Category Archives: Meet the Artist

Meet the Artist……Danny Driver, pianist


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

I remember sitting in a school assembly at the age of five, hearing schoolmates perform little piano pieces, and thinking to myself quite definitely, as other children of that age surely do in their inimitable fashion: ‘I want to do that too’! It used to bother me that this initial self-generated impulse to play music was ‘sociological’ rather than ‘musical’, motivated more by the situation and ritual of musical performance than by its content. But much later I realised that what I love doing is to commune and communicate with people through the beautiful world of sound and sound structures. Thus the original ‘sociological’ motivation makes very good sense to me.

The point at which I decided to attempt a professional career in music did not come until the age of eighteen. This resolve came to me a few days after arriving at university to start a degree in Natural Sciences. As I had combined various interests for years throughout my school life, this more serious commitment to music didn’t need to divert me from my scientific studies. In fact, I found the university environment to be ideal in terms of the opportunities it offered for making music with others, broadening my study skills, and meeting colleagues with a wide range of interests. Perhaps not studying music for my degree helped avoid some potentially constraining burdens of expectation.

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

I was fortunate to have an outstanding music teacher at primary school. She brimmed with enthusiasm and energy, quickly making music a favourite topic for me. She taught me the piano until I was ten, and as I recall, more than ‘just’ the piano – there was basic theory too right from the start. Her talents extended to composing dramatic works for children – I remember taking part in one, aged eight, as an auxiliary percussionist among a small group of professional freelancers, on one occasion playing a mark tree in an inappropriate improvised manner and far too loudly.

As I became more serious about the piano, several pianists became a great source of inspiration and support, each in their own way. Alexander Kelly, Piers Lane, Irina Zaritskaya, and lastly Maria Curcio, all oversaw and supported my pianistic development. But that development was also brought on by wider musical experience. I played the clarinet, french horn, and composed enthusiastically. At the Junior Royal Academy of Music I joined a piano quartet that rehearsed and performed together for a period of four years. During the summer holidays I would often find myself at semi-staged opera performances and observing voice masterclasses. I can’t unpick what was most important and why, at least not yet.

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

Without doubt it is juggling the demands of performance with those of teaching and of family life. In addition, as someone who is curious about new, neglected, and forgotten works as well as ‘mainstream’ classical repertoire, I need to spend a lot of time learning pieces, and this can be more exhausting than the travel and performance schedule itself. Last year I was preparing Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and at the same time practising the first two books of Ligeti’s Piano Études – I should probably avoid allowing those two worlds to collide again in order to preserve my sanity.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

With regard to recordings, I don’t know how to answer as I rarely listen to my recordings once they have been released. Perhaps I should, but I am inevitably more concerned with the journey ahead, asking myself how can I improve my performances and deepen my interpretative insights rather than patting myself on the back. This isn’t to say that I don’t take pride in my work, especially if I feel a concert performance or recording session has gone well, but anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t indulge myself.

One performance does come to mind: some years ago I decided to accept an engagement to play Saint-Saens Fifth Concerto at three weeks’ notice. I hadn’t played a note of the work before, but rightly calculated that it was possible to learn and memorise this piece in time. I worked very methodically to ensure I did so. The concert went very well and the performance was released as an unedited live recording.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I don’t know the answer – that’s up to my listeners to decide, and I trust them. I have to trust them as much as they trust me.

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

There is no set formula, and I must admit that I am reluctant to make decisions very far ahead. My guiding principles are firstly that I have to be passionate about and deeply involved with the music I am to play, so that I can share it with others effectively; secondly, I like to construct programmes that can feel like a kind of journey, even though they often traverse a huge range of music written over at least two centuries.

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

I am fortunate to perform in some beautiful halls with very good acoustics, but I love the way that each venue (even a dry speech theatre, as occasionally happens) creates a particular set of challenges that demand engagement from performers and listeners alike. For me the moment of communication and the content of the music are much more important than the venue, even though a comfortable venue helps performers and listeners alike.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are several: Krystian Zimerman at the Royal Festival Hall performing Ravel’s Valse Nobles et Sentimentales, Chopin’s Ballade no 4 and the Sonata in B flat minor incomparably; Yo-Yo Ma playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the Houston Symphony; Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony at the Barbican; Simon Rattle and the Rotterdam Philharmonic performing Parsifal at the Proms (yes, I stood up for the entire opera, and didn’t feel even a slight ache); Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting a small ensemble in Franco Donatoni’s Hot.

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

Live your life to the full and never stop searching. You can never know enough, be experienced enough, ‘finish the work’, or be truly satisfied! This is potentially frustrating but also liberating because the process leading up to each performance is what becomes important and enriching. Aspiring musicians should gain the widest possible musical experience, get to know and engage with other art forms, read widely…. You never know where an idea or an inspiration might be lurking, and behind every seemingly simple answer lies a multitude of questions.

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

Doing what I do now, hopefully quite a lot better.


British pianist Danny Driver trained with Alexander Kelly and Piers Lane whilst studying at Cambridge University, with Irina Zaritskaya at the Royal College of Music in London, and completed his studies privately with Maria Curcio. As a student he won numerous awards including the Royal Over-Seas League Keyboard Competition and the title of BBC Radio 2 Young Musician of the Year.

Read Danny Driver’s full biography

Meet the Artist……Bernard Hughes, composer


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

I started composing of my own accord at about the age of 8, without anyone particularly inspiring me or suggesting I do it. I just started writing things down on bits of manuscript paper lying around the house. I remember once making up a key signature which combined sharps and flats and showing it to my father, who said there was no such key signature. I didn’t understand why that was, or why I wasn’t allowed to make up my own key signature. As to making a career from music, that was never intended. Most people who write music stop at some point, and I just never stopped.

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

I had an influential music teacher called Gwynne Lewis when I was about 10. He didn’t especially inspire me to compose, but he communicated a love of music and the joy of being involved in music. I have had a number of excellent teachers along the way, but the inspiration above all has been Igor Stravinsky. I didn’t discover his music until the shockingly late age of 16 or 17, but once I heard the Rite of Spring I never looked back in my devotion to his music. First hearing the Symphony of Psalms was an unforgettable experience.

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

As with all composers, the challenge is to have your music heard. In this I have been pretty lucky, but every composer wants more and higher profile performances and commissions.

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

Having a particular occasion or performed in mind can really help to shape a piece. I had a commission that got more and more precise; in the end it had to be a wordless choral work based on a visual work of art by an artist I knew. And the piece turned out to be quite unusual as a result.

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

I’ve been lucky to work quite often with the BBC Singers. When you have a piece sung by them you can be confident they will get it right – working with children as I do much of the time, there is always the possibility for a collapse. But technical expertise is only half the battle; it is particularly fun to work with groups and individuals who enjoy the challenge of new music.

How would you describe your compositional language?

A question composers tend to dread. First, I would certainly say that my language is different from piece to piece, depending on the circumstances and context. Next, I would say that I am interested in using tonal materials in a non-tonal way, if tonality is interpreted narrowly as meaning music that has a sense of home key and a hierarchy of other keys, and that modulates away from and back to the home key. Under this narrow definition, Steve Reich’s music, for example, is not tonal, although it uses diatonic chords. This is a fertile ground for me (although my music sounds nothing like Reich). For example, my choral pieces often use diatonic chords, but I am rarely able to write a perfect cadence. I am also interested in the use of modes, such as the octatonic collection, or invented modes. In summary, my musical language tends to be a bit ‘safe’ for those who like hardcore modern music, and a little bit tricky for those who like straightforward ‘classical’ music.

How do you work?

I use a mixture of pen and paper and computer. I am at the tail-end of the generation trained pre-computer notation – I first got Sibelius in my 20s, when it was a new (and by today’s standards, primitive) software. I now don’t know how I ever managed without a computer. First thoughts for a piece usually come on my feet, either walking round the block or in the shower. Notes will often first come at the piano, sketched onto manuscript. I also often print out music at an intermediate stage and write onto the printout with amendments. I think it is so useful to have visible drafts – one of the downsides of a computer is that once you change a note, the original is gone. But the main use of the computer is for checking the pacing of a piece – which is, for me, the ultimate challenge. Do the events of the piece happen at the right psychological moment?

Which works are you most proud of?

It would have to be the two large-scale pieces I have written for the BBC Singers. ‘The Death of Balder’ in particular, is an original conception – a ‘radio opera’ for choir on a Norse myth – and I am happy with how it turned out, after a great deal of uncertainty while composing it.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

As mentioned above, I am a huge Stravinsky fan, and always will be. Of contemporary composers, I really love Judith Weir’s music (she is also an extremely kind and generous person), Magnus Lindberg, Thomas Adès, Julian Anderson and a French composer called Guillaume Connesson, who I only discovered through reviewing a CD.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was lucky enough, as a child living in Berlin in the 1980s, to be taken to hear the Berlin Philharmonic a few times. The two occasions I particularly remember were hearing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and – the first time I went – Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 21. I was about 10 and both completely blew me away, just the sound of the orchestra, and I still love both pieces. I also remember, at one of those concerts, the second half being a Shostakovich symphony, which I hated; Shostakovich symphonies still don’t do it for me.

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

I think it is a responsibility of composers to listen widely, and to music that is not necessarily instantly amenable. I think too many people, young people in particular, are too narrow in their range of listening. In one sense there is no excuse for not listening widely – my excuse as a youngster was that it was difficult to access music, apart from Radio 3 and my local library’s tape collection. But the flip side is that there is so much music available now that it can be difficult to wade through it all. But it is important for composers to have open ears.

‘I Am The Song – Choral music by Bernard Hughes’ was released in April 2016 on the Signum Classics label. More information

‘The Knight Who Took All Day’ from the book by James Mayhew with music by Bernard Hughes will be performed on Sunday 29th January 2017 at Hertford Theatre, Hertford, conducted by Tom Hammond. More information

Bernard Hughes studied Music at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, graduating with a first-class degree. He subsequently studied composition at Goldsmiths College, London under Peter Dickinson, and privately with Param Vir. Bernard Hughes was awarded a PhD in Composition from Royal Holloway College, London, studying with Philip Cashian. Bernard Hughes is Composer-in-Residence at St Paul’s Girls’ School in London.

Bernard Hughes’s music has been broadcast on Radio 3 and King FM in Seattle, and he appeared as a conductor on the Channel 4 series Howard Goodall’s Twentieth Century Greats. Bernard writes regularly for theartsdesk cultural review website.

More about Bernard Hughes here

Meet the Artist……James Lisney


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

I have never seen playing the piano as a ‘career’; rather I started enjoying a life with music when my parents had the foresight to purchase a ‘cottage’ Pleyel piano for nineteen shillings. It had beautiful veneer inlay, brass candlesticks and a soundboard that could only cope with a pitch of A 430. This piano was a playground for improvisation and storytelling during a pretty easy-going childhood: a country school just down the road, plenty of woodlands to explore and sports facilities attached to my parents’ workplace. Music was always a natural part of life and I was lucky enough to be assessed by Gordon Jacob at the age of six for a bursary that provided lesson fees and assisted in the purchase of a really good Welmar piano.

We lived in a tiny semi-detached house and I felt particularly sorry for my family and neighbours who had to endure my doodling at the keyboard and, much later, large scale ‘noise’, such as produced by hard work on Brahms’ Concerto in D minor. My neighbour retaliated by playing Fur Elise – every day!

The first concert I attended was following a masterclass given by Sidney Harrison. He was full of amusing stories and played really popular repertoire with great care and taste (I heard him years later and I was pleased to note that his Liszt Liebestraum was really excellent). The next concert was supposed to be given by Clifford Curzon but ill health necessitated his replacement by John Ogdon (this must have been around 1969) with a typical programme of Beethoven’s final two sonatas, Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, the Schumann Toccata and Balakirev’s Islamey.

On the radio there were musical encounters with Antony Hopkins (‘Talking about Music’), Semprini’s ‘Serenade’ – and Reginald Dixon on the cinema organ from Blackpool. Favourite early recordings included Serkin, Cyril Smith (playing the Dohnanyi Variations), Wilhelm Kempff, Solomon, Rostal and Schaefer, Eileen Joyce and The Beatles. Oh yes – I nearly forgot Danny Kaye.

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

My teachers. I cannot stress too much how important it is to have a really good start. There could have been none better than Jean Murphy, who combined great thoroughness with excitable inspiration (singing, dancing, trying to get my shoulders down and collapsing in giggles – what more could a young pupil want?)

Jean had studied with Phyllis Sellick and I was extremely fortunate to learn with her from around eleven years old for about a decade. An amazing artist, who took exceptional pains with preparation, tone, complete understanding of the music, a rich comprehension of how the body worked: I use her inspiration every single day. In addition, her memories of Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Bertrand Russell, the Sitwells, Solomon Cutner, Curzon – an apparently golden age – provided constant stimulus. When I was tiring from our long lessons, she would take me into the drawing room to listen to Horowitz’s left hand in Scarlatti or Scriabin, ‘Louis’ (Kentner) in Liszt, Rosalyn (Tureck) in Bach – a whole host of musicians that she seemed to either adore or know very well. Rosalyn Tureck was at the house on one visit and generously helped me with some Bach. Phyllis certainly gave me a sense of what musical Britain must have been like fifty years earlier: on one occasion, after we had worked on the Brahms D minor, she looked out the window and said that in the old days she would have phoned Henry Wood to see whether he would hear me. I am still waiting for the Proms to call……

After Phyllis came two more important teachers. John Barstow remains a strong friend and his gift was to broaden one’s appreciation of music and build confidence. Together we saw my first Parsifals (Reginald Goodall), Mahler Symphony of a Thousand (Pritchard), Alexander Nevsky (Rostropovich), Shostakovich String Quartet cycle (the Borodin Quartet) etc. All stirred into the mix of a love and respect for piano playing that was ultimately much ‘bigger’ than merely being a pianist. I believe it was Arrau who said that it was necessary to be ‘at least a virtuoso’ and John incorporated model playing with a wide range of musical images. We had very few lessons – but they were supplemented by discussions and shared musical experiences.

The last teacher was at a summer school in Nice in 1983. I was there courtesy of the Anglo-French Society, the first Perlemuter Scholar. The lessons were taken in the class of Dominique Merlet, a concise and accurate teacher who had the gift of the utmost support combined with the ability to demonstrate to an astonishing level. He was an example of what was possible, what was essential in terms of ability, knowledge and the craft to consider a life in music.

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

Pianistically, everything remains impossibly difficult and, ultimately, relatively easy. The music of Schubert and Beethoven remain my central marker – and everything they wrote appears to be frantically challenging and yet so completely natural, so human. The late sonatas of both of these masters provide constant challenges, opportunities to develop, but their early works, chamber music, song and miscellaneous pieces provide similar nutrition. It is as if their vision is in their musical DNA and that the explicit mysteries of the late works are implicit in every phrase of their lifetime’s work.

One of the biggest challenges of recent years has been my work on the music of Jan Vriend. Having heard me play the Beethoven ‘Cello Sonatas with the wonderful Alexander Baillie, Jan set about writing a bouquet of astonishing pieces for me. It is no exaggeration to equate this achievement with the late flowering in Debussy’s compositional life. Music of such vigour, virtuosity and concentration, it has really made me dig deep to cope with its complex language and strive to do justice to its amazing message. Having played Anatomy of Passion with Alexander Baillie, I am now benefitting from the process from preparing performances with my daughter Joy – she has grown up hearing Vriend’s music and appears to have absorbed it by osmosis. With Imagine the Mountain premiered with violinist Paul Barritt, JOY (written for ‘guess who?’), I have been amazingly blessed – and challenged. On top of this, my simple request for a piano triptych to emulate a set of Debussy’s Images or a book of Albeniz’s Iberia, resulted in the astonishing Meden Agan, with its exuberant ‘Erotica’ movement. I loved taking ‘Erotica’ to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for my fiftieth birthday series – but this is music to build into the repertoire and live with for many years. Thank you Jan!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

This is a very difficult one. I am permanently upbeat about my concerts (I enjoy performing immensely) – but also extremely critical. They are never ‘good enough’ but, at the same time, my vanity or standards are not what they are about – they are events for audience and performer alike; it’s ‘about the music’, not James Lisney.

Given that caveat, I recently heard some live playing from the late 80’s on Classic FM (an early Performer’s Platform kind of programme with Petroc Trelawny, and performed on a Boston piano and surrounded by office desks and computer screensavers). It was a set of Rachmaninoff transcriptions (Bach, Kreisler, Bizet and the like), and I was rather proud that I managed to deliver adequately in not the most glamorous of circumstances. That it was Rachmaninoff makes me extra proud as he is a composer of whom I am particularly fond.

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

I remember playing in the Ateneul Roman in Bucharest, one year after the end of Ceausescu. A Christmas concert – one of the first in many years – and I was playing Mozart K 488. The orchestra, amazing hall and spirit of the audience crystallised a remarkable musical experience.

I’ve played music by Beethoven and Jan Vriend at St George’s in Bristol and I think this is one of the United Kingdom’s best halls for the kind of music I play (along with the Arts Centre in Stamford – a gem!)

I also love non-standard and small halls. I have played almost one hundred and seventy times at the little concert hall at the Hindhead Music Centre (on the remarkable Steinway that dropped from the Covent Garden stage) and I regularly play at the Mosterdzaadje in Santpoort–Noord, the Netherlands. I recently opened the thirty-first season of Mosterdzaadje – a model of how a modest hall can be run simply, beautifully and with great warmth, providing music within a quiet suburb. No public subsidy – and no cuts.

When one can add the library at Wittem, the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Studio Music in Brightlingsea, my series at the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham etc I think I can say that I have completely failed to answer your question!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Performing – (mostly) what I have chosen to play. Recently came back to the warhorse concertos of Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and they gave me a real buzz. If anyone out there wants to commission me for a Brahms concerto, please get in touch…

Listening to? Wagner and Mozart operas. If anyone out there wants to take me to Parsifal, please get in touch….

Who are your favourite musicians?

Well, there are many pianists but Gould, Arrau and Richter seem to be on a different level from the rest. After that, I would not want to be without Cherkassky, Tureck, Sokolov and special performances from the likes of Horowitz, Haskil, Ogdon and many more. I heard Ernest Levy recently and I thought his Beethoven and Liszt to be some of the most affecting and remarkable performances I have heard in many years.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The Borodin Quartet playing the final two Shostakovich Quartets perhaps, or the awe-inspiring Richter playing Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis in the Grange de Meslay. I was also lucky enough to visit Bayreuth………and then there are the performances that one comes across by so called ‘amateur’ pianists at summer schools or suchlike: little glimpses of heaven, pure music making, generously given.

In terms of my own performance, however, I have one choice: the Bremen ‘Konzert im Dunkeln’ Schubert recital I gave to raise money for stroke rehabilitation and to commemorate the centenary of Phyllis Sellick. This was at the fabulous Bremen Sendesaal – a venue that has a remarkable series of concerts that are given in the complete (and utter!) darkness. I will never forget coming out onto the stage to give my recital, the lights dimmed and the packed audience very excited by the novel idea. As the switch was thrown on the lights, plunging us into an all-enveloping black, the audience gasped as if they were at a fairground. It was a lesson to me in reaching out with music, without professional vanity and, on a practical level, how it is inner hearing that enables us to perform accurately and reliably rather than any visual cues.

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

Returning to my opening idea of not having a career, I also would advise musicians not to ‘aspire’. It is more a case of finding a way to live with this remarkable music, to enjoy and, if possible, to share it. Whether it is helping a small person to play First Tune by Barbara Kirkby Mason, my continuing struggles with Beethoven’s late sonatas or playing chamber music with colleagues, I can only advise that we enjoy the process.

If I read the question in terms of those who wish to dedicate a large proportion of their time to music (and even, on occasions, use it to pay the mortgage) then the advice is to spread as wide as possible. Improvise, compose, explore, teach, read, remain curious – and make your own mistakes. The cult of the teacher is not one that I subscribe to – try to build your own musical life, way of playing, whatever, from one’s own personality. Recently a wise friend said that he felt that Cherkassky’s great talent was to play every note entirely true to himself.

Oh yes – if you are going to depend upon music for a living, be prepared to work insanely hard, keep as fit as possible and it helps to have extremely good ‘chops’! (fingers!)

What is your present state of mind?

Very happy, keen to learn more music and determined to do it better. Advancing middle age is a great period in life, and taste, emotions, awareness seem to get deeper and more focussed. Arrau said that passion intensifies with age, and I can only agree with him – and try to emulate a little of what he achieved in terms of identification and self-fulfilment.


[Original interview date: 12 September 2013]

Meet the Artist……Jonathan Woolgar, composer

1f-xbxgwWho or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I started composing as soon as I started learning the piano. Going to the theatre as a child was an important inspiration – I wanted to write theatre music, and still do. Serious composition started when I went to Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester for 6th form and I suppose I have never looked back.

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

Influences have come and gone over the years, but Stravinsky and Wagner have loomed large – somewhat disparate figures but as with most music there are connections under the skin. The early Stravinsky ballets naturally had a huge influence on me as a teenager, though now I would take Symphony of Psalms any day. Wagner came later. There is nothing like the sense of immersion you get from being in the middle of Tristan or Parsifal. In terms of teachers, each has had an important impact on me in different ways, although I’m especially grateful to Giles Swayne for teaching me to cut the crap – he is that rare thing, a composer completely without bullshit.

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

While I can’t think of anything specific, the sense that a piece hasn’t lived up to what I wanted it to be is always agonising. On the other hand, that’s what leads me to write the next one. They’re all steps along a road and I have no idea where it leads.

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

The greatest challenge and the greatest pleasure is that there is a deadline. The piece would never get finished without it.

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

More pleasures than challenges – knowing who or where I am writing for provides a focal point.

Of which works are you most proud?

I feel the work which has come closest to what I wanted it to be was a piece I wrote for a very good friend of mine, pianist Philip Sharp, called ‘Five Anatomical Sketches’. The music is unusually austere for me, but I felt that I was able to boil the material down to its expressive essence, and Phil performed it superbly.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Communicative without compromise.

How do you work?

I compose whenever I can, I have no special routine. Time and space always yield better results. I also take frequent long walks to work ideas through. Many compositional breakthroughs have come on those long walks.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I’ve already mentioned Stravinsky and Wagner as influences, and other musical loves include Chopin, Mahler, Adès, Beethoven, Adams, Britten, Monteverdi, and so on, and so on… In terms of performers, while I don’t have any particular favourites, I have recently been enjoying Boulez’s Mahler symphony recordings and also luxuriating in the voice of Iestyn Davies.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a performer, it was singing in the chorus for Walton’s ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’ at the Royal Festival Hall with the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Hill – who brought along the Bach Choir too. It is a silly piece in many ways, and yet it works so incredibly well and the ending is wonderfully ecstatic. As a listener, I will always remember my first Prom fondly, which was the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles performing Adams, Mozart and Strauss. I was swept away by the wonderful atmosphere and the wonderful repertoire.

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

I don’t like the phrase “be yourself” – I would rather say “do what you must do”. Have something to say and discover the best way in which to say it – that is the communicative impulse. I don’t mean communication in the lowest-common-denominator sense, I mean the sharing of music between humans on any scale. Writing and performing music is a way of saying “HERE I AM” and “HERE WE ARE”, nothing more and nothing less.

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

Writing music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?


What do you enjoy doing most?

Hearing great music with great people in great places.

What is your present state of mind?

Existentially drowning.

Jonathan Woolgar is the joint Cambridge University Musical Society Composer in Residence for 2016-17. This includes writing a piece for the Cambridge University New Music Ensemble, which will be premiered on 2nd February 2017 and conducted by Patrick Bailey

Composer Jonathan Woolgar is particularly interested in music as drama and music for the stage, and his work draws from a wide range of musical experience, aiming to engage every kind of listener.

Jonathan has had works performed at the Bridgewater Hall and the Royal Albert Hall by ensembles such as Manchester Camerata, Onyx Brass, Aurora Orchestra and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, as well as broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In 2010 he won the BBC Proms Young Composers’ Competition. His music has been recorded for commercial release by the choir of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and he also enjoys close associations with contemporary music ensembles The Hermes Experiment and Khymerikal. Jonathan is Composer in Residence at Eton College for 2015-17, and will be Composer in Residence for the Cambridge University Musical Society in 2016-17. His one-woman opera, Scenes from the End, ran in London and Edinburgh this summer, while future projects include performances at St Mark’s Basilica, Venice and St John’s Smith Square.

Whilst currently based near London, Jonathan originally hails from Pontefract in West Yorkshire. He attended Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester from 2008-10, studying composition and conducting with Jeremy Pike and Gavin Wayte. From 2010-13 he read music at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge where he graduated with First Class Honours and studied composition with Giles Swayne, going on to study with David Sawer at the Royal Academy of Music.

Meet the Artist……Alexandra Dariescu, pianist

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

My mother was the one to introduce me to the wonderful world of music. I grew up in communist Romania, where kids didn’t have piano lessons as an after school thing but my Mum saved up lots of money and bought a beautiful mahogany upright. I got into the specialist music school in Iasi age 7 and had my debut with an orchestra 2 years later with Mozart D major concerto. I remember walking on stage, surrounded by adults, tripping over, conductor panicking, music stands falling, scores flying all over the place. My mum freezing in the first row. But I stood up, smiling and loved every single second of that performance. I came out and said “I want to become a concert pianist!”. I feel blessed to have had very encouraging people in my life, who believed in me and gave me a chance. I learnt from a very early age that hard work will always take you a long way. I don’t come from a musical family, therefore I didn’t have any expectation on how things should go. I didn’t set myself a target, I simply followed my intuition, learning from every situation and felt grateful for every opportunity that came my way. And the same as my falling, I learnt I can always stand back up and keep going.

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

My teachers have had the greatest influence on me, starting with my high-school teachers in Romania, to the late Mark Ray, Nelson Goerner, Alexander Melnikov, Dina Parakhina, Ronan O’Hora, Andras Schiff and Imogen Cooper. I have been incredibly privileged to study with fantastic musicians, who taught me not just about music, but enriched my life through advice on staying true to myself and always discovering new things. The thirst of knowledge and curiosity is one of the most beautiful things in life.

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

I believe we all find ourselves at crossroads at some point in our lives. The greatest challenge is to take the right path for you. I usually analyse and over-analyse and once I have taken a decision, that’s it! I try to never look back and believe in the power of instinct- after a lot of research has been done!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Every recording I have ever made is the result of hard work, a long time planning, creating a vision and sticking to a plan.This year saw the release of my concerto debut disc- Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Signum Records coupled with the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ arranged by Pletnev. The joy of having my first concerto disc out is not easily put into words- honestly, a dream come true!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I try to identify myself with whatever piece I am playing. I like reading about the story behind the music, I like to find out about the political situation of that time, where the composer was at the point in his life, what were his fears, his joys. The notes on the page are just the start of the journey.

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

I think long term. I like creating projects and putting programmes together that make sense. I am working on my Trilogy of Preludes at the moment, a project supported by the wonderful team at Champs Hill Records, who have very enthusiastically welcomed 3 CDs of complete preludes: vol I Chopin and Dutilleux, vol II Szymanowski and Shostakovich (both released) and vol III Fauré and Messiaen coming out next year. I enjoy introducing my audiences to new pieces, I like to challenge them with something they might not know they would love.

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

Every venue has its own personality, the same as pianos do. As a pianist, one has to adapt very quickly – I simply cannot describe how thrilling it is to step into a hall where so many of the great legends have played. There’s a huge pressure but in the same time there’s something humbling and magical about it.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing the Nutcracker Suite. I feel the versatility of the piano makes it possible to recreate the orchestral sound and it allows me to imagine all the magical world the story tells in a very intimate setting. I love listening to everything, from jazz to folk, pop to classical.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Goodness me, where should I start?! Every concert is memorable, from a little hall in the middle of nowhere to the big giants. My first time at Carnegie Hall will always be the icing on the cake (and lots of the readers will know I love cake!). Getting a standing ovation at the Concertgebouw was quite something. My Buenos Aires concert in front of a packed 5000 seat hall (at lunchtime!) had me on my toes (I was told Beyoncé performed there the night before- make of that what you will!). Performing with youth orchestras is always truly rewarding- we all learn from each other and I always feel happy amongst them.

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

Always be true to yourself. Never give up. Always follow your dream- patience and perseverance will get you a long way. Never stop learning, from anyone and from every situation!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being able to enjoy each moment as it comes, living in the present. Making a difference, standing up for what I believe in. Change lives through music!

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Play my piano, communicate, bake, cycling with hubby, being with people.

What is your present state of mind?

I am truly grateful for everyone and everything I have around me. I feel blessed to be able to follow my dream.


From London’s Royal Albert Hall to Carnegie Hall in New York, the young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, recently named as one of 30 pianists under 30 destined for a spectacular career (International Piano Magazine), dazzles audiences worldwide with her effortless musicality and captivating stage presence.

Read more about Alexandra Dariescu here

Meet the Artist……Natalie Burch


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music? 

It was my mother who first took me off to piano lessons age five although I can’t really say it was a particular calling at that age – I’m fairly sure I was going to be Prime Minister. It was not until I was a bit older and not really practising enough that my mum made me sign a contract promising that I would practise every day or the piano and the lessons would be gone! It was only then that I began to realise just what an important part of my life music was and became determined to dedicate myself to it further. Actually pursuing a career in music was never a particular ambition, however, until age 16 I was on the Chetham’s Piano Summer School and one of the professors simply said ‘why are you not here?’. Well, I didn’t have an answer so the next year I enrolled as a student and haven’t looked back since!

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

I’ve been so lucky with my piano teachers over the years and they have all been hugely influential, but the person who really believed in my abilities as a pianist and really challenged me to be the best I could be, was John Railton. John was an astonishing man – with only one arm he managed to have a successful career as a pianist and conductor, recording for the BBC, conducting at the major concert halls and being the central point of many different communities music making. He had a total disregard for potential obstacles and just believed firmly that I would be a pianist – I really wouldn’t be here without him!

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

The biggest challenge for me is performance anxiety – I wouldn’t say I get crippling nerves but I have found it frustrating sometimes when I can’t achieve the same focus on the music because my mind is worrying about being worried! The challenge is to find techniques to control any anxiety and transform it from something destructive into a positive energy. As an accompanist I have also had to become very time efficient. Our job often involves learning lots of repertoire in very short periods of time and the ability to practise efficiently without getting injured is paramount.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I recently launched the Devon Song Festival and I was so pleased with our inaugural concert. There was an unusual amount of pressure in organising the event, trying to keep the audience happy and performing but it went brilliantly and our reception was so enthusiastic. I’m so thrilled it was success and we can expand the festival next year.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I definitely feel most at home in the song repertoire, specifically German lieder and English song though I also love the sound world of cello and piano sonatas and am beginning to explore this further. I love playing with singers because I am able to find a deeper connection to the music when text is set. I rarely perform as a solo pianist these days but when I do it’s nearly always Russian: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev being particular favourites!

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

Last year I played at the Wigmore Hall for the first time and I absolutely loved it. It’s such an intimate space and from the piano it feels perfect as a hall for song. There is incredible clarity in the acoustic and you can really challenge yourself as to how quiet you can play and what extremes of articulation you can reach. It of course helps that the piano is absolutely beautiful too!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This year I’ve been working on Stephen Hough’s ‘Other Love Songs’ (for a performance at Wigmore in May 2016) and it is just the most brilliant cycle. It was written as a companion piece for the Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes and really cleverly picks up on themes from the original work but set to a wonderful selection of texts covering all forms of love and emotions from the heart-breaking to the comic. My personal highlight in the performance comes near the end where the pianists get to join in singing and my part is mostly just hitting the piano!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I’m lucky enough to be taught by one of my favourite musicians, Eugene Asti. I have huge admiration for his attention to detail and respect for the score and the history of every work he plays. Importantly it is not only theoretical but you can really hear all that detail in his playing and it brings the music to life amazingly. Another is Iain Burnside, his playing is so robust and clear and I find his recordings of English song especially moving in their simplicity.

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

I suppose as I’m still a student I would consider myself to be still aspiring! But I definitely think all young musicians need to think about more than just practise and performing. I’ve been working with Alisdair Hogarth recently and he has shown me the importance of being savvy when it comes to self-promotion and the commercial side of music making. He suggested that we should be spending as much time promoting performances and developing our career as we do practising. Whilst I can’t quite bring myself to do that just yet, I can see that when I leave music college, working hard to find performances and creating appealing programmes will be just as important as working on technique!

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

In ten years’ time I would like to be living in London enjoying a fledgling career as a song accompanist and working as a broadcaster for Radio 3. Basically, I would like to follow in the footsteps of Iain Burnside!

Originally from Devon, Natalie Burch initially studied with John Railton before moving to Manchester to study solo piano with Peter Lawson at Chetham’s School of Music. In 2014 she graduated with first class honors from King’s College London where she studied musicology and took lessons at the Royal Academy of Music with Daniel-Ben Pienaar and Andrew West.  Natalie is currently studying for a masters in accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama under the tutelage of Eugene Asti and Andrew West.

Recent and future highlights include performing at the Wigmore Hall alongside Alisdair Hogarth and the Prince Consort, a new commission for the Leeds Lieder festival, rehearsal pianist for Tchaikowsky ‘Rococo Variations’ with Guy Johnston, a recital for the Elgar Society and a number of concerts and masterclasses as resident pianist for Opera Prelude.

Read more about Natalie here