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

After beginning piano lessons at the age of eight, my initial interest in the accordion came from hearing Scottish traditional music and one day I just walked past the local music shop and decided that I would like to begin learning the accordion. A few years later I attended a concert given by the Russian accordionist Oleg Sharov who is professor of accordion at the Rimsky Korsakov Conservatoire in St. Petersburg. A whole new world of possibilities was opened to me as I realised that the accordion could also be a serious classical instrument.

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

My father was a professional violinist and so I was immersed in classical music whilst growing up – his well honed performance skills and immense knowledge of repertoire, both orchestral and solo motivated me to focus on music as a career. I was very lucky to study with the Serbian teacher Dr Djordje Gajic, one of the most accomplished and inspirational performers I have met.

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

The classical accordion is still a very unfamiliar concept to many people, who tend to think of the accordion as purely a folk instrument. I have worked hard to promote it’s diverse repertoire and bring it onto the concert platform as an equal with other instruments.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

As an undergraduate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I gave a recital which won me the Governors Recital Prize for Keyboard – a competition which was completely dominated by pianists, and this helped to raise the profile of the accordion within the Conservatoire.

In February 2012 I performed what I believe was the first solo accordion recital in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, as part of the Manchester Mid-Day Concert Series which was a great privilege.

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

The Bridgewater Hall would have to be one of my favourite venues due to its wonderful acoustics which allow the sound of the instrument to fill the hall, but maintain pure clarity of tone. I have also greatly enjoyed performing in the beautiful setting of cathedrals such as Peterborough, Ripon and San Francisco.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I enjoy performing baroque works such as Bach and Scarlatti as they transcribe very nicely onto the free-bass accordion. ‘Romance’ by Franck Angelis is a contemporary work which allows the listener to descend into pure tranquility and is another of my favourite pieces to perform.

I listen to a wide range of music and have become fascinated with Tango – Astor Piazzolla took the genre from the dance halls to the concert stage and I am a founder member of the Scottish Tango Ensemble. Listening to the music being performed live by the Tango Orchestras on a visit to Buenos Aires in 2010 was an amazing experience.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many to choose from, but I admire the playing of Alexander Skylarov and Mika Varynen and I very much enjoy listening to the recordings of Horowitz as his musical mastery shines through.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

This would have to be attending a concert of the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder in a performance of Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ in Manchester. He brought it alive in a terrific way, conjuring up such vivid images with the music.

As a performer sometimes the more intimate venues can be some of the most rewarding, and when in California earlier this year I gave a concert in Santa Cruz public library. Almost all of the audience were completely new to the concept of classical music being played on the accordion and had no idea what to expect. I began with Bach’s famous Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, and they were completely engrossed. A huge number of the audience came to speak to me afterwards and were astounded by the repertoire and possibilities of the instrument and it was humbling to hear their kind comments.

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

Trying to understand what the composer is really trying to convey in his music so that we can interpret it, taking into account things such as their influences, religious beliefs, emotional state. Just as an actor would get into character, as musicians we must do the same in order to fully engage with music and convey its message to the audience. I believe that the use of mental imagery is a great tool as the associations it creates, help to shape the performance and project it to the audience.

Being focussed and efficient in practise is essential, as is an understanding of the business and promotional aspects of being a musician so that they come out of music college knowing how to actually find and make work for themselves.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am currently working on some repertoire for a new CD to be released in July, which will include full transcription of Weber’s ‘Concertstuk’ as well as Piazzolla’s ‘Grand Tango’ for violin and accordion.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is being able to balance professional and personal life so that my practise time and performance schedule allow me to spend quality time with my wife and young daughter.

 

Paul Chamberlain’s new album ‘Accordion Sensations’ is released on 1st July. Further information and soundclips here

Paul Chamberlain was one of the first classical accordionists to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, where he studied with Djordje Gajic. He completed a BMus (Hons) degree and subsequently graduated from the conservatoire with a Master of Music Performance with Distinction.Whilst studying there he was awarded the acclaimed Governors Recital Prize for Keyboard, and was also one of the keyboard section finalists in the 2011 Royal Overseas League competition. Paul  is a highly accomplished player with appearances at international music festivals such as Baltica Harmonica in St. Petersburg – Russia, Sata-Häme Soi Accordion festival in Ikaalinen – Finland, and the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, held annually in Scotland. He has also performed in France, Italy, Greece, Bahrain and the USA. In February 2013 he undertook a very successful tour of concerts around the UK and California which included his Bridgewater Hall debut with a solo recital as part of the long established Manchester Mid-Days concert series.In 2011, Paul released his debut solo album entitled “Classical Accordion” featuring a mixture of transcriptions of works by J.S. Bach, Rameau, Moszkowski and Khachaturian, as well as original works by Alexander Nagayev and Franck Angelis.He has also performed with the Paragon Ensemble as part of their “Travelling Home” concert celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, with the Scottish Opera Connect orchestra, and is a founder member of the Scottish Tango Ensemble.Paul has been featured on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ programme with Sean Rafferty, performing live in the studio, BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Classics Unwrapped’ and California’s KDFC Classical Music Radio Station in San Francisco.

Paul Chamberlain’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your first memory of the piano? 

A dark black shiny upright in my parents living-room that I couldn’t stay away from. Never mind dolls and toys…..this became the most irresistible, exciting, time-consuming and total love of my earliest years

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

I’ve always loved people and helping/ sharing: even as a child if I learned something myself – my joy was to share it with others, in order to derive complete enjoyment and satisfaction from it.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers? 

I was lucky with my teachers throughout: firstly, my earliest teacher (an unknown German lady called Else Schumann) inspired me, through her belief in my talent (I was 10 or 11 years old) and her encouragement of my natural gifts. Then, the wonderful Sidney Harrison who selected me (from those auditioning for the Junior Department at GSMD) to study with him, from the age of 11, and who continued to boost my confidence with his encouragement and delight in my abilities. Finally, the significance and importance of the legendary Greek pianist, Gina Bachauer, my mentor and “musical mother” and my beloved Ilona Kabos (the distinguished Hungarian teacher to so many of the great pianists) from the age of 15, who changed my way of thinking, attitude, and started me on the “road to artistry”. I also spent a wonderful six months in Paris, concentrating on French music with another legendary figure, Jacques Fevrier. Altogether the strongest and best influences one could ever hope for.

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

I think my work with Ilona Kabos planted the seeds from which my own “methods and ideas” grew: the importance of sound, understanding the depths and possibilities, the keyboard has to offer and how vital is stylistic awareness.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

All my teaching experiences have brought their own memorable and significant moments……but, I think (in terms of working with great young talent) the years of teaching for the Horowitz Foundation, in Kiev, Ukraine have been the most exciting and rewarding.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

If you mean, late beginners……. I have not much experience in this area but, would be fascinated by the challenge of dealing with the physical problems that may hamper the speed of learning to “make music”!

What do you expect from your students? 

A huge sense of responsibility to serve the music, at all times.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions? 

Wonderful experience, if dealt with correctly………from an emotional/psychological standpoint.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students? 

I repeat, that all we do has to serve the music………i.e. that every technical problem, ceases to be that, if making sense of and finding the spirit of the music, is the goal. Obviously, with beginners an understanding of how the hands and keyboard connect, and the raison d’etre, is vital.

What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching? 

Again, vital! I do believe it is imperative to have an understanding of what it means to perform, at a certain level, before one can deal with the problems the would-be-performer has to face. Also, it is only when one has prepared oneself at the highest level can one understand how to help prepare another.

How do you approach the issue of performance anxiety/tension? 

Very difficult and requires much thought and understanding of the student’s mentality and personality. Everyone is different and these different problems have to be dealt with, accordingly.

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why? 

I adore Murray Perahia and, on the odd occasions, when I’ve heard him teach……..I adore his logic and humanity. I’m sure, my idol, Grigory Sokolov, would make a fantastic teacher (if he were to have the time and desire!) as his understanding of sound quality/ quantity, is second to none.

 

Norma Fisher will be teaching at London Master Classes 2014 Summer Master Course, July 8 -13 at the Royal Academy of Music and Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, July 8-13 www.londonmasterclasses.com, Accademia J.S.Bach, Sardinia, July 19-29 2014, and MusicFest Perugia, Italy, August 2014 

Norma Fisher is acclaimed internationally as one of the UK’s leading pianists and teachers.  As a child she was recognised as ‘a rare musical talent’ winning an exhibition, at the age of eleven, to study with Sidney Harrison at the Guildhall School of Music.  At the age of fourteen she came to the attention of the celebrated Greek pianist Gina Bachauer who became her mentor, introducing her to the distinguished Hungarian teacher IlonaKabos, with whom she subsequently studied. A period was also spent in Paris studying French music with Jacques Fevrier. 

Her many, highly acclaimed, early performances for the BBC led to an invitation by the German radio station RIAS, in Berlin, to make her debut with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra – which launched her career in Europe. Success in the Busoni International Piano Competition as a top prize-winner followed and in 1963, when she shared the much-coveted Piano Prize in the Harriet Cohen International Music Awards with Vladimir Ashkenazy, her international reputation was sealed.  That same year she made her debut at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and became a favourite soloist with leading British orchestras including the London Philharmonic, Philharmonia, London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Hallé, Bournemouth Symphony, and the City of Birmingham Symphony orchestras. 

Norma Fisher is known for her versatility as a performer, receiving recognition worldwide as one of Britain’s leading pianists. This versatility extends to chamber music, which she plays with leading musicians throughout the world.  Her early relationship with the Dartington, Allegri and Delme String Quartets led to a much sought-after partnership with the Stamic Quartet of Prague, both in the UK and the Czech Republic. She has also performed regularly with the International Chamber Ensemble of Rome, Carmina Quartet and Reykjavik Wind Quintet and partnered such well known soloists as Stephanie Gonley, Alan Hacker, Maurice Hasson, Emanuel Hurwitz, Ralph Kirshbaum, Steven Isserlis, Peter Lukas Graf, GyorgyPauk, Hu Kun, Sylvia Rosenberg, GrigoriZhislin, Yossi Zivoni and singers Benjamin Luxon, Sherrill Milnes, Nelly Miricioiu and Sir John Tomlinson. 

Her reputation as a teacher is widely established and many of her top prize-winning students are well known on the international concert circuit. She is aProfessor of Piano at the Royal College of Music and a Fellow of the Royal Northern College of Music.She is invited to give masterclasses throughout the world and has taught at the International Musician’s Seminar at Prussia Cove, UK, the International Summer Academy in Lenk, Switzerland and the Horowitz Foundation Summer Music Academy in Kiev, Ukraine, amongst many others. She is regularly invited on the Jury of leading international piano competitions including Gina Bachauer (USA), Horowitz (Kiev, Ukraine), Joanna Hodges (USA), Boston Grand Amateurs (USA), Newport (Wales), Sydney (Australia), Tbilisi (Georgia) and Virginia Waring (USA),  

She is the Artistic Director of London Master Classes (www.londonmasterclasses.com) whose courses attract major talent from around the world to work intensively with top performers/teachers in London. London Master Classes 2014 will celebrate 26 years of offering these prestigious events. 

 

 

 

 

 

Brighton-based actor, singer, writer, dramaturg, director and trainer, Emma Kilbey brings vividly to life Ayn Rand,  American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter whose questionable beliefs still resonate strongly today.

Emma Kilbey

The play, written and performed by Emma Kilbey, will explore why Rand’s beliefs, including her philosophical system of objectivism, still resonate today, and the  impact of a powerful life lived without empathy.

The drama attempts to crack through the Russian-doll layers of this self-styled individualist, author and philosopher.

Expect thorny issues, heartbreak, humour and accents.

Emma introduces ‘The Ayn Lady’ here

‘I have seen many finished pieces that were much less cleverly constructed and consistently enjoyable than this. The company managed to give a lesson in both history and economics without ever falling into boring or hectoring the audience. The scenes from Rand’s life cleverly indicated where her “all about me” philosophy ends up, and the introduction of more contemporary quotations (Boris, Thatcher et al) made it plain that Rand’s insouciance about inequality and the most vulnerable in society not only persists but very much continues to inform the political debate.’ 

Ferment audience comments.

‘The Ayn Lady’ is a part of Ovalhouse’ FiRST BiTES series of new performance pieces, currently in development and presented as work-in-progress showings.

‘The Ayn Lady’ is at Ovalhouse, London SE11 from 2 – 5 July. Full details and tickets here

Penny Woolcock’s visually arresting “The Pearl Fishers” returns to the Coliseum in London in a revival of the 2010 English National Opera co-production with the Metropolitan Opera of New York.

The original production was praised for its stunning effects and staging, and this updated production proved mesmerizing, beginning with a beguiling underwater sequence in which pearl fishers, viewed through a gauzy screen, dive and swim, digitally-generated air bubbles trailing their lithe, fluid bodies (in fact, actors suspended on harnesses). When the curtain goes up, the scene is an exotic Ceylonese shanty town: rough wooden houses crowd higgledy-piggledy around the shoreline, tiny lights prick the early morning sky, telegraph cables sag between the buildings, and a cleverly conceived reflective surface across the entire stage creates the sense of water. The villagers gather around the ghats, dressed in sarongs, dhotis and saris in turmeric and paprika colors, and go about their business — hanging out washing, bathing, cooking at the water’s edge, gossiping. You can almost smell the masala dosas frying.

In later scenes, the houses have gone, leaving the glittering ocean across which a fishing boat glides. The illusion of waves is created through ingenious lighting effects and air-filled pillows, set low on the stage, which billow and swell like the sea. Longer scene changes are made behind the gauzy screen onto which are projected images of waves, including an impressive tsunami between Acts II and III.

Leila (Sophie Bevan) arrives (photo credit: ENO / Mike Hoban)

Bizet finished “The Pearl Fishers” in 1863, a year after Ingres painted “The Turkish Bath,” when Europe was gripped with a fervor for Orientalism, the term used by 19th-century Western scholars and artists in their study of Eastern cultures and peoples. At the time, the East was regarded as highly exotic — and erotic — and “The Pearl Fishers” resides in this tradition, with its recreation of an imaginary geography inhabited by ignorant, superstitious people who engage in transgressive sexual practices. The narrative is the age-old love triangle, with the added frisson of friendship, loyalty and religious observance.

In fact, Bizet’s opera is rather thin, particularly in comparison to his much-loved, vibrant “Carmen.” The libretto borders on cringe-making, and in this production unfortunately more than highlighted by the fact that it is sung in English and the language doesn’t always sit comfortably with the phrasing and shape of the music, as it surely would if sung in French. Apart from the famous aria (of which more later), there is little to hold the attention, musically, and while others might highlight inventiveness and variety in Bizet’s writing, this reviewer found it wanting, with Act III verging on turgid. Added to this, the characters are wooden and the narrative hardly believable. But of course, “The Pearl Fishers” is saved by the glorious tenor-and-baritone duet “Au Fond du Temple Saint” in Act I (with fragments and reprises in subsequent acts), whose sweepingly romantic melody stays with you throughout, and long after you have left the opera house, a pleasing earworm which will have you humming on your commute to work. On this occasion, what should have been a voluptuous celebration of friendship and unrequited love lacked conviction and depth: this was the first night and one hopes that as the singers (George von Bergen and John Tessier) settle into their roles, the richness of this great aria will come to the fore.

Soprano Sophie Bevan, making her role debut as Leïla, Priestess of Brahma, was a delight. Arriving by boat, veiled and submissive, her palms pressed together in obeisance, she proved a charmingly winsome and flirtatious Leïla, and full credit must go to Bevan for singing the role so arrestingly while recovering from a bug. By comparison, Zurga, sung by von Bergen, was underplayed, given his role (again one hopes his character will develop over forthcoming performances), but Nadir (Tessier) was more convincing, torn between his friendship with Zurga and his passion for Leïla. An attempt, via the setting, to comment on global warming and developing-world poverty seemed overly worthy and self-conscious, and an amused nod to the exigencies of Indian bureaucracy in the Act III scene in Zurga’s “office,” piled high with friable papers and bulging ledgers on rusting filing cabinets, felt unnecessary.

But if the music doesn’t always hold your attention (and all credit to the orchestra, whose muscular playing contributed much-needed vibrancy, together with some fine chorus singing), the visual effects will, along with the costumes: Nourabad, the High Priest of Brahma, could have stepped straight off a sculptural frieze on a South Indian temple, with his sadhu’s ash-smeared body, draperies, dreadlocks and top knot. Worth seeing if only for the arresting and finely wrought visual effects and staging.

The Pearl Fishers continues in repertory at ENO.

Date reviewed: Monday 16th June 2014.

Leïla, Sophie Bevan; Nadir, John Tessier; Zurga, George von Bergen; Nourabad, Barnaby Rea; Director, Penny Woolcock; Conductor, Jean-Luc Tingaud; Set Designer, Dick Bird; Costume Designer, Kevin Pollard; Lighting Designer, Jen Schriever; Video Designer, 59 Productions Ltd; Choreographer, Andrew Dawson; Translator, Martin Fitzpatrick. English National Opera, London Coliseum 

(This review was first published on CultureVulture.net)

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

I grew up in a very much culturally, and musically, rich household, although neither of my parents were musicians. I started my piano lessons early, by the age of four (the Soviet-inspired music education system was then held in great and well- deserved esteem, for one to be judged as apt to pursue a serious, as it was, musical training was considered something of an honour); but it was not until relatively later that my relationship with the instrument and music making was definitely shaped: indeed at 12 I was privileged enough to assist Sviatoslav Richter on stage during his unforgettable recital in my hometown Tarnow, Poland (he let me hold down the bass notes in one of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux), while also sharing a conversation and the great man’s private moments. I consider this to be a very major, pivotal event in my life. Schooling over, I realised that the only thing I could do quite decently  was to play the piano, so it stayed that way, eventually evolving into a professional activity. Now it has become a way of life and I can hardly imagine it otherwise.

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

I have long been fascinated by the “old school” of piano playing and its total mastery of the keyboard in all of its dimensions: technical, poetic, emotional, transcendental…….I do acknowledge the importance (and consider myself subjected to) and significant influence of the so-called Russian school of piano playing, both of Liszt-Siloti and Neuhaus lineage, its research of sound quality, lyrical expression, rhythmic drive, broadly understood articulation, both digital and epic, stylistic and structural intelligence (curiously and surprisingly enough I found many of these elements in Cortot’s Chopin edition that I value highly). There is also a timeless legacy of individuals like Horowitz or Gould which constitutes a continual and enlightened source of inspiration.

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

At the early stages of a career, what inevitably stands out as a challenge is having to deal with “glass ceiling’ and “moving sands” syndromes, on top of not letting one’s ignorance of basic communication skills and socio-technical tricks stand in the way of personal improvement and, ultimately, personal fullfilment. Understanding the secret life of a professional agenda punctuated by phone calls or lack of, understanding the particularities of different life stages and their impact on social/professional interactions, all this while trying to keep an “inner child” alive, constantly expanding, upgrading and keeping up with the repertoire, knowing it inside out and upside down at all times, being at ease with proselytizing and successfully funding oneself and one’s intimate passions; and also the ability to preserve some time on one’s own, not letting personal life to become a wasteland are but a few of the constant challenges to which a professional musician is subjected during his/her life. I think we would also all reasonably agree that what probably is the most difficult in a long run is sticking to however unrealistic goal, once set, and never diverting from the straight path to achieve it, as well as never giving up in the face of ever-increasing competition.

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

During the last few years I greatly enjoyed performing both Liszt Concertos in France and in the United Kingdom and giving all-Chopin recitals, including on period instruments. I am very proud of my collaboration with the Rio de Janeiro youth string Orquestra de Cordas da Grota conducted by Ubiratan Rodrigues: during the Policia Pacificadora siege of Rio favelas in November and December 2010 we rehearsed, performed and recorded J.S.Bach’s Concertos BWV 1052 and 1058 (prod. Martin Voll for Otherwise Records). I am equally proud of my latest CD release Jozef Kapustka: Improvisations with Bashir containing my own improvisations in the oriental style, and where I am joined by Iranian virtuosi Bashir Faramarzi and Pedram Khavarzamini (sole distributor: DUX Recording Producers/Naxos, 2013). This recording, produced by Sanaz Khosravi, has been well received on both sides of the current diplomatic and ideological conflict.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

There are so many of them…… Great pianos, great acoustics, great public, great surroundings or any combination of these makes each experience unique and unforgettable. In terms of psychological impact, performing in some of New York venues while still in my twenties (Lincoln Center Alice Tully Hall, NY Public Library, Metropolitan Museum, Carnegie Hall) made a very lasting impression on me as I was striving not to be intimidated by all the great names, historic and current, that “made” these places.

Exceptional pianos, that one may get to play while travelling the world of concert venues, is another thread worth following in this context: I was allowed to “touch” Chopin’s piano on  a display in the Chopin Society in Warsaw, Schubert’s piano in Germanisches Museum in Nuremberg  and even allowed to practice on Rachmaninov’s piano exhibited in Steinway Hall in New York. No words can describe these moments: the feeling of living out a history, of what the French call “plenitude” (roughly “fullness” or “abundance”), continuity and unity. In 2011 I found myself performing Liszt Concerto No.2 (alongside Leamington Sinfonia conducted by Jenny Barrie) in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare’s burial place – and imagined both Shakespeare’s and Liszt spirits wondering freely around, somewhere up in the skies……

On a more anecdotal side, I had also a fair share of surreal moments in my career, once playing in the ancient seaside Roman theatre of Sabratha in Libya (then still under the rule of Qaddafi) to a virtually non-existent or imaginary public and feeling as if I were on a planet Mars, a blast of light and sound……

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

At the moment my favourite, both to listen and perform, are Rachmaninov’s Moments Musicaux op.16; otherwise the spectrum fluctuates freely, ranging from lesser-known, melancholy Baroque tablatures to Mahler Symphonies to Strauss Symphonic Poems to Soviet and American avant-garde (Ustvolskaya, Feldman). Nevertheless my all time favourites to perform are the two-piano versions of Stravinsky The Rite of Spring and Ravel La Valse, of which I made my own transcription, constantly in the process of being refined. Occasionally I also enjoy the “cheesy” side of the repertoire, with Latin sounds and rhythms or Viennese waltz extravaganzas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians are: among pianists Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Richter, Cziffra; conductors Celibidache, Scherchen, Kleiber, violinist David Oistrakh; and singers Callas and Wunderlich . Well, I guess everything has been said about these giants, the subject is probably largely exhausted, and any attempt to comment further would be  vain. As far as the contemporary scene is concerned, I will just limit myself to saying that I do have my “pros” and “cons”, however the issue is always delicate, at least since the phrase “de gustibus non disputandum est” has been pronounced in some distant past…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Besides having the opportunity to listen to Richter and Pogorelich playing live (1991 Lincoln Center recital), which springs to my mind as quite obvious a choice, I would like to surprise you  with the following story:

Whoever lived in Krakow, Poland, back in the 80s will remember the blind Gipsy violinist playing next to the garbage bin on the Florianska street. Stefan Dymiter (1938-2002), for this was his name (although at the time very few knew either his name or his story), used to perform in a way that stands not only against every teaching principle of every possible violin school but also overtly defies quite a few laws of physics, particularly that of gravitation; he was holding his violin with the right hand like a cello, his bow with the left hand and accidentally happened to be the most pure form of a musical genius somewhere in between Mozart and Ervin Nyiregyhazi. Among anecdotes that circulated later, he was rumored to refuse to appear alongside Lord Menuhin, whose playing he disliked; also the late professor Szlezer from the Krakow Higher Academy of Music had been known to be send his students to listen to the man play and try to pick up some of his technical tricks . Well, myself I could just stand there for hours and listen to his inimitable, God-given sound……

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

It is important to bear in mind that one plays the piano not with  fingers but with the  mind, soul and spirit or with what the ancient Egyptians called “the divine breath”, Shou. This notion is to be somehow skillfully conciliated with the profession’s bare realities.

With a growing contempt for classical music as a highly demanding, noble art in favour of perceiving it as a somehow rather unsophisticated leisure, most conservatories are either deliberately out of focus with the “modern times” or simply are not equipped, in terms of human resources, to deal with shifting priorities,  dogmas, “old boy networks” and a die-hard reality of material strains and psychological violence (as a matter of fact they never were). We are expected to “build a career”, move freely between its different stages, develop and implement a “professional strategy” with the emphasis on “getting there”, no errors, trials and tribulations allowed; good old days of plain music making are no more.

While still within an “ivory tower” world of the music school, few understand that there is no such thing as “getting there”: either you are where you want to be or you are not, and if you are not, someone, let’s call him “the game master”, simply has to put you where you aim to belong, it is as simple as it sounds but you will not pull off the stunt all by yourself. While the right networking moves are essential, the real factor of increased mobility and visibility is spending power; it is evident that money  “buys” a “career”, not the other way around, so you’d better know what you are doing and most importantly, who is paying for it. The subject is largely a taboo.

Moreover, occasionally some wise spirits like to remind us, not without a twinkle in the eye, that music making is a passion and should be the source of infinite, nearly ecstatic pleasure. Yes, it is indeed. Therefore I stand by what I have said earlier in an interview for the London Royal Academy of Music online journal, if I may quote myself here:  As an artist be true, be genuine, be sincere, and be passionate. Do not imitate, it does not interest anybody, be yourself. Respect yourself, respect your colleagues. Be faithful and decent. And last but not least: “Work hard, see large, achieve!”

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3, it has been with me for few decades now and I have finally decided to give it a try.

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

Probably where I am meant to be there and then. Here and now is always what it should be and it is the only valid notion in time/space travels.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A happiness within. Contrary to popular belief, one does not need objects to be happy.

What is your most treasured possession?

Sviatoslav Richter handwritten message: “I wish you much happiness and success”

What do you enjoy doing most?

Walking in the countryside

What is your present state of mind?

Alert

Jozef Kapustka was born in 1969. He began receiving early musical tuition from local instructor Danuta Cieślik at the age of 3. He then briefly studied at the State Higher Academy of Music in Kraków with Ewa Bukojemska. Having graduated from The Juilliard School in New York (Bachelor of Music degree, 1992; piano with Josef Raieff, then Jerome Lowenthal and chamber music with Joseph Fuchs), he moved on to obtain a Postgraduate Advanced Studies Diploma specializing in piano performance from the Royal Academy of Music in London (1997), with Martin Roscoe. He also worked with Dimitri Bashkirov (masterclasses held under auspices of the Queen Sofía College of Music in Spain) and Vera Gornostaeva in Paris and Moscow.[2] Being an alumnus of the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, 1991, he holds a Diplome superieur de la langue et civilization francaise from Paris Sorbonne University (1994). In 1994 he received a Grand Prix of the Conservatoire International de Musique de Paris. He was nominated for the Molière award in 2010 (Best musical play: Diva à Sarcelles, written and directed by Virginie Lemoine).

www.jozefkapustka.net

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

In my teens, I had ambitions to be a composer, but gradually my creative energies were transferred into performing. My piano teacher through this period, Ransford Elsley was an inspiring advocate for contemporary music as well as being an extraordinary teacher who completely transformed my playing within a year of lessons. That rapid development continued through my undergraduate years, and at a certain point I decided that I could make a bigger contribution to music as a performer than as a composer and have been an active collaborator with composers ever since.

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

Rolf Hind, who I studied with while a Masters student at the Royal Academy of Music, was, and still is, one of my biggest influences. His vast experience working with many great composers provided invaluable insights into the many styles and strands of contemporary music and he also provided me with the technical and practice tools to tackle the most demanding scores. It’s been particularly inspiring to perform alongside him, as duel soloists with the London Sinfonietta (playing Beat Furrer’s Nuun for two pianos and orchestra) and more recently, as a piano duo at his Occupy the Pianos festival. Professor Neil Heyde, my PhD supervisor at the Royal Academy of Music, has also been an important influence on how I think and write about music, and particularly about my relationships with composers.

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

Management of time and workload is a constant challenge, as there are often mountains of new notes to learn as well as lots of organising to be done in setting up concerts and tours, editing CDs, writing funding grants, writing articles, meeting and having workshops with composers, marketing and PR, negotiating contracts… all this alongside studying, work and everything else in life. This is often not helped by composers who only give you the score a few days before the concert!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’ve got four CDs being prepared for release, and I’m proud of all of these: “Not Music Yet” is a recording of a massive graphic score piece by Australian composer, David Young, “Piano: Inside/Out” is a recording of a range of new Australian works that feature extended techniques, “Orfordness” is a recording of solo and chamber music by British composer, David Gorton and “Chiaroscuro” is a recording with New York-based soprano, Jane Sheldon of works by Crumb, Saariaho, Schoenberg, as well as some newly commissioned works.

Of recent performances, I’m most proud of my performances alongside Thomas Adès and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra last year. Performing Tom’s Concerto Conciso under his baton was a great experience, but it was an even bigger thrill partnering him in his two-piano arrangements of two Studies for Player Piano by Conlon Nancarrow. They are fiendishly difficult, and made even trickier because they had to be synced up with accompanying video by Tal Rosner, so it was very satisfying to absolutely nail it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I particularly enjoy playing works that have either been written for me or where I’ve had input from the composer – if I had to point to any in particular, I’d say the several works by Michael Finnissy and George Benjamin are pieces I play well.

To pick a few other favourites: George Crumb’s Makrokosmos, Olivier Messiaen’s Canteyodjaya, Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit and Alban Berg’s Sonata No 1.

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

My solo programs are often centred around new works from composers and might focus around a particular theme, a particular country, style or school of composition or around particular approaches to the piano. Sometimes there might be interesting connections or lineages to bring out in a program between older and newer works, and sometimes it’s good to give the audience a lot of variety. I’m also interested in working with filmmakers, actors and dancers on interdisciplinary collaborative projects.

You have a particular interest in contemporary piano music. What is the special appeal and challenges of this kind of repertoire for you?

As mentioned earlier, I’ve loved contemporary music from an early age and my appreciation for collaboration with composers has only increased through the course of my recent PhD on the subject. There is something very special about co-parenting a new work with a composer and creating a little bit of history when you eventually walk on stage to premiere it. There’s also so much variety in contemporary music, so many styles and approaches that it’s always refreshing, surprising and stimulating. It can also be challenging, especially when composers want to push the limits of what’s possible for a piano (or a pianist) to do – but that’s the kind of creative challenge I love and I think it’s particularly rewarding when you discover a truly innovative approach to the piano or set a new benchmark for virtuosity. Importantly, playing contemporary music also gives you new insights and tools for interpreting works of the canon.

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

There are many venues with particularly aspects I really like. I enjoy the casual vibe of Café Oto, and I have also really enjoyed the atmosphere of performances at King’s Place as a performer and audience member. Like all pianists, I like playing on good instruments and I’ve played on excellent pianos in the Purcell Room and in the venues of the Royal Academy and Royal College. Playing big halls like Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall are wonderful experiences that bring out your best as a performer. If I had to choose one: the Melbourne Recital Centre is a beautiful venue marrying excellent architecture, acoustics and pianos.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love playing or hearing Olivier Messiaen’s music – he was one of the first contemporary composers I really got hooked on and familiarity has not dulled my enthusiasm for the colours, rhythmic energy and ecstatic climaxes of his music.  Learning the complete Vingt Regards surl’Enfant Jesus is one of my projects for the next few years.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I like a lot of older pianists like Glenn Gould, David Tudor, Artur Schnabel, Alfred Cortot, Leon Fleischer, Ignaz Friedman and Dinu Lipatti. Some favourite composers include Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis, Gerard Grisey, George Crumb, Jonathan Harvey, Michael Finnissy, Belá Bartók, Maurice Ravel and Frederic Chopin. I’m a big jazz fan (and former jazz saxophonist) and I never tire of hearing Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter. And there are many musicians I admire from other musical cultures, such as the extraordinary shakuhachi player, Riley Lee.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a performer:

Performing Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians (alongside musicians from Ensemble Offspring, Synergy Percussion and Eighth Blackbird) at the Sydney Opera House was an extraordinary experience. It’s a work that requires complete dedication without any ego and a true spirit of egalitarian music making. During the performance, I could sense the whole ensemble enter a state of ‘flow’ where we started playing and breathing like a single organism. It was the biggest audience I’ve played for live (around 3000) and when it finished, the whole crowd rose to their feet with a tremendous roar, giving Steve (and us) a rock star reception.

As an audience member:

It’s been great seeing some of the big contemporary works performed live that I would have probably never had the chance to experience in Australia: in particular Gerard Grisey’s Les Espaces Acoustiques in 2008 and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gruppen in 2013 (both performed by the London Sinfonietta alongside musicians of the Royal Academy of Music). And as a pianist, I have to mention seeing one of my childhood idols, Keith Jarrett last year at the Festival Hall – I’ll never forget the luminosity and vibrant colours of his sound.

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

I always tell young pianists that they should find their métier, that something special and unique that they can contribute to music. I also encourage them to try out all the skills and diverse repertoire available to a pianist rather than sticking to a very narrow conception of the canon. And of course, this includes encouraging them to consider playing, or creating, new repertoire.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music, I love movies, art galleries, books, cricket (as spectator) and the rare chances I get to go to the beach. But most of all, I love an evening of good food and good wine, shared with good friends.

London-based Australian pianist, Zubin Kanga has performed at the BBC Proms,  London 2012, Aldeburgh (UK), Occupy the Pianos (UK), ISCM World New Music Days (Australia) and Borealis (Norway) Festivals as well as appearing as soloist with the London Sinfonietta and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He has commissioned dozens of new works, with a focus on the exploration of innovative approaches to the piano, and performed recitals across Australia, Europe and the USA. He is a member of Ensemble Offspring, one of Australia’s leading contemporary music ensembles, and has also performed with Halcyon, Synergy Percussion, Ensemble Plus-Minus, Endymion Ensemble and the Kreutzer Quartet, as well as performing piano duos with Rolf Hind and Thomas Adès.

In recent years, Zubin has been awarded the Michael Kieran Harvey Scholarship, the ABC Limelight Award for Best Newcomer and the NSW State Award (Performance of the Year) at the Australian Art Music Awards.

A Masters and PhD graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, London, he has collaborated with many of the world’s leading composers including Thomas Adès, Michael Finnissy, George Benjamin, Steve Reich, Beat Furrer, Howard Skempton, Liza Lim, Ross Edwards, Nigel Butterley and David Young.

(Photor: Bridget Elliot)