Musikfest Berlin, Milano Musica, Vienna’s Konzerthaus and Antwerp’s De Singel performing Stockhausen’s Mantra with Pierre-Laurent Aimard.

Tamara is cofounder and curator of the newly created festival “The Clearing” at Portland International Piano Series that will see her perform in recitals and work with young pianists and composers. Her appearance at the festival will be surrounded by recitals in Ithaca and Bellingham.

Recent engagements have included Tamara’s debut with the Sarasota Orchestra and performances with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, MDR Symphonieorchester Leipzig, WDR Symphonieorchester Köln, Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Iceland Symphony Orchestra as well as an extensive US recital tour marking the 90th birthday of Pierre Boulez garnering exultant reviews such as that of The New York Times: “Ms. Stefanovich’s performance of Boulez’ second piano sonata was staggeringly brilliant”.

Stefanovich has appeared with orchestras including The Cleveland and Chicago Symphonies, London Symphony, London Philharmonic, Bamberger Symphoniker, Britten Sinfonia, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and London Sinfonietta.

Tamara Stefanovich has collaborated with conductors such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Pierre Boulez, Osmo Vänskä, Susanna Mälkki, Vladimir Jurowski as well as leading composers including Peter Eötvös and György Kurtág. She regularly leads educational projects at London’s Barbican Centre, Philharmonie Köln and at Klavier-Festival Ruhr such as innovative online project of interactive pedagogical analyses of Boulez’ Notations: www.explorethescore.org

Her discography includes the Grammy-nominated recording of Bartók’s Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Pierre Boulez and the London Symphony Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon. Stefanovich has also recorded for the AVI and harmonia mundi labels, featuring new piano solo works by Thomas Larcher. Her latest recording of Hans Abrahamsen’s concerto for piano and orchestra and 10 studies for piano with WDR Symphonieorchester Köln released by Winter & Winter. In 2015 she recorded Kurtág’s ‘Quasi una Fantasia’ and the Double Concerto with Asko | Schönberg Ensemble and Reinbert de Leeuw for ECM.

Taught by Lili Petrović, Tamara Stefanovich became the youngest student at the University of Belgrade at the age of 13. As well as music, her broad university education encompassed several other disciplines – psychology, education. She also studied at the Curtis Institute with Claude Frank, and subsequently with Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the Hochschule Köln.

(Photo: Marco Borggreve)

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Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

When I was growing up, my parents and brothers always played records in the house, ranging from opera and instrumental classical music through to rock and blues. I listened to the charts regularly as well as all the things my family played and started buying my own records from when I was about 5 years old.

I would spend hours with my head between the speakers of the stereo, captivated by the production and ‘sound stage’ of the recordings, and I would spend just as much time recording soundtracks from the TV and things outdoors. Although I used to enjoy making short cassette tape constructions as well as exploring the pedals and strings of the piano we had at home, it occurred to me quite late that I should attempt to develop my ideas into something more compositional, or even try and notate them.

In 1986 I went to the University of East Anglia to study languages. Once there I discovered its wonderful music department and thought that this would be a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to explore music further. Inspired, quite literally, by Dave Brubeck’s example, I changed to study music and have never looked back. I have the composer Denis Smalley, my then teacher, to thank for opening my ears to so many unknown musical worlds and for setting excellent standards in both composition and performance.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

I am always influenced by the things around me, as I like to keep my ears and eyes open. I hope that that will never change and I still enjoy keeping up to date with pop music and other dance and club-oriented things, something I was able to pursue professionally as a DJ for a while. But my musical life has also been influenced by any explorations of structure, space and narrative (political, spiritual or otherwise) that I find interesting, ranging from the buildings of Zaha Hadid and Denys Lasdun, the poetry of Adrienne Rich and Seamus Heaney, to the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. to name but a few.

Musically Dave Brubeck’s daring improvisations and the intensity of his voice have certainly been a big influence on me, as has, for example, Miles Davis’ stunningly adventurous conception of sound. Karlheinz Stockhausen has, however, been perhaps the biggest influence. The clarity, playfulness, and the human quality of his composed/improvised music is something I learned from enormously. I have a postcard from him on which he wrote “balance your music!”, after he listened to one of my compositions. That’s something I’ve tried to adhere to.

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

Of all the challenges I suppose finding new paths, being original (but never at the expense of the quality and intention of the work) and ‘remaining true to myself’ are the greatest. Of course, they could easily become frustrating but I always see them as something positive, something that helps me grow and learn.

Getting pieces heard can however be frustrating as can the sadly often conservative programming of so-called ‘experimental’ concerts and festivals. The musical landscape has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, and so the challenge to be open to new spaces, open to the development of new musical languages but at the same to be true to oneself and to produce works of quality certainly doesn’t diminish in importance.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I really like working on commissioned pieces for two reasons: Firstly, if the piece is either for myself to perform or simply for electro-acoustic playback, I enjoy having free reign to explore what I need to explore; secondly if the work is for someone else, I very much enjoy being influenced, even slightly, by the tastes, characteristics and abilities of the performer in question. That way, the work becomes tailor-made in some aspects. Mr Gee’s Magical Trombone Case, a suite of 3 electro-acoustic miniatures commissioned by Principal RPO trombonist Matthew Gee, contains for example many of his performance gestures and my reflections on his sense of humour. It is a lot of fun to work with him.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I suppose very similar to the above. We are all humans and I love each player’s idiosyncrasies. Working with musicians in that way is a very human exchange and leads to an often unique experience and dynamic.

Of which works are you most proud?

‘Pride’ is a word I never use to describe my creative activities, or indeed myself as a whole. There are certainly compositions which I have feel have successfully reached the goal and expressed the message that I may have had in mind, and even though the very act of composition will sometimes take me in a new and surprising direction, I might still feel satisfied that some good work has been done, that the goal has been reached and the message successfully communicated. Such pieces might be 5 Portraits for Solo Piano (1992), Comma 02 (2006), Falling Man, Rising Woman (2015), and three very recent pieces from 2016 La Mia Coppa Trabocca for Piano & Electronics, Mr. Gee’s Magical Trombone Case and Stations of the Cross for Solo Piano.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Searching, questioning.

How do you work?

Earlier in my career, I would compose 3-4 days per week, but now, I’m experiencing a flood of ideas that I have to get out. I can’t keep myself away from the studio or away from the piano, but I am organised and work methodically, even sometimes late into the night. I also like to work in isolation.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There have been (and still are) so many but to name just a few: Dave Brubeck; Miles Davis; Karlheinz Stockhausen; Beethoven; Bartók; Haydn; Morton Feldman; Trevor Wishart; J.S. Bach (he scares me, in a good way); Mitsuko Uchida; Julius Drake; the very sound itself of acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments, which all have their own characteristics and personalities.

In my direct circle of friends, I would have to say Roland Fidezius and Rudi Fischerlehner, both members of The Occasional Trio. They are simply a joy and always an inspiration to work with. Also Tom Arthurs, who is without doubt one of the finest musicians I know. And finally Sophie Tassignon, an artist who uses her voice to create fantastic clouds of sound.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Again, there have quite a few but to name two of them: A Brubeck concert in 1997 in Bath, where he took some breathtaking harmonic and rhythmic risks that I still remember clearly

to this day; Michael’s ‘Reise um die Erde’ from Stockhausen’s Donnerstag aus Licht which I saw performed in 2016 in Berlin. The music was so exquisite and touching, that I cried at the end of the concert and couldn’t speak for quite a few hours afterwards.

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

Explore, find your voice, and let no one stand in your way.

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

Composing and performing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Peace and tranquility, a moment’s rest from everything, to be able to sit and watch the world. A meal together with friends. To work at the piano or in the studio and be inspired.

What is your most treasured possession?

My soul. It guides me and I treasure it dearly.

 

 

 

 

Nominated in 2014 for a Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists, Simon Vincent is a performer and composer of acoustic and electronic music, who has been challenging the boundaries of genre and musical expression with a highly personal language since the early 1990’s.

“Visionary and expressive”, “rich and surprising”, “beautiful music”, “intelligent”, “delicate”, “impressionistic”, “fresh”, “incredibly individual”, “masterful compositions”, Simon’s music has attracted praise and radio play from critics as varied as Ben Watson, Julian Cowley, Nick Luscombe, Massimo Ricci, Gilles Peterson, Mr. Scruff, Fourtet, AtJazz, and has been reviewed internationally in many publications including The Wire, De:Bug, Knowledge Magazine, Dragon Jazz, Extranormal and Kudos.

Releasing work on Erstwhile Records, EMANEM, L’innomable, Good Looking Records, as well as  own label Vision of Sound, Simon’s unique work has led to appearances worldwide at the Glastonbury Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Akademie der Künste (Berlin), ICA London, London Fashion Week, Club Transmediale (Berlin), National Museum (Stockholm), Progression Sessions (London), Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik (Darmstadt), Q-02 (Brussels), Visiones  Sonoras (Mexico City), Making New Waves (Budapest), >Sync 2013, as well as on Resonance FM, BBC Radio 3, Ministry of Sound Radio, and FM4-Austria among many others.

He started Vision Of Sound Records & Publishing in 1997 to promote his contemporary classical and experimental music, and is currently recording selected solo piano compositions for release in April 2017, as well as composing new works for London-based trombonist Matthew Gee and Malmö-based pianist Jesper Olsson.

 
 (photo: ©Anna Agliardi)

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

I came to the piano quite early – when still in my mother’s womb! She’s a piano teacher and when 5 months pregnant with me, she played her diploma recital from Berlin university, so I was quite close to the keys from the beginning. I started playing the piano before being able to speak (I was admittedly rather slow when it came to forming words), and there are pictures of me playing the piano as soon as I was tall enough to reach for the keys, high above my head.

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

That would be my parents. My mother, the piano teacher, and my father who is a composer and architect. Mum introduced a lot of the classical and romantic repertoire to me, while dad brought 20th century music to my attention, relatively early on.

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

Finding my way after my study years in New York, moving to Europe with practically no professional connections and nothing going for me. I wanted to build my career without doing piano competitions and realized that I needed to become my own teacher and find my own way once I had finished school. So I had a lot of time for self-study and focused especially on the works of J.S. Bach, started my own record company and later also started a music festival in Reykjavík, and gradually began to get more and more invitations to play concerts. But it wasn’t always easy. Getting a manager seemed very difficult early on, I sent some CD’s and letters to different people and never got answers. I felt the business was simply impossible, that no one was listening, regardless of how you played or what you did. But bit by bit things started to happen and it helped me quite a lot when Alfred Brendel reassured me in 2012 by telling me that “it takes 15 years to become famous overnight”. I think that holds true for the great majority of International performers, but not many people talk about it.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It’s easy to look at everything one has done and only see the things that one would have liked to do differently in the present. I think we have to embrace the different phases of our artistic development and often I find that peformances from the past are considerably better than I had imagined and worried.

I’m rather happy about my Bach-Chopin album from 2011 with Partitas No 2 and 5 and the 24 preludes, I can listen to that disc and enjoy it. For concert performances, I’ll mention my first Rach 3 performance, from 2007 with Iceland Symphony and Rumon Gamba (on Youtube). I was actually very unhappy with myself after the concert but today I don’t really understand why.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Not for me to say, but I do feel very comfortable in the works of J.S. Bach and Ludvig van Beethoven.

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

I try to have a healthy balance of adding new concertos and recital works to my repertoire and to revisit works I’ve played before. I also try to commission and premiere a new Piano Concerto every 2-3 years. Right now, I’m actually more into revisiting works, but I’m still adding 3-4 piano concertos every season and probably 1-2 recital programmes.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? My favourite venue is Harpa in Reykjavík. I was honoured to perform the very first concert in the big hall in 2011, the Grieg Piano Concerto with Iceland Symphony and Vladimir Ashkenazy, and I still get this extra buzz of excitement when going on stage there. Besides, the acoustics are marvellous, the pianos great and backstage you have the view of the ocean and Mount Esja, my favourite mountain.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones who keep an open ear and never take anything for granted.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The opening concert of Harpa Concert House in 2011.

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

I think the most important is to find a way to become your own teacher. For that you have to try to develop the skill to listen to yourself while you play as if you were sitting 15 meters away in the hall. Quite paradoxical. Nothing is better in this regard than recording yourself, whether at home or for an album release. But it can be painful and one always wants to practise just a little bit more before pressing the rec button and having to look in that musical mirror…

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

Alive and playing great music!

What is your most treasured possession?

My Steinway B model Grand Piano from 2009 and my gorgeous Longman and Broderip Square Piano from 1785.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m on an airplane as I write these answers, heading to Iceland. It’s 25th February and somehow I’ve already played 12 concerts this month. I’m a bit tired and am so looking forward to having 10 days of break!

Vikingur Olafsson’s CD of Philip Glass Piano Works is available now on the DG label

Possessing a rare combination of passionate musicality, explosive virtuosity and intellectual curiosity, Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson has won all the major prizes in his native country, including four Musician of the Year prizes at the Icelandic Music Awards as well as The Icelandic Optimism Prize.

Víkingur grew up in Iceland where he studied with Erla Stefánsdóttir and Peter Máté. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald.

Read Vikingur’s full biography

[Interview date: 25th February 2017}

 

(picture: Harrison Parrott)

warwick-blair

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

My sisters used to play this track by Danny Kaye called ‘Thumbelina’, at 33 and a third, it was originally a 45 RPM recording, but they played it at a much slower speed, and consequently it used to freak me out, it used to scare me. I was only 3 or 4 years old, but it was the idea of the transformation of material. It remains very important to me and it marked a milestone, and if we’re talking a thread, that’s definitely one.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Although I have worked with Xenakis, and studied with Andriessen and Gilius Bergeijk; perhaps those composers can be viewed as more abstract.The fact that I was brought up in a household where Chopin’s music was revered, and played constantly, is a significant influence, resulting in an appreciation of lyricism and perhaps gesture. When I was living in London in the late 80s, I saw Dead Can Dance play at Sadler’s Wells, again a definite high point, showing me the possibilities of integrating pop cultural influences with a more classical music sound world. This shows itself in my practice today in the collision of styles, demonstrating a search for a deeper meaning, where eclectic diversity and temporal associations offer exceptional musical freedoms, where all sound is equally relevant and musical hierarchies are leveled, so that something more abstract, more universal, can emerge.

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

Although I am ambitious, being a New Zealander living in New Zealand, trying to bring my music to the world, via the UK. As I grow older and realise “who” I am; a composer, I will never stop writing music and that is the journey that I must accept and am on.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Apart from the obvious financial and emotional reward of being asked to write a commissioned work, there is no difference between a commissioned work and a non- commissioned work in terms of pleasure; they are equally pleasurable.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

The challenge of working with particular performers is an understanding of psychology (or sometimes psychiatry, ha ha). After all did not Ravel say performers are slaves?

Of which works are you most proud?

The work that I’m most proud of originates from 1985 called Dream State, an electronic work that is a precursor to Generative music, using the Japanese modular synthesizer, Roland System 700. I’m proud of it because it’s quite pioneering in a way. The instrumental work Electric (aka State of Being) is an opera dating from 2013, which had its world premiere at the Tête à Tête opera festival. The scene called ‘Love’, I find especially moving.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

My compositional language is quite eclectic, but broadly speaking folk or tonally influenced. There’s a sense of egalitarianism, as Louis Andriessen has said, I am working at a new kind of ‘world’ or ‘universal’ metaphysical musical language. Perhaps in a way, I’m trying to find the ‘truth’.

How do you work?

I use a variety of equipment to aid my compositional process, be it a computer, iPad, iPhone or pencil & paper. i use a lot of sampling techniques. there seems to be a conceptual approach that informs my technical processes.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

They tend to be mavericks, who exist outside an established or accepted system, but cross all styles, for instance whether it be pop, world or classical.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Dead Can Dance 1988 at Sadler’s Wells.

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

Music should have a conceptual reason behind it, for instance we don’t need another string quartet to add to the canon and history of string quartets, but a work such as my Stars, a 24 hour work, could be said to have value from its very nature; it being unique, although inspired by (Gandharva music). To have something to say, to have a point of difference, not to follow the mainstream, and to listen to all sorts of music constantly. To never give up and keep going, and to share love with the world.

What is your present state of mind?
To share love with the world.

 

Warwick Blair Ensemble, featuring musicians from both UK and New Zealand, perform at Club Inégales (1 June), offering a unique insight into the work of the ‘enfant terrible’ of contemporary Antipodean music.

Hailing from New Zealand, Warwick Blair has a reputation of one of the most eminent composers New Zealand has produced in years. Having studied under Louis Andriessen and Iannis Xenakis, Blair’s music fuses classical and indigenous traditions with electronics in a mesmerizing minimalistic soundscape. In this London residency, he will examine the concept of memory, with the ability of the mind to retain certain information and yet reject other selective memories has fascinated the composer for many years. His performances will become his personal explorations of a musical palette that draws on various seemingly opposing genres or styles, creating a compelling and challenging soundscape.

The concerts will offer two his most eminent works, Melusine (2015) and Etuden (2014), both premiered last year during his Kingston University residency. While the former demonstrates the influence of Puccini’s lyrical melodies and Wagner’s pioneering chromaticism, but also draws on serialism, the avant-garde and contemporary songwriters, such as Lorde & Rowland S Howard, Etuden is a work that combines the influences of Chopin and Billie Holiday.

warwickblair.com

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

I started to play the cello at five years old as both my parents were professional string players and it seemed like the right thing to do. When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with the lung condition Bronchiectasis and this led to the decision that maybe taking up a brass instrument (with the added element of deep breathing!) would be a great way to strengthen my lungs. From there it was a case of playing in various orchestras, ensembles and listening to famous horn players which made me realise that pursuing a career in music was definitely the way forward for me.

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

My teacher at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, Sue Dent, was absolutely incredible for me in terms of developing as a musician both with and without the instrument. I studied with her for almost eight years before my idol, Radek Baborak, of whom I had listened to almost every recording and watched every YouTube video of, invited me to study with him in Berlin at the Barenboim-Said Academy. Aside from horn players, I was always very interested in the artistry of Rostropovich and listening to recordings made at a time before it was possible to edit them to perfection. This raw energy is something I really admire.

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

I think an on-going challenge and a challenge I will have for the rest of my career is to convince first the management and organisational side to music, then the wonderful audiences that the horn should be held in high regard as a solo instrument!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Performing in the Brass Category Final of the BBC Young Musician Competition for me was the single most enjoyable musical experience of my life. I had dreamt about being on that stage for years and had really prepared every single note of my programme as well as physically possible. To be rewarded with such an incredible response from both the live audience and then the people watching at home was just incredible,

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think when it comes to very technically difficult and abstract contemporary music, I really enjoy taking the time to figure out the puzzle and think that it is an area of music where I feel most at ease performing.

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

As a young aspiring soloist, I tend to accept any invitation I get to play and more often than not, promoters already have a piece or programme in mind. Now and then it is possible to make requests and here I try and add concertos that people very rarely play and are most likely unknown to the audience.

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

I recently played in the KKL Concert Hall in Lucerne, Switzerland and before even stepping foot inside the unbelievable hall, had fallen in love with the town.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One of my favourite pieces to perform is the Franz Strauss Nocturne for Horn and Piano. It is really quite cheesy but so satisfying to play and allows you to really express yourself to the audience. To listen to…will always be the Goldberg Variations by J.S Bach.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have many favourite musicians both dead and alive! I think my teacher, Radek Baborak, is quite an extraordinary musician as is Daniel Barenboim and I am also fascinated by the wonderful percussionist Martin Grubinger.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut at the Royal Albert Hall with the English Festival Orchestra was by far, for me, the most special concert I have ever been involved with. To walk out to a completely sold out RAH, with sound coming from all sides was just incredible. And then to see the audience’s faces light up with the Rondo of the third movement from Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto was really special.

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

I think that something that is quite seriously overlooked in aspiring musicians and certainly something I overlooked is the simple fact that people should be in music and study music to enjoy it. The profession is too difficult anyway so at least enjoy making the music!

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

Easier said than done but I would love to be in a position where I was performing concertos with orchestras all over the world!

Described as “a musical Bear Grylls” (Huffington Post, May 2016), Ben has quickly emerged as one of the most exciting horn players of his generation. Winner of the Brass Category Final in the 2016 BBC Young Musician Competition, Ben went on reach the concerto finals at London’s Barbican Hall, where he performed Strauss Horn Concerto No. 2 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Mark Wigglesworth.

From October 2016, Ben has been studying with Radek Baborak at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin. Keen to promote the horn as a solo instrument, he has recently recorded his debut CD with Willowhayne Records, featuring works by composers including Schumann, York Bowen, Kalevi Aho and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Upcoming concerto highlights include Strauss with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Mozart with the European Union Chamber Orchestra and representing the British Council at the European Soloists Festival in Venezuala. Other recent notable highlights include a live broadcast on Austrian TV and Radio of the Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto with the mdw Chamber Orchestra and a solo recital at the Royal Albert Hall, Elgar Room. Ben has also been guest principal with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra under conductor Daniel Barenboim. 

In 2016, Ben won the Philip Jones Memorial Prize at the Royal Overseas League Annual Music Competition for most outstanding brass player, the Cox Memorial Prize and audience prize at the Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra Young Soloist Competition, second prize at the Leoš Janáček International Competition and second prize at the Bromsgrove International Musicians Competition. Ben was recently invited to participate in the International Music Academy for Soloists (Bückeberg Palace, Germany) and the International Summer Academy for Wind Soloists (Payerbach, Austria).

Born into a musical family, Ben began playing the horn aged nine, and commenced studies with Susan Dent at the Royal College of Music Junior Department two years later. At the age of 13, Ben was appointed principal horn of the National Youth Chamber Orchestra and, in 2014, principal horn of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain where he was awarded the John Fletcher Brass Prize for his contribution to the orchestra.  In 2012, he was the youngest participant in the London Symphony Orchestra Brass Academy. Ben has also played with the Philharmonia and collaborated with Dame Shirley Bassey on her 2015 Christmas Single.

Ben is grateful for support from Awards for Young Musicians, Dorothy Croft Trust for Young Musicians and EMI Music Sound Foundation. He is a June Emerson Wind Music Young Artist. As a result of his success in the BBC Young Musician Competition, Ben receives career guidance and diary management from the Young Classical Artists Trust.

Ben plays on a Gebr. Alexander 103 horn.

JamesHeather_ModulationsLandscape_byFabriceBourgelle

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

Ever since my family took on a second-hand piano from a friend when I was 9 I started to make music, I used to play with a box on my head to learn to play freely without looking at the keys, it must of looked weird! Around this time I played a simple part in a school performance, an older pupil commented on how easy it was, that pissed me off! It was a formative moment for me in trying to improve. Music was important from the start, something impossible to truly articulate in words, it had a profound effect on me, I realised its power to connect in what seemed like an honest way,

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My Granny on my Dad’s side and my Grandad on my Mum’s. Both used to compose songs rather than just play others. My Grandad having a more rule-abiding approach to composition and my Granny being a bit a more improvisation side. I remember re-tuning a piano with my Grandad at age 12 into equal temperament and writing down frequencies to see if modern pianos were tuned as they should be. My Dad and Brother were also early influences, they used to share music with me from classical to punk to techno and beyond. I think its quite common in the early days of composing to want to please those people who influenced you, before you gain confidence to branch out further afield without always needing nods of approval.

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

The biggest frustration was probably losing confidence to share my compositions throughout my 20’s. I was starting to work as a publicist for some bonafide commercial and critically successful artists at the record label Ninja Tune, that took up time and also meant the bar was set higher in my head to the standard of a composition needed. Additionally I felt more detached from my family and friends after moving to London and finding my feet in a new city, so perhaps I became more introverted with my art. I now see this as a useful period, as I never stopped composing, even on cheap small keyboards due to the lack of space I was living in. Perhaps this period was needed to not get too comfortable early on and work on a sound without commercial pressure.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I am only just starting to release music commercially so commissioned pieces are hopefully something that will come more in future. I have provided pieces to people in the world of sync & publishing, they need hooks at more regular intervals and certain styles to be followed, I enjoyed that process in the refining of my arrangements for sure, perhaps less so having to do a certain style for market. Luckily I do melodic upbeat songs within the more complex dark compositions, so I think it’s not a compromise as such, just a slight re-angling of my sound with full sign-off from me on the brand it might be associated with. Years ago I was also asked to write a song for a key moment at a wedding with a brief and ex-ample song. People asking for your music to help on a special day is a definite pleasure.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

In the school and college days I found this frustrating, as it was a competitive environment with indie bands of the time, and usually people didn’t have the work ethic to follow through what we would plan over a beer! It was one of the reasons I became a solo pia-nist, with occasional dabbles in working with friends who made “beats”. I am now reaching a stage where collaboration is something I am interested in again, I am interested in taking my sound into unexpected environments, I’ve just done some work with a well known elec-tronic producer and a RnB singer so I am looking forward to that coming out. I have noth-ing against the classical world, but I sense it could be a bit of a cul-de-sac if that’s all someone did, It’s important for me to be cross-genre as an artist in collaboration where possible.

Of which works are you most proud?

I think the “Water Sonatas” album I did as in 2015 helped me with a bit more visibility,. It was the first time I uploaded an album to the internet and told anyone, I just put it all up online and gave away mp3’s, it wasn’t on stores. The organic sharing of it among journalists and music industry people was confidence-building and made me think my music could travel further. This led to my first released work “Modulations: EP 1” which is out on June 9th, on Coldcut’s record label Ahead Of Our Time (an imprint of Ninja Tune) with an album to follow later in year. The art direction on both releases is by Suki and I love how beautiful it’s all going to look!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say at the moment it’s a melodic language that modulates between keys freely but I want to explore a more dissonant language going forward, but one with a foot in harmony. My work has elements of soul and jazz in there too which clash subtly with a more classical framework. I want to explore this more too going forward. Within the DNA is a light and dark tension at play with hope bubbling beneath.

How do you work?

Ideally I have 48 hours with no distractions at home. In the morning I might not do any composing, I’ll do usual stuff like breakfast, watch TV, talk to friends and family and find excuses to put off the dusting! I might plan out roughly what i want to achieve in the compositions too, taken from notes I make during the week on feelings I’ve soaked up. As the day gets older and I feel I am reaching a peaceful state I will just play for hours, and record the bits I am most happy with. It has to feel like I am pushing new ground every time I step to the keys. Improvisation is something traditionally I feel comfortable in and never playing same thing the same way twice. More recently I have been relearning and fine-tuning my compositions from years of recording, looking back a little in order to have a set of songs people might recognise when playing live! I try to stop by 11pm so I can watch a bit of football to unwind from the creative zone and get my 8 hours kip!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

In the classical world I would say Beethoven, Debussy, Lisa Gerrard and Max Richter. I actually listen more to electronic and hip-hop music (among other styles) much more however these days. I like the rawness of Wiley and the consciousness of Roots Manuva and Jonwayne in the rap world. I also love Cinematic Orchestra, Young Fathers, Aphex Twin, Bonobo, PJ Harvey and Leon Vynehall form other genres, I could go on forever. I love mu-sic from every genre that feels like an honest explosion of the heart, whether thats conveying beauty or anger. To me my music is punk in spirit, but on first listen its anything but.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The live world is something I was initially very shy with and not something I pursued, I am happy in isolation. But in the right environment I do play on occasion. I performed a Sofar Sounds recently, where invited people watch a gig in a house and it goes onto YouTube. That’s a cool vibe, but to play somewhere like The Barbican one day is something that I’ll aspire to. I am ambitious and want to push myself in the live arena, but at my own pace. I wish more places had acoustic pianos!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to as-piring musicians?

The fallacy of self-importance is not a cool thing and not sustainable to a peaceful inner core. Be confident with your art but be interested in others too. Be humble and bend the rules.

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

Making a living out of my compositions in a varied manner, from albums to collaborations to score work, helping other artists get the exposure they deserve and continuing a spiritual, loving path with my wife.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I believe in joy, somewhere between happy and unhappy where the pressure to be perfect has been eradicated and the lows of imperfection measured against perfection are a distant memory.

What is your most treasured possession?

I feel I can live without any of the few possessions I have, in that respect I’m down with the monks! Without access to the ability to compose music though makes me feel like a metal spring is being pushed down in my stomach however!

 

On June 9th contemporary pianist James Heather releases “Modulations: EP 1” via the Ninja Tune imprint Ahead Of Our Time, which is Coldcut’s re-launched playground for free expression and experimentation.

These sparse pieces ebb and flow, slowly enveloping the listener in a subtly subliminal fashion. Heather’s minimalist approach allows the instrument’s rhythmic, tonal and melodic capability to take centre stage, offering an intimate encounter with the piano and its player. “Modulations: EP 1” is the first in a series of EPs that showcase a versatile handling of assorted emotions and styles.

The seven tracks are drawn from Heather’s large bank of self-penned music, which were written and recorded at different times and in various headspaces. ‘EP 1’ will be followed by an album in the summer, which represents a more unified body of conceptual work

Further information 

James Heather is one of the new school set of ‘post classical’ artists flourishing in the wake of the long, steady but recently accelerated success of figureheads like Max Richter, Ben Lukas Boyson and Jóhann Johannsson, and the wider public’s overdue but now burgeoning relationship with this varied genre.