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

I started to play the piano at a very early age (I was 4 years old). I can’t remember exact details but my parents were telling me that every time I saw a piano, I always wanted to play on it. It was even hard to pull me out of it once I started playing. Then they decided to buy me a real piano at home. My father was a professional musician, a teacher and a child prodigy. His name was Georgi Stavrev. He played the violin, the guitar and his big dream later was to be a symphony conductor but he got very sick. I remember listening to classical music at home all the time (especially Brahms, Beethoven, Bach) and always playing the piano. Sometimes my dad would play The Beatles, Queen, Aretha Franklin and jazz but it was mostly classical music that I was surrounded by at home and at school. Music was just a part of my life and I was born at the right musical family where I was lucky to have my parents support to pursue music as a career from early age. There was music at home, music at school, I was going all the time to the school’s concerts, the festivals concerts and the local Symphony concerts. I was in an intensive professional music program for children since the age of 4. When my parents moved to Plovdiv two years later, I started working with the renowned pedagogue Mrs. Rositsa Ivancheva at the National Music School “Dobrin Petkov”. She is a major influence and she was my piano teacher for 13 years. During my last 3-4 years of music school, I started lessons also with Prof. Krassimir Gatev at the National Conservatory in Sofia (while studying in Plovdiv with Mrs. Ivancheva). I miss both of these incredible teachers because they left the world just few years ago…

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

Important influences from the past: growing up I was very inspired to listen to the interpretations of Horowitz, Richter, Gilels, Pogorelich, Van Cliburn, and Rubinstein. They all have influenced my musical life for years and here is an example how: after hearing Scriabin’s 3rd Sonata (performed by Horowitz) I immediately got inspired to learn it. I had big success with it at concerts and competitions. Later Horowitz inspired me to learn also Vers la Flamme and the Barber Sonata (my recordings of these works are all on YouTube).

New influences: 1) working with new composers (Mason Bates, Gil Shohat, Vasil Kazandjiev, Carl Vine, Penka Kouneva, Nikolai Kapustin etc.) – what is amazing about this, is that there are not that many recordings of these composers’ works. Often, there are even no recordings at all – which means that I have to learn the work on my own (can’t listen to another pianist to get inspired). This is a direction I would like to continue – to create from my inner self rather than get inspired by somebody else’s interpretation. 2) Contemporary pianists: I’ve had the pleasure to work with and share musical ideas with pianists such as Daniel Pollack and Frederick Chiu, whose unique program “Deeper Performance Studies” is a major influence on my musical life and career.

Acting: It might sound strange but acting had an important influence on me too. During my time in Bulgaria I also had 5 years of private acting training. I couldn’t do both – theater school and music school so I was taking acting lessons only privately and secretly (my parents didn’t allow me to study acting but I decided to do it anyway lol). Acting opened a special door in me as an artist and it helped me even further with music – being able to perform with imagination, to “speak”/connect to the audience, to transform into a different character depending on which composer/piece I am working on. These are classes musicians don’t learn at music conservatories and they help very much with interpretation and stage presence. In Bulgaria I was trained by the Stanislavski’s system and I am a similar performer when it comes to my piano works – I get very emotionally involved in the content. I feel that all the arts are connected within each other. They are like different languages we would like to learn or explore but only one is our mother language and in my case it is music.

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

Finances. When I first moved to the USA it was very difficult learning how to support myself, to rely on myself, to take care of myself all by myself. I was only 18 or 19 years old. I didn’t know anybody when I first moved to Boston, I wasn’t used to the language too. I had $20 cash in my pocket, two suitcases, a full scholarship and lots of dreams. The full scholarship covered my tuition and school fees but I had to work the max hours possible in order to pay by myself for rent/dorm, living expenses, etc. There was a law that freshman must live on campus during the 1st year. I wasn’t informed about it while in Bulgaria. I found out about it when I arrived. International students on a student visa F-1 were allowed to work only on campus, no more than 20h per week for only $8h. Imagine if this is really enough to pay $1500 per month for dorm required by the school (basically 3 girls in one room) without living expenses and if that would allow the needed time to focus on practice, studies, go to classes, etc. The stress was incredible! To keep long story short – my college years were some of the most difficult times ever in my life where I faced some serious challenges.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Recordings: My upcoming debut album titled “Rhythmic Movement” to be released this coming fall, depending on finances. It features music by Bulgarian composers Pancho and Alexander Vladigerov, Mason Bates, Ginastera, Kapustin and I composed 2 works as well. A lot of the pieces on the program for July 25th at the 1901 Arts Club are also on the album.

Performances: it’s hard to point just one. I would say probably my Carnegie Hall/Weil debut. Harris Goldsmith was one of the critics reviewing the concert and this debut basically was the start of a real career. Another performance I will never forget was a multimedia at a modern space in NYC featuring music, live body painting and photography. I like to experiment with the idea of synesthesia and connect my art to other artists work.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

The ones that I practice the most! Also the ones that I’m spiritually connected to and the ones I have something meaningful and something special to say. I also believe that music (art in general) is a reflection on personal life and that’s one of the reasons my programs are very unique. The program on July 25th features works that are very close to my hearth. Each piece is very special and very meaningful to me.

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

My repertoire ranges from Baroque to Contemporary. Sometimes concert presenters would ask me to play anything I would like to put on a program but sometimes they would specify if they have any specific preferences. For example when I performed at the French Cultural Center, the entire program had to focus on featuring French and French influenced composers. When I performed at the Bulgarian Center in New England, I performed works by all Bulgarian classical composers. New music concert series require all contemporary composers programs and other presenters prefer more traditional (Bach, Beethoven, Chopin) type of programs and more well-known composers.

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

In New York: I just recently performed at the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York – a beautiful and intimate concert venue and a gallery in West Village. I love the area (West Village in Manhattan), I also love art (the fact that it is a gallery) and that the setting is intimate (it allows a closer connection with the audience). There is a very good energy about the space and location and I just feel excited and comfortable performing there.

In Bulgaria: I was born in Sofia but my hometown is Plovdiv. There is a very unique amphitheater from Roman times in the center of the city that in the summer features film nights, concerts, dance performances, operas, etc. This would be a very magical place to perform – under the starts! The view from there is amazing too. I’ve never seen a piano on that stage but maybe one day soon… I started dreaming already

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

To perform: Right now I’m really into Schumann, I’m working on the piano concerto. Last month I was into Vladigerov. My current favorite pieces are the ones on the program for July 25th at the 1901 Arts Club but I assure you that I’m going to have more new favorites soon since I keep searching for new inspirations all the time 🙂

To listen to: I love “Gaspard de la nuit” (performed by Pogorelich), Scriabin’s 5th sonata (performed by Horiwitz), Beethoven – “Appasionata” (performed by Richter), Brahms – the 1st Piano Concerto (performed by Claudio Arrau), Prokofiev – the 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, works by Bach (especially when Glenn Gould performs them), Sonata for Violin and Piano (by composer Milcho Leviev). I love listening to orchestral music too: Daphne’s Cloe, Stravinsky – Firebird, Mason Bates – Alrernative energy. I also enjoy listening to jazz (Bill Evans, Miles Davis), some rock (a lot of British bands)

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Deceased favorite musicians: Bach, Richter, Horowitz, Gilels, Claudio Abbado, Evgeny Mravinsky, Rubinstein, Ginastera, Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, Anton Dikov, Krassimir Gatev, Maria Callas, Freddie Mercury,

Living/contemporary favorite musicians: Joshua Bell, Keith Lockhart, Ricardo Mutti, Mason Bates, Vasil Kazandjiev, Yo-Yo Ma, Frederic Chiu, Daniel Pollack, Evgeny Kissin, Martha Argerich, Penka Kuneva, Will Calhoun, Matthew Bellamy,

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Concert Hall: the Grammy Museum Auditorium (Clive Davis Theater) – I was a part of a great mix of artists and musical genres. I loved the red curtains at the back and the lightning.

Rock club: probably when I opened for Amanda Palmer at the Webster Hall in NYC. This is memorable since I got to play Ginastra in a rock club introducing the composer and a movement from his 1st sonata to several hundred fans of Amanda’s that never knew that classical music could sound like that. 😀 A lot of my friends from school were telling me that I was crazy and that this could affect my good reputation. It was fun. It’s a different type of energy on such stage. I like making classical music more accessible to untraditional audiences as well. Did you know that the British band ELP arranged the “Toccata” from the piano concerto by Ginastera and played it for Ginastera? He loved it and he said that this is how his music should be played

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

To be present in life and also when they perform on stage, to be very strong, not to be afraid to take risks and experiment with new ideas, to take a good care of themselves (eat well, sleep well, exercise, meditate, stay healthy), to know what they want and from there to know what they give and why, to perform live as much as possible, to stay always inspired and motivated, to never give up, even when they face difficulties.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

To travel the world while living in the present moment

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being present. You can tell that I am into meditation. Often the things we want are not the things that make us happy, even when we get what we want. There is something called “the wanting mind” that will never stop wanting no matter what we get. I feel happy the most when I do something to make somebody feel happy. I get happiness when I give happiness. Actually, when I give, sometimes I get even more than I expected.

What is your most treasured possession?

We don’t owe anything forever. We temporarily have things and people. We are even temporarily in our bodies. Greatest values in my life are my dearest friends, being surrounded by people who care about me and love me and people who made a difference in my life. But I don’t owe them, I’m just lucky to have them in my life…

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being on stage, collaborating with amazing artists, musicians, creating and sharing

Tania Stavreva performs in London at the 1901 Arts Club, 7 Exton Street, London SE1, on Saturday 25th July. The concert includes the UK premiere of her ‘Rhythmic Movement in 7/8’ as well as premieres of works by other composers. Further details and tickets here

More information about Tania here

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

My mother studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London and my dad loves classical music so they really wanted me to learn the violin. Sadly I was hoping for tap dancing lessons at six years old so I think the first few weeks with my violin were quite disappointing for me. I have had the last laugh though as I just started private tap tuition in January fulfilling my life long dream! Let’s just say I don’t think I was destined for Broadway but amazingly I’m still on good terms with my neighbours.

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

I had three amazing teachers who all worked in top orchestras which I think drew me to that area of music, Beryl Auty who taught me until I was 15 and sadly passed away last year. Belinda Bunt-Broughton who regaled many tales of life in London orchestras and the session world and then Erich Gruenberg at the Royal Academy who at one time led the LSO. But I would say meeting Iona Brown when she directed National Youth Chamber Orchestra was a turning point. She heard me lead the NYO in Mahler 3 at the Proms and invited me to tour with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra the following month in the USA. I missed the first five weeks as a student at the RAM but this invaluable opportunity shaped my love of orchestras, from the playing side, and just as importantly, the camaraderie. I really would say hand on heart that those experiences of music making as a teenager have stayed with me today. 

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

Working hard for my LSO audition. I had been playing in the orchestra firstly as part of their student string experience scheme, then as an extra player and I loved it so much but there was no vacancy. I freelanced for a couple of years until a job became available and of course by then I desperately wanted it so I really had to make the hard work and audition count. I can honestly say I was terrified. Working for auditions is such a tough thing, it’s an unreal situation hence I was really happy to write a post for the Strad magazine last year.  http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/how-to-be-successful-in-an-orchestral-audition/

and last month I gave a talk with a colleague in the Barbican concert hall as part of the LSO’s international violin festival about how to prepare and get through auditions without a feeling of dread! http://www.thestrad.com/cpt-latests/strad-panel-discussion-surviving-orchestral-auditions/

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Three years ago the LSO asked me to perform a duo recital at LSO St Luke’s as they wanted to stream the concert live online having not used that technology before. That was immense fun performing with my friend and colleague Rhys Watkins and I was proud to think they trusted tutti players to do a good job. When you are playing full time in an orchestra, solo and chamber opportunities don’t come round very often and you do feel somewhat exposed in these situations. You can’t help but think, “where are the other 90 people I’m supposed to share the stage with?!” But I do like to challenge myself when I can to keep things ticking over. I have another opportunity on 26th June at LSO St Luke’s, this time with another LSO player Philip Nolte who will perform on violin and viola. The recital will also be streamed live over the internet so hopefully it’ll be a success.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I was always a big fan of virtuoso music as a student which means in the orchestra I prefer playing romantic and twentieth century music with fantastic violin writing such a Mahler, Richard Strauss and Prokofiev. I guess I always liked to show off and that has stayed with me! I also love playing film music, I think the orchestra sounds fantastic recording and performing big soundtracks which is good as in my time in the orchestra we’ve recorded at least fifty at Abbey Road and Air studios. 

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

Being in an orchestra that area is all taken care of! I look in the schedule which stretches a couple of years in advance and I play what’s asked to the best of my ability, sometimes with great joy and sometimes I make a note to take off a particular piece next time it comes round if I haven’t enjoyed it so much.. 

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

Suntory hall In Tokyo is one of my favourite touring venues for various reasons including proximity to the hotel, backstage facilities (free wifi!), the hall itself, the warmth of the audiences and the fact that I love Japan. HK is always special as I have so many family members there. Closer to home I love the Royal Albert Hall during the Proms season. That is so special although very nerve-wracking too with such a line up of world class orchestras night after night. The Proms’ atmosphere is unlike any other I’ve experienced.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I don’t really listen to classical music on my down time. I don’t find it so relaxing as I find it hard to detach from the feeling of performing. My iPod is an eclectic collection of musicals, film soundtracks, pop and old Gershwin numbers I imagine myself tap dancing to. Mahler is hands down my favourite composer to perform. There is so much fantastic writing for the violins and I just find his music so incredibly moving, I love all his symphonies. Most people would groan when a Mahler cycle comes round but I’m like “bring it on!”

Who are your favourite musicians?

I admire so many soloists who come into the LSO to perform, especially ones who I have grown up idolising. I can’t help but be drawn to the violinists, Janine Jansen, James Ehnes, Nikolaij Znaider to list a few. On a personal level Sarah Chang is my best friend and I’m always in awe at how much work goes on behind the scenes at that level of performance and the endless travel. I’m a big fan of my friend Ray Chen too who is not only a stunning violinist but has really broken so many barriers between musicians and audience with his hilarious social media postings and humorous videos poking fun at the profession. I can’t wait for him to come and play with the LSO! 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I felt pretty awed at the LSO centenary concert, realising I was a part of something so historic was special. The yearly open air Trafalgar Square concerts are also very memorable. I’m amazed 10,000 people can sit/stand so quietly through music (minus the car horns honking!) that is never obvious (Stravinsky and Shostakovich for example).

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

I’m a big fan of the “Quora” app and am always astounded how many people write questions such as, “How long does it take to become a virtuoso on the violin?” Or “If I start the violin at 16 will I get to be a concert soloist?’ If I reply I generally always say the same thing, you don’t get anywhere in life without hard work and a healthy dose of reality. I truly believe that working hard coupled with the right attitude can really take you far in life if you are realistic. A sprinkling of luck helps too!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Tough call between shopping and eating out! I will go with the latter, as so many of my happy memories are with friends and family around a table devouring wonderful food. Often when we are off on tour or reminiscing it’s not the concert hall we can instantly recall but the restaurants!

Maxine Kwok-Adams performs with Philip Nolte on Friday 26th June at Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke’s. Further information here

As a teenager Maxine Kwok-Adams, ARAM, was heard by violinist Iona Brown leading the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain performing Mahler’s 3rd Symphony at the Royal Albert Hall “Proms” concert and was promptly invited to tour the USA with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra the following month. Later in the year she took up her scholarship place as a student at the Royal Academy of Music but carried on touring with orchestras such as the Academy-of-St-Martin-in-the-Fields.

Before graduating with an Honours degree, Maxine was awarded a place on the London Symphony Orchestra’s coveted String experience scheme, and in 2001 achieved her dream by becoming a full-time member of the 1st violins. As a strong supporter of opportunities that give youngsters a chance to experience performing in professional concerts, Maxine nowauditions and mentors the violins of the LSO String experience scheme.

At the forefront of the LSO’s online presence, in 2010 Maxine was asked to play a duo recital for the orchestra which was streamed live over the internet, the first time the LSO used this technology. She can be seen on YouTube as the LSO violin representative for the series of master classes designed to help violinists prepare for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra auditions. She is currently preparing to host the LSO’s first “google-hangout” chat about life in the orchestra which will be streamed live through YouTube.

Playing in the LSO has taken Maxine regularly into Abbey  Road studios where she has participated in over 40 film recordings since joining the LSO, including soundtracks to Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Queen. The LSO records with artists as diverse as Paul McCartney and Jennifer Lopez to Joe Hisiashi and Lang Lang.In 2010 Maxine was invited to contribute a chapter to the book, “Soundtrack Nation” by Tom Hoover, which focuses on professionals in the film music recording industry

 

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

I am the youngest of three girls and I always wanted to do everything my sisters did including piano – which I think they found quite annoying! I begged my Mum to allow me to have lessons too, and when I was finally allowed there was no stopping me! A few years on I remember listening to Ashkenazy play Beethoven’s ‘The Tempest’ Sonata in the car and feeling so excited about this fantastic piece and thinking how amazing it would be if I could play it one day. Forging a career as a pianist is not something I really thought about until I went to the Purcell School. Being surrounded by musicians already performing on the International circuit was slightly intimidating, but it motivated me to strive for a career as a performer.

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

There have been so many. More recently my mentor Joanna MacGregor has been an immensely important figure for me. Whilst at the Royal Academy of Music she taught me so much about programming, presentation, life skills, all in addition to playing the piano!  My parents have also been influential. They have been very supportive in a non-pushy way which has allowed me to find my own path and have a genuine passion and drive for what I do.

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

Maintaining balance and focus between my many musical projects, overcoming the post-concert come downs and performing Birtwistle’s Harrison’s Clocks in front of the composer!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I have just recorded my debut album Pinks & Blues which will be released later this year. It’s a mix of classical and contemporary to jazz and blues and includes music by György Ligeti, Bill Evans, Gerswhin, Rzweski, Ravel as well as two new commissions. It took me a long time to decide on the content and order but am proud of it because as well as being my first album I think it takes the listeners on an excursion of familiar and unfamiliar sounds which I hope they’ll enjoy discovering!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I feel a strong affinity to American Music of the 20th Century. The American ‘can do’ attitude resonates strongly with me. I love a challenge and that is what is often presented by these composers. Charles Ives’s music can often be extremely complex – 13 note chords for example! Ives, Henry Cowell, John Cage and others pushed boundaries, proving that we are not limited by the piano or traditional techniques.

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

My concerts are often curated and informed by my interests – I like to keep adding new repertoire or presenting the old in new ways. For my next performance at St John’s Smith Square (June 25) I have programmed the Debussy Preludes interspersed with the lesser-known Ruth Crawford-Seeger Preludes for a new perspective. Other concerts coming up include an American programme with violinist Lizzie Ball, a two week residency at Dartington International Summer School performing Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine with fantastic soprano Sarah Gabriel and a Film and Piano programme – so I like to keep it varied!

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

This year I performed at the Holders Season in Barbados; it was a grand outdoor venue and a beautiful place – I would definitely like to return there! I also recently performed in a private house concert in Holland Park; I loved the freedom of playing in this relaxed and intimate atmosphere, with some people sitting on the floor, others standing. Here I felt a real involvement and concentration from the audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

This changes all the time and depending on the season or even what time of day. I go through phases: recently I had a Mozart Sonata period, listening repeatedly to the complete recordings by Maria João Pires – this is good before noon and it helps to clarify my thoughts. The Britten/Pears recordings of Schubert’s Winterreise are another favourite – I would love to work with a singer on this work. I also spend a lot of time of Spotify exploring new pieces and for when I go running I definitely need something with a beat!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have so many, but to name one of them: Radu Lupu. I adore his deep and warm sound and in particular his Schumann and Brahms recordings.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Martha Argerich at the Royal Festival Hall. I was just a few seats back from the front row watching her play Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto and I could hear, feel and see everything – WOW!

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

Well, I am still learning myself, but I would say enjoy challenges, avoid imitation and explore other interests. There never seems enough time to practise at music college, but developing your character and having substance is absolutely crucial.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Practising (with a good coffee and high quality chocolate). When I first left Music College I found I had to do so much aside from practising in order to progress in my career. It was a basic yet incredible discovery for me that I am only happy if I have practised at least several hours a day. Without this I definitely notice a feeling of incompleteness and I’m probably not very pleasant to be around!

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

New York. It’s a city I’ve always been drawn to – it’s a City for dreamers and big ambitions – I love that it never stops – a bit like me and I guess that’s why I am so attracted to it!

Christina is a highly innovative pianist and curator with a continually growing reputation for bold and vivacious performances.  Christina has performed extensively in major venues including at the Southbank Centre, Kings Place, Aldeburgh Festival and The Holders Season, Barbados. She has won numerous prizes including the Jacob Barnes Award, The Royal Academy Christian Carpenter Prize, The CAVATINA Chamber music trust prize and audience prize, and the audience prize in the Jacques Samuels Intercollegiate Competition.  

Christina attended the specialist music school Purcell School and achieved a first from the Royal Academy of Music in 2013, where she studied with her mentor Joanna MacGregor. Christina has continued her education and exploration of 20th Century French Music taking masterclasses with Maestro Bernard Flavigny who has a direct lineage to Debussy.

She has collaborated with a diverse mix of genres and arts, recently working with the Brodowski Quartet, violinist Lizzie Ball, rapper Tor Cesay, Director Richard Williams, actors from Central Saint Martin’s and a number of designers for London Fashion week. Christina is a strong supporter of diversity within and outside of the arts and recently founded Ensemble WOW – an organisation dedicated to promoting equality through unique and imaginative programming.  

Christina is a dedicated performer and discoverer of new music working with established composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Tansy Davies and Stephen Montague as well as emerging composers – collaborating most recently with Freya Waley-Cohen and Richard Bullen.

Christina McMaster is a 2016/17 St John’s Smith Square Young Artist

Photo credit: Philip Gatward
Photo credit: Philip Gatward

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

My parents were both dentists, but my mother was a keen amateur harpsichord player. I started as a very good recorder player and gradually ran out of music as I devoured everything!! My parents had friends who were Dutch baroque musicians who recommended I start learning a string instrument. I said I wanted to play the biggest – as they didn’t have an estate car at the time they lied, so I am a cellist not a bass player!

I went to Chethams’ School of Music at 9 years old but had only really been playing cello for a year.

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

Early on I would say Jacqueline du Pré, like many cellists of my generation. I became obsessed with new music after hearing Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Gawain’ for my 10th birthday at the Royal Opera House, so I suppose this experience changed my musical direction. 

I met my former husband, the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, at 22 years old. His music always meant a huge amount to me and I was lucky he wrote for me a lot. We also both shared a huge passion for jazz and as he worked with musicians such as John Scofield and Peter Erskine this had a huge influence in the music and players I was interested in playing and collaborating with.

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

There have been many challenges but for me it has been building the self-belief and confidence which has very much effected the timing of my career. I was all set up and ready to launch into the profession in my early 20’s, but it felt much more natural to support someone else, especially someone whose work I really believed in.  Once I had the children I began the usual work/family life struggle everyone has. I have been a single mother now for three years so I have been trying to rebuild my life as well as restart my career on top of bringing up two very young children – to be honest every day is a struggle! Their father has moved down the road which has helped hugely and we organise diaries so the children are generally with one of us whilst the other works. Mark is a very hands on Dad and I am also lucky to have some incredibly supportive friends, mainly musicians, who have stood beside me during the challenging times.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of a chamber music disc I did for Toccata Classics of all of Hugh Wood’s chamber music with the London Archduke trio, Paul Silverthorne and Roger Heaton. We recorded it at Champs Hill a few years ago.  I adore Hugh’s music and chose to perform his Cello Concerto with the Royal College of Music Sinfonietta when I won the concerto trials in my last year of college.

I’m also proud of jazz  recordings I have done as those sessions have always been a massive musical learning experience for me. Ian Shaw, Judith Owen and Barb Jungr’s albums, on which I have featured, I still enjoy listening to as their artistry is so wonderful! Most of the time I find it almost painful hearing old recordings.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

The two things I really enjoy doing and suppose feel comfortable  with now are the polar opposites musically. I have always loved working with classical contemporary composers – the stranger the music and the more demanding the better. I play lots of Lachenmann and Xenaxis when I can choose my own programmes. This is the music which I have always felt very natural  interpreting, probably more so than anything else.

On the other end of the spectrum, I love my work as a session ‘cellist. I like making the switch between styles and improvising does not fill me with dread. I relish the speed needed in interpreting something fast that has normally just been printed off and placed in front of me. Working closely with the artist and great producers in the moment can be very thrilling.

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

I tend to try and programme the same group for a run of concerts or festivals as it’s always nice working with the same players and programmes for more than a one-off performance. I work in so many different capacities as a ‘cellist the kind of booking I get will determine the repertoire. I feel quite passionately that if people are kept ‘safe’ from new music and not exposed to it because of their demographic/concert venue, then how will people ever get a chance to make a judgment themselves? I have been known to present a programme of Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Bach, Earth Wind and Fire and Kaija Sarriaho as I believe in every piece as good music. The musicians I work with on these programmes play each piece with the same passion and integrity which is crucial.

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

My favourite venue would have to be The Forge in Camden, north London, with whose owners I have had a close relationship with since they opened. I love the fact it’s run by musicians and is down the road from me as I am a north London girl now. I have launched both my duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins and my show ‘Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family’ there, and both have been happy occasions.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love playing Helmet Lachenmann’s Solo cello piece Pression. I was fortunate enough to work with Helmut intensively  on the piece and was invited to perform it for his 75th birthday in the Konzerthaus, Berlin. He essentially made me grow new ears: he hears music in the most intense way and transcribes and describes what he wants so perfectly.

I always get a wonderful musical lift from playing Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances with my Quintet – Lizzie ball on violin, Pedro Segundo on drums, Bartek Glowacki on accordion and Dave Maric on piano. Every time we play it it’s slightly different. The tunes are so strong they keep going round my head for days after a show.

I tend to listen to music I don’t get a chance to play much – recently I’ve got obsessed with Ry Cooder after I returned from a trip to make an album in LA. Harry Shearer and a number of the artists featuring on the album are big fans and spent one evening playing me all their favourite songs. I’m also a big D’Angelo fan and recently saw him live for the first time at Hammersmith Apollo.

Who are your favourite musicians?

A very tough question as I’m meeting them all the time and I could list many. 

The musicians with who I am in groups with I have a huge amount of respect for: Genevieve Wilkins from G project, Judith Owen and her band, all my Urban Family collaborators, cellist Guy Johnston, Lizzie Ball-we share similar values and musical tastes and all stand out as people I like to work with and spend time with too. The two classical singers (although they do so much more!) I admire are Ruby Hughes and Lucy Schaufer. 

I became a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet over two years ago now and I would say without a doubt Gwilym is one of the greatest musicians I have worked with – the whole quintet actually (Thomas Gould, Yuri Goloubev and Martin France) are amazing and I always look forward to our concerts. 

Recently I have probably learnt the most from Leland Sklar, probably the most famous session bass player on the planet. When I have worked with him in sessions or gigs it’s pretty much been a masterclass every time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been so many it’s almost impossible to say but for very personal reasons I would say my Urban Family Concerts both at the Forge and at Wilderness Festival last summer. I am musician who has spent most of my career playing for different artists’ projects and groups so it felt incredible that so many colleagues wanted to support me at these events.  Also seeing classical musicians let their hair down at Wilderness Festival because I brought them there to make music was one of those life-affirming moments!

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

Follow your own path – don’t look over your shoulder as everyone’s journey both musically and in life is different.

There is work out there – you have to be inventive sometimes and even create your own work. The profession changes constantly so it’s wise to be diverse and say yes to everything when you start out, especially during this financial climate.

Obviously everyone is different but I would strongly advise anyone who went through both the music school and music college system like I did (17 years in one unbroken stretch) to take some time out to experience life and truly find out what YOU want to do. This is one thing I really wish I had done differently – even though in my case I would still have probably ended up being a musician. I only started really mixing with non-musicians when I went to antenatal classes!

The damage psychologically of being institutionalised is almost the hardest thing to overcome; I think it took me til 31 to really make the decision for myself to be a ‘cellist and then work on having the confidence and belief to go for it and enjoy it fully.

What is your most treasured possession?

Letters my father wrote to me before I was born. He died nearly 5 years ago and I miss him terribly. I was very lucky to be given a collection of letters he wrote to me as a 49-year-old, half a year before I was born. He told me what kind of person he was, his fears and the love he already felt for me. He didn’t want me to read them whilst he was alive so I was given them for my 30th birthday just after he died, but I could only bring myself to read them two years later when they then gave me so much strength: it was almost like he was speaking to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from the obvious things like spending time with my kids and playing great music, it has to be boxing. I have always loved to box since I was a teenager but for the past year I’ve been training with a professional boxer, Tony Milch. It keeps me fit both physically and mentally and I love watching him in his matches – it’s a real buzz even if I can barely look! 

Gabriella Swallow has emerged as one of the most versatile and exciting cellists of her generation. She studied at The Royal College of Music with Jerome Pernoo. She was awarded the coveted Tagore Gold Medal and performed the Hugh Wood Cello Concerto in her final year. As a soloist Gabriella went on to make her South Bank debut with the London Sinfonietta in the world premiere of ‘About Water’ by Mark-Anthony Turnage. In the same year she performed Paul Max Edlin’s Cello Concerto with the South Bank Sinfonia, which firmly launched her place as a leading performer of contemporary music. This has led her to commission and work with many of the major living composers of today.

In 2013 she made her Wigmore Hall debut with the soprano Ruby Hughes and in the same season performed at the La Jolla SummerFest in San Diego, the Aldeburgh Festival with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Cambridge Jazz Festival as a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet.

Gabriella is the string curator of Music Orbit’s string night ‘Strung Out’ and performs frequently at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club ‘Classical Kicks’ night curated by violinist Lizzie Ball and at Gabriel Prokofiev’s Nonclassical club nights.

As a recording artist she has recorded all the chamber music of Hugh Wood for Toccata Classics with the London Archduke Piano Trio, which was released to critical acclaim in 2009. 2012 saw the release of ‘Ivr d’amour’, a disc of Massenet Songs where she appeared with soprano Sally Silver and celebrated pianist Richard Bonynge for the Guild label and also soprano Lucy Shaufer’s debut disc ‘Carpentersville’ for ABC Classics where Gabriella features as soloist. This CD was launched with a concert at The Aldeburgh Festival 2013.

In 2010 she co founded the duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins. They made their debut with a sellout concert at The Forge in Camden and continue to perform regularly in the UK and Europe. Alongside her classical career she regularly crosses over in the fields of jazz and pop and is a sought after session musician appearing on many movie and television scores. She has recorded with many of the leading Jazz musicians on the UK scene including Ian Shaw, Barb Jungr, Liane Carroll, Guy Barker, Laurence Cottle, Pedro Segundo, Graeme Flowers, Jannette Mason and Claire Martin OBE. She has performed and recorded with Skunk Anansie, Sade, Dionne Warwick, Charlotte Church and has been a member of Judith Owen’s band since 2007. This year she continues her collaboration with Gwilym Simcock’s Quintet, whose members include the violinist Thomas Gould.

Gabriella is also a passionate broadcaster and arts commentator and has been a regular guest on BBC 4’s coverage of The Proms, Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ and ‘Music Matters’. She has been a guest speaker at the Bath Literary Festival and ‘The Battle of Ideas’. 

Gabriella plays a cello by Charles Harris Senior built in 1820 and an electric cello by Starfish Designs.

gabriellaswallow.com

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

I started learning the piano when I was five after hearing my older brother play (he started learning a couple of years before me). I remember just being very excited at the prospect of having lessons as I always loved the sound of the instrument and, having heard my brother play a little, I just couldn’t wait to make those sounds myself. Deciding to make the piano my career came rather late for me, though: I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, and the first time I ever saw a professional pianist play wasn’t until I was about 14! So I suppose I didn’t even realise it was a possible career until then. I think the real turning point was when I started having lessons with my second teacher Ian Jones. He used to lend me CDs every week and I’d listen to them obsessively. I grew up in the countryside and there weren’t many opportunities to hear live classical music, so my early knowledge of pianists came mainly from these recordings (Michelangeli’s Gaspard; Lazar Berman playing Rach 3; and Perahia playing Bach English Suites; and Aimard playing Ligeti Etudes to name a few). I think listening to these recordings was what made me decide to be a pianist.

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

As I mentioned above I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, but ever since I started studying at the University of York, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing musicians and people, and it’s very hard to single one thing, or person, out. I learnt with a local piano teacher until I was sixteen, and, while she did cover the basics, I had all sorts of problems by the time I met my second piano teacher, Ian Jones (now teaching at the RCM). I owe a lot to him: he helped me through a really difficult period in my development. I was really quite behind as a pianist for my age, but he was a real inspiration and very supportive, and helped me catch up quickly. But I think the single most important thing that has inspired my musical life has always been the people that I have studied with, worked with, and met throughout my life (and not just musicians!). Anyone who thinks that western art music is on the decline should go to any university music department, festival, concert venue, or music college and they’ll see that there is just so much musical activity happening in every single direction, and involving such intelligent, creative, and interesting people. I find that extremely inspiring.

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

Probably settling into music college once I got there! I had a real crisis once I arrived. It’s such an intense, competitive, and intimidating atmosphere, that I really struggled at first. It took me a long time to realise that you just have to focus on your own activities and ideas and that there’s not one right way of doing anything (even if your teachers say otherwise!). It’s so easy to get distracted by what other people are doing at a music college. Once I got used to all of that I had a great time.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve been pretty lucky in the last 5 years, having done so many interesting and challenging projects. One of my favourite performances has to be doing Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar, which was in 2011. It’s such an ecstatically joyous piece and so much fun to play that it’s a hard experience to beat! I’d love the chance to do it again someday……

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’ve always been fairly proud of my Debussy Images (particularly book II). And Brahms’ 1st Concerto. Turangalîla is up there too.

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

I never have total control over this, which I think is healthy. It’s great when you have to learn a piece you don’t know for a specific project and it ends up being a real discovery for you, and something you might not otherwise have come across. Obviously this does sometimes go the other way! The rest of the time I just try to programme the things I’m particularly interested in at that time. I also like to keep learning new repertoire each season. This makes things a little harder, but it’s so satisfying and you learn so much with every new piece you play that I try to include a new one per programme.

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

Wigmore Hall is a lovely place to play – beautiful acoustics and a wonderful instrument. I also love going back to where I studied for my undergraduate degree (University of York) – the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall there has such an intimate atmosphere. It is a little over-resonant, but for certain repertoire I haven’t yet found anywhere better. But every venue has its own pros and cons really, and you’d have to be unlucky not to find at least one piece in the programme that the venue really suits.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love Bartók at the moment. Any of the piano pieces or string quartets. Morton Feldman has been a recent obsession. I haven’t played anything big yet (but learning For John Cage very soon), so will have to get back to you on the joys of performing Feldman! Debussy has always been a favourite of mine to play. Recently, I’ve played a bit of Ives which was great to perform — really brash, eccentric, and full of life. Will certainly be doing more in the future. And I always love to hear or play anything by Cage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

It’s always the composers that interest me. John Cage is a real hero of mine – amazing ideas, amazing music, and such a positive influence on the 20th Century! Ives was a fascinating character – full of contradictions and astonishing to think that he was writing such experimental music so early in the 20th Century. Pianists I love are Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Cortot, Myra Hess and Maria Joao Pires.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Very hard to single one out. Probably seeing Anton Kuerti give a lecture-recital on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations several years ago at the Chethams Summer School. He knew the piece so intimately and played so wonderfully that all the usual performer/audience boundaries seemed to break down: it just felt like we were inside the music. I actually found it hard to move from my seat afterwards.

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

Do the things you believe in; don’t be distracted by others; constantly re-assess everything; and don’t give up!

What are you working on at the moment?

Chopin’s Barcarolle; five Scarlatti Sonatas; Luigi Nono’s Sofferte onde Serene for piano and tape; Mists by Xenakis; Sposalizio by Liszt; and Mantra by Stockhausen.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Walking and wild camping in the Scottish Highlands.

Joseph Houston performs at the Ryedale Festival on Friday 25th July. Further details and tickets here

Described by the Financial Times as a musician of ‘versatility and poise’, Joseph Houston is a London-based pianist specialising in Contemporary Music. He studied at the University of York and the Royal College of Music where he received a first-class honours degree in Music and an Mmus in Advanced Performance with distinction. While at the RCM he won the Frank Merrick Prize, the 2nd Prize in the Beethoven Piano Competition, the Emanuel Piano Trophy (North London Music Festival), and a place on the London Sinfonietta Academy 2010. His teachers have included Ian Jones, Ashley Wass, and Andrew Ball.

In his first year at the RCM Joseph was selected to perform British composer Michael Zev Gordon’s The Impermanence of Things for solo piano, electronics, and ensemble with the RCM’s New Perspectives Ensemble. Since then, he has performed at venues across the UK, including Steinway Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Weston Auditorium (University of Herts.), the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall (University of York), Kings Place, Cafe Oto, the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room and Wigmore Hall. Soon after graduating from the RCM, Joseph was invited to perform a piano duet version of Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with his teacher, Ashley Wass, resulting in a performance at the RCM’s Brahms festival and conference in 2011. He has also been in demand as a concerto soloist, performing such classic 19th and 20th century works as Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar (ondes Martenot), conducted by John Stringer; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Henley Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ian Brown; John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra with the RCM’s Variable Geometries Ensemble; Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with the De Havilland Philharmonic Orchestra; and the UK premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Ryedale Concerto for solo piano and orchestra at the 2013 Ryedale Festival. Also active as a chamber musician, Joseph is the principal pianist of the Octandre Ensemble, a collective dedicated to the promotion of young composers and rarely-performed Contemporary repertoire.

Full biography on Joseph’s website:

www.josephhouston.co.uk