Alan Fraser teaching

What is your first memory of the piano?

I was learning a piece called ‘Baby Bear’, and I was having difficulty with it. It was about the sixth piece in my grade one book, and I think you actually had to play hands together or something incredibly challenging like that. My mother sat down with me and patiently helped me through it. For some reason that always stuck in my mind – it’s one of the few memories I have of a warm and caring feeling between my mom and I.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

The lack of good piano teachers. I figured there has got to be some way of offering students better than what I received. But it was also just by chance – some neighbourhood kids needed lessons, so I taught them. I was 16 which means I’ve now been teaching over 40 years.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

First off the bat is Richard Hunt, an Englishman who ended up in Montreal and later founded Quartango, one of the best tango groups around. He taught me for only two years when I was 8 and 9 years old, but he instilled a love of music in me that I carry to this day. He was very clever and he let me have fun! We even had some of our lessons on the church organ instead of the piano.

Then there was Phil Cohen who had been Yvonne Hubert’s assistant (she had been a student of Cortot and taught such Canadian greats as Janina Fialkowska, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Ronald Turini who later studied with Horowitz, Andre Laplante and Louis Lortie). Phil was fascinated with the psycho-physical aspects of performance and would do strange things with your hand that made you play way better but you weren’t sure what exactly was going on.

When I finished my studies with Phil I wanted to understand what had just happened to me, so I did a training in Feldenkrais Method, and I count Moshe Feldenkrais as my next most memorable and significant teacher.

I concluded that Phil had given me an amazing degree of refinement, but I had never acquired the firm foundation upon which such sophistication needs rest. So I went to study with Kemal Gekić in Yugoslavia. More or less a product of the Russian School, he rebuilt everything from the ground up and indeed gave my hand a strength and security it had never had before.

Finally, in the past few years I have again been having occasional sessions with Phil – getting some reminders about that sophisticated part and synthesizing what I’ve learned from both Phil and Kemal to develop what I call Craft of Piano Method, the approach presented in my three books on piano technique.

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

All of the above. Also Richard Feynman, the physicist and author of ‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman – Adventures of a Curious Character’, and Werner Erhard, whose work now goes by the name Landmark Education. Also G. I. Gurdjieff. And various psychological disciplines…… what they gave me is the idea always to make it a positive, creative experience. To respect the person. To try to discover the person. Never to fault the student for not understanding but to fault myself for failing to discover the language that would have him or her understand.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

Hoo boy, there are hundreds of those… Recently I worked with a violinist in Pensacola, Florida, who had shoulder pain. I had him continue his up bow way past the violin, towards the ceiling, then around in a big circle. Then his down bow expanded into a big circle in the other direction. Then I had him play not moving his bow at all but moving his violin back and forth underneath the bow. Finally I explained to him where his arms are attached to his body: do you know? It is only at the central end of the collarbone where it attaches to the sternum. I put my bunched fingertips one on each of these collarbone-sternum joints and palpated them while he played, just kept physically in touch with them. His sound went through the roof. It had been improving steadily but this was a quantum leap, it had power, sonority, richness, expressivity – it gave us all goosebumps.

I recently worked with a young Italian pianist in Geneva. She had been given a steady diet of arm weight technique and told not to move her fingers too much. When I showed her a way of moving her fingers which gave them activity and tonus without stiffening them or causing any stiffness elsewhere, her playing became amazingly poetic. I was blown away because I didn’t have to tell her to be more expressive or poetic, we just worked to undo the physical block which had been preventing her natural expression from finding its voice.

I taught an American pianist in Trossingen, Germany many years ago. Her hand suffered (as so many do) from over-relaxation, and I worked to build up its structure, just to get it to stand nicely on the keyboard even before we tried to play anything. All of a sudden she says, “Gee, I feel so muscular!” We all laughed, because of course, it wasn’t her muscles at all that were giving her the sense of power, it was her skeletal structure.

I remember teaching a Chinese student during my year in Wuhan. She was playing Liszt’s Dante Sonata and couldn’t really get the special atmosphere of the second theme. I tried explaining to her how Liszt was pulled in two directions, towards divine love but also towards carnal love, and that we don’t really know which one this theme represents. I myself feel it as towards the divine, how about you? No result. I try another tack: “Imagine you are the Emperor of China and it is your yearly pilgrimage to the Sun Temple. You must pray to the Gods for rain, and if you fail, your people will die of famine. You enter the temple, you pray with all your heart, and suddenly, a sound of brass from the sky, a divine melody descends from the clouds – you know your prayers have been answered. Play this theme as if it was that heavenly melody.” She played and we were literally in tears. It was indeed heavenly. It was a prayer. I was fascinated because I had to go into her culture to access the universal quality of that theme. Trying to get her to understand Liszt’s culture met with no success, but her own culture proved an admirable path for her to understand that music, music which does indeed speak to us all. She needed her own culture to access the right side of her brain, which of course possesses a perfect understanding of the spiritual element in this theme.

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

Exciting: their intelligence, their sensitivity, their curiosity, their receptivity, and their willingness to be beginners. Challenging: 1) the slightly rusty nature of their brains, compared to the incredible flexibility and speed of their younger colleagues. 2) having to fix the sometimes vast amounts of garbage they have been taught over the years…

What do you expect from your students?

Curiosity, engagement, dedication….

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

They are excellent, a stimulus to high level work. Competitions are the equivalent of a scientific congress where people go to meet their colleagues, share ideas and be stimulated. It’s a chance to feel like you are part of a community instead of this weirdo who mostly sits between four walls practicing on his or her own. Whenever I prepared a competition I played better, because I knew I had to. Perhaps theoretically I should play my best simply out of love for the composer, but I find the practical stimulus of a concrete goal a much more effective kick in the pants.

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

Beginning:

  • Sing a simple song, sense your own voice. Let your fingers begin to find that song on the piano. Experience your fingers on the piano as an extension of your voice.
  • Tap simple rhythms, one hand on your knee, the other on a piano key. Let rhythmic sense be as important as the sense of the notes from the very beginning.
  • Play first, read second.
  • Never let the task of reading distract you from the task of making music.

Advanced:

  • Never let relaxation lead you into a state of emasculated collapse.
  • “Don’t bang” does not mean “play like a wimp,” it means “find a way to play where you stand up into your hand’s structure instead of letting it collapse. Banging mostly comes from weakness not too much strength.
  • Have your hands learn to stand, walk, run and jump well on the keyboard, then give them musical tasks that give them a reason for doing these things.
  • Never let technique distract you from the sound you are making, the music you are making. They are intimately connected.
  • Understand your hand’s structure and function, then find out where it is not working optimally for you. Find out how the body participates in supporting the hand in working well.

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

They feed each other. I couldn’t really do one well without the other.

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

Passed on: Horowitz, Rubinstein, Rachmaninoff, Ignaz Friedman, de Pachamann. They all had supreme virtuosity, compared to which most of the best pianists today only move their fingers well. This virtuosity is way beyond digital dexterity – it’s creating orchestral sonorities and emotional characterizations that grow naturally and organically out of the soundscapes the composers created.

Living: Kemal Gekić. He is the one pianist today who is breaking new ground in this realm. He is using his transcendent mastery of the keyboard to explore new emotional and spiritual elements in the music he plays, and dealing with adjustments to the sonority at the micro- or even nano- level to evoke unbelievably huge changes in the expressive dimension.

Canadian pianist Alan Fraser is best known as the author of three major volumes on piano technique: The Craft of Piano Playing (also in DVD), Honing the Pianistic Self-Image, and All Thumbs: Well-Coordinated Piano Technique. Fraser’s new approach grows out of his many decades’ study with Phil Cohen and Kemal Gekić, synthesizing the best features of previous schools of piano technique in order to move beyond them. Analyzing piano technique in the light of the Feldenkrais Method of neuromotor reeducation (Fraser is a senior Feldenkrais practitioner) allows Fraser to unlock the hand’s innate potency at the keyboard by returning to its inherent structure and function. Instead of distracting from musical aspects of piano playing, Fraser’s focus on the physical brings the pianist, by improving his physical relationship to his instrument, back into contact with his essential artistic self. Thus Fraser’s students gain not only in technical mastery; but in their artistic expression which develops a whole new dimension of tonal breadth, emotional subtlety and spirituality.

In 2011 Fraser inaugurated the Alan Fraser Piano Institute, a week-long intensive course designed to create a breakthrough in one’s piano technique. Branches of the Institute have already sprung up at Smith College, Massachusetts; Salt Lake City, Utah; Concord New Hampshire; Stuttgart, Germany; Geneva, Switzerland; Nice, France; and Haarlem, the Netherlands. In addition to his Institutes, Alan Fraser gives recitals and master classes throughout Europe and North America, and continues to teach at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia. He has composed several vocal works including two masses and a Magnificat, and is a respected digital sound engineer who edited Kemal Gekić’s monumental recording of the 27 Chopin Etudes.

Robert Schumann

ABEGG Variations, Op. 1, Widmung (Dedication) Op 25 no. 1 (arr. Liszt)

Fryderyk Chopin

Étude, Op 10, no. 5 ‘Black Keys’, Mazurka in D, Op 33 no. 2, Mazurka in F minor, Op 68 no. 4, Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante

Anna Stachula, piano

While a brisk November gale whipped up fallen leaves in Bushy Park and rattled the long windows of the Scientific Museum at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, Silesian-born pianist, Anna Maria Stachula, gave an impressive debut concert at the NPL Musical Society.

Now in its 62nd season, the NPL Musical Society (NPLMS) hosts regular lunchtime concerts in an elegant room in Bushy House. Concerts are very well-supported by staff, former staff and the general public, and the Society attracts a varied range of chamber musicians. Concerts are held in the Scientific Musuem, an intimate space with a hundred year old medium-sized Steinway, and fine views across Bushy Park.

Anna Maria Stachula first came to my notice through her teacher, John Humphreys (Birmingham Conservatoire). John described Anna as possessing the kind of talent and technique one could expect at the Wigmore Hall, but despite this, Anna is virtually unknown in the UK and her day job is in a post office sorting office (where, she told me after the concert, she listens to music through her headphones while she is sorting post).

In a programme of popular works by Schumann and Chopin, Anna played with huge commitment and conviction, technical assuredness, dynamic shading, and musical insight. The opening piece, Schumann’s ABEGG Variations had a romantic sweep, yet there was humour and warmth too, and an understanding of the varied characters of this work. The casual closing cadence earned a chuckle of delight from the audience.

Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s ravishing love song Widmung, composed the year he married Clara Wieck, and Anna did justice to this beauty of this music with an enchanting performance.

Two contrasting Mazurkas by Chopin followed. The first, in jaunty D major, had a foot-tapping, dancing metre, and Anna brought a distinctly folksy vibrancy to the piece with her characterful playing. The second, in F minor, and one of the last works Chopin composed, was poignant and sincere, with tasteful rubato and subtle dynamic shading.

Anna’s account of Chopin’s B-flat minor Scherzo, the most popular of his Scherzi, was highly dramatic, brave and heartfelt, the contrasting sections of the work highlighted with careful attention to detail, and some really gorgeous playing, particularly in the trio which opened with a gentle hymn-like motif. (This for me was the highlight of an excellent programme.) The same rich cantabile tone was evident in the Andante Spianato (which translates as “smooth”), while the Grande Polonaise Brillante was fearless, spirited and virtuosic. The audience’s appreciation was very evident at the end with enthusiastic applause, and several people went to congratulate Anna afterwards.

Anna’s teacher John Humphreys will feature in my ‘At the Piano…..’ series

The next NPLMS concert is on Monday 26th November. Pianist Petra Casen performs a Spanish programme with music by Granados, Albeniz and Mompou. Concerts are held in the Scientific Musseum, Bushy House, and start at 12.45pm. Tickets £3 on the door.

Rachael Young

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

As a cellist I was playing in orchestras right from the start and immediately loved the colours and drama of the orchestra. Then as I progressed and began to play more demanding works I fell completely in love with the orchestral repertoire.

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

I love German conductors like Furtwangler, Karajan and also Carlos Kleiber. I went to the Jarvi Summer Academy in 2007 and saw Neeme Jarvi and his son Paavo conducting. Apart from their musical personas, I was greatly impressed by their technical command of the orchestra. They both have masterful conducting techniques that are able to ‘play’ the orchestra as if it were an instrument – which of course it is – a complex and wonderful instrument. They are both trained in a ‘Russian School’ of conducting – Maestro Neeme Jarvi studied with Rabinovich in St Petersburg in the room next to Ilya Musin’s class, and Paavo studied with Maestro Leonid Grin, a graduate of Moscow Conservatory, who studied with Leo Ginsberg and Kyrill Kondrashin. He then went on to be the Associate Conductor of The Moscow Philharmonic before defecting to to the West. After working with me at the masterclass and seeing me performing in the concerts, Paavo Jarvi kindly recommended me to Leonid Grin, with whom I began studying in 2008.

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

Finding my way from a rather lovely but rather small town in NZ to Leonid Grin.

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

It was a great pleasure and privilege for me to perform with Viktoria Postnikova. We performed the Schnittke Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra together last year in London. For me she plays that work magnificently and she was the first to record the work with her husband, the legendary conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. They were both friends of Schnittke’s and his wife, and it very much felt like a kind of meeting with the composer himself. Also, Leonid Grin knew him well, so he was able to give further insights about both the work and the composer.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

It’s always a real pleasure to perform in spaces that allow the audience and the orchestra a certain intimacy, and in this sense the Royal Albert Hall is very interesting. But the acoustic of a venue is usually the most significant factor in creating something.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Whatever I am working with/performing at that moment.

Who are your favourite musicians?

For me it depends on the repertoire, but I love artists such as Maria Callas, Jacqueline du Pré, and the Russian pianist Maria Yudina for me is extraordinary.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was young my mother took me to hear the Borodin String Quartet playing Beethoven in what must have been its second incarnation, I think. It gave me an early experience of what was possible when you have a great composer being performed by wonderful artists.

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

To find every way to love what you do and transmit that.

What are you working on at the moment?

Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich.

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

Working in a challenging and creative environment

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

see above

Rachael Young makes her Cadogan Hall debut on 23 November 2012, conducting the Russian Virtuosi of Europe in a programme of music by Schnittke, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky.

Rachael Young began her conducting career in 2007, having been a professional cellist, first in her native New Zealand, and then in the UK. Rachael is trained in the Russian system of conducting, and for the last three years has been under the tutelage of renowned conducting teacher Maestro Leonid Grin – Paavo Jarvi’s former teacher and former assistant to Leonard Bernstein throughout the 1980s.

Rachael has worked with a number of ensembles, including the St Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, the London Soloists Chamber Orchestra, the South Bohemian Chamber Orchestra, the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra, the English Sinfonia and the Russian Virtuosi of Europe.

She has participated in a number of prestigious conducting masterclasses, including Neeme Jarvi’s Summer Academy in Estonia, the Celebidache Foundation Masterclass held in the Czech Republic, and ‘The London Masterclasses’ at The Royal Academy of Music, and classes with Jorma Panula.

Recent engagements include guest conducting the Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra in the Ukraine in a programme of works by Haydn and Mozart, and conducting the English Sinfonia and Lara Melda at St John’s Smith Square, London in May 2011, and with Viktoria Postnikova in September 2011. For the 2012/2013 season Rachael is embarking on a series of concerts with the Russian Virtuosi of Europe at London’s Cadogan Hall.

Rachael began her musical studies at 13 and went on to take her B.Mus at Victoria University, Wellington. A scholarship from The Boston Conservatory, Massachusetts enabled her to pursue post graduate studies in America. In 1994 Rachael came to England and, with the help of a New Zealand Arts Council grant, studied ‘cello with William Pleeth (teacher of Jaqueline du Pré) and later Moray Welsh.

Rachael Young’s website

Elena Riu

Another enjoyable outing to Sutton House in Hackney for the second concert in Sutton House Music Society’s 2012-13 season, given by Venezuelan pianist Elena Riu, in her new project called ‘Inventions’.

The programme placed the Two- and Three-part Inventions of Bach alongside inventions by contemporary composers, including Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Shchedrin, Gulbaidulina and Finch. Elena described the programme as “an experiment”, though there was nothing experimental about her playing. The Bach Inventions, many of which brought a Proustian rush of memories for me, as I had learnt them as a young piano student, were executed with a restrained elegance, which served to highlight the beauty of Bach’s contrapuntal writing. And by placing Bach alongside contemporary composers, Elena was able to illuminate Bach’s own innovative approach.

Bach intended his Inventions as exercises for piano students: as he stated on the title page, they were designed to enable students of the piano to “learn to play cleanly in two parts” and “to handle three obligate parts correctly and well”. They were also intended to help the piano student develop a good cantabile (singing) style of playing, and to “acquire a strong foretaste of composition”. Bach’s Two- and Three-Part Inventions are models of “inventiveness”. Each one takes an opening motif which is then used to create new themes and develop them in clever and ingenious ways. Although tightly structured, with distinct motives, answers, counter-motives, and expositions, Bach’s Inventions – and those which were inspired by his writing – display an inventive process, whereby the motive is varied, counterpointed and re-textured to create a complete work.

Contemporary composers, inspired by Bach, have used the Invention model as a springboard for new explorations of the form, utilising different styles and musical language. It is the spirit of “inventiveness” in both new and old which connects Bach to his contemporary successors. As Elena Riu mentioned in the programme notes, this juxtaposition of old and new is a “journey of recreation – I have gathered together a selection of pieces which distil new material out of the old”.

Some of the works performed were fleeting, miniatures of only a page or so. Others were a little more substantial, though still of the genre ‘miniature’. Many showed the influence of Bach in motifs, textures and ornamentation. All were played with fine attention to detail, exquisite dynamic shading (whispered pianissimos, and some wonderfully bright and percussive fortes), charm and humour. The programme included the UK premiere of ‘Invención’ by Venezuelan composer Alfredo Rugeles, and world premieres of works by Diana Arismendi and Lola Perrin, whose work ‘Poet Reflecting’ (2012) had a spare and meditative beauty. The concert closed with Rodion Shchedrin’s ‘exuberant and colourful Two-Part Invention’, which left me and my concert companion exclaiming to one another “I’ve got to learn that!”.  (This, for me, is one of the chief pleasures of a concert programme such as this: exposure to new repertoire.)

For an encore, Elena played Granados’ ‘Danza de la Rosa’ from the Escenas Poeticas, a sensuous and atmospheric miniature.
My Meet the Artist interview with Elena Riu

The 2012-13 season at Sutton House continues in February, with a concert by ‘cellist Mayda Narvey and pianist Naomi Edemariam. Full details and tickets here.

A guest post from Grace Miles, founder of artiden.com, a blog about the musician lifestyle. She helps pianists get the most out of music with psychology.

Remember the “spotlight”?

When all eyes are on you, every little action feels 100 times more obvious.

We all want more sparkle in our performances– and it comes with the right mix of confidence and nervous energy.

Being confident is easy.

So is performing comfortably.

You just need to make the right choices and behave the right way.

How People Really See You

Imagine giving a speech, making it up as you go, to a crowd.

How will you look?

There’s something I call the ‘glass wall’ effect.

In one study, people gave speeches (made up on the spot) and were asked to rate their own nervousness.

These ratings were compared with the audience’s ratings, and they found that the audience always thought the speaker was less nervous than they really were.

In other words, people looked more confident than they really felt.

Not many people notice how much you’re really shaking inside– that’s the glass wall effect.

People see you, but you’re separated by the glass wall and your emotions don’t come across as clearly as you might think.

This is consistent with tons of other studies–we think our feelings are more obvious than they really are.

(But don’t get carried away: your feelings aren’t invisible to everyone else– it’s a glass wall, remember.)

Of course, looking less nervous isn’t the same as looking confident and composed, and actually feeling that way.

The answer is so simple yet so powerful.

The Secret to Being Confident

The first step is knowing that people can’t see how nervous you really are.

When they told the speakers that they project more confidence than they actually feel, the speakers gave better speeches and felt more confident overall.

To be more confident, we just have to remind ourselves that people don’t see how nervous we really are.

Shy, clipped phrases may be taken as calm and controlled speech, and so on.

When this burden is gone, then we’re free to focus fully on whatever we’re doing.

But remember that you do want some nervous energy in you– this adds the spark and excitement that amazing performances thrive on.

Act it Out

You smile because you’re happy but you’re also happy because you smile.

Your actions change your feelings.

To let this hit home, let’s look at a study where two groups of people are watching the same cartoon.

The first group holds a pencil between their lips in a way that makes them frown while watching the show.

The other group holds the pencil between their teeth so the “smiling muscles” are activated while watching the show.

It turns out that the people who smiled actually found the show a lot funnier (and enjoyed it a lot more) than those who frowned.

So fix your posture and let yourself smile.

This sends signals to your brain: you’re ready and you’re not afraid to have fun.

People don’t expect to see a nervous trainwreck when they first see you, and they’re not going to think you’re nervous at all if you behave with confidence.

But how does confidence come naturally?

“Natural” Habits

It comes without thinking when you make it a habit.

Confidence just means faking it until you get it right. (Click here to tweet this)

The first few times you try this and remind yourself of the glass wall effect, it might feel like you’re forcing it. And you might be.

But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re on your way to forming a habit and you’ll reap the results when the time comes.

(Some people say that performing puts them in the state of flow, and who’s to argue with that?)

Personally, I’m not the most extroverted person, but I can work a crowd like anyone else.

The Confidence Kit

1. Remember the glass wall effect.

2. Fake it until it comes naturally.

3. Rock on.

The trick to performing is having the right mix of nervous energy and confidence. (Click here to tweet this)

The most technically sound performance falls flat when there’s no underlying hint of nervous energy.

So make sure you leave a comment letting me know how you plan to use these new insights. 🙂

And here’s where you come in: if you know anyone– absolutely anyone– who might benefit from this knowledge, just send them a quick email with a link to this post.

They’ll thank you.

Grace Miles blogs about the musician lifestyle at http://artiden.com/, designs good designs, and makes great music on the piano.

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

I’m not sure. I wanted to be a dancer but where I was born it wasn’t easy. Then a friend of mine started having piano lessons and I became interested and wanted to take it up. My first teacher was a Polish Jew. She had her concentration camp number tattooed on her arm. My father was musical and my brother is a really good blues and rock guitarist so I guess it was in my blood.

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

Besides my teachers, my influences are varied. From visual artists to poets and dancers as well as composers and colleagues and friends.

Someone always close to my heart is Federico Mompou, the great Catalan composer. I love Curzon’s playing as well as Alicia de Larrocha who inspired me to study the great Spanish masters Albeniz , Granados and Falla. I admire Arrau’s honesty, Richter’s melancholy and Brendel’s intellect and scholarship and also like Schiff’s Mozart and and Gould’s originality and personal integrity. But I seldom go to concerts now.

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

Playing well and improving is a perpetual challenge. To keep going is sometimes a challenge. Recording under less-than-ideal circumstances with very limited studio time can be a bit of a challenge too. Dealing with rejection. Working with mediocre producers can also be a bit hairy.

Playing the Tavener piece was a big challenge because it was John’s first piano piece in many years and the stakes and expectations were high. I wanted people to see how great the piece was and not let John down.

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

Company…..colour, sharing, being enveloped and held by a group of musicians can carry one far afield.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

My first recording including the premiere of Sir John Taveners ‘Ypakoe’, which he wrote for me and my recording of Soler Keyboard Sonatas.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I like the Southbank Centre.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Mmmmmm, quite a few colleagues doing their own thing at their own pace whilst juggling mountains…..

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Many, but one that springs to mind was playing Night in the Gardens of Spain with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Caracas and opening for the wonderful Cuban pianist Bebo Valdez and El Cigala at the Royal Festival Hall.

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

To play early music is a favourite. When I first went to Dartington I met the Dufay Collective and forged a strong friendship with singer Vivien Ellis which fostered my love for this repertoire. I also listen to world and folk including flamenco which was a favourite of my father’s. To play, many but if I had to single out something it would be Mompou.

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

It’s a bit like being a new parent. Trust your intuition and look at your child and be guided by her. Don’t listen to just anyone. Explore, be inquisitive, work, work and work some more. Follow your own path. Hold on to your integrity and to who you are. Choose a teacher and be steadfast. You know the saying: when one is ready the teacher appears.

What are you working on at the moment?

Bach Inventions and inventions by contemporary composers who explored the form for my concert at Sutton House. Latin music with percussionist Adriano Adewale.

What is your most treasured possession?

My daughter. My body.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Having breakfast in bed, playing and swimming with my daughter, doing yoga and having a laugh with friends.

Elena Riu performs at Sutton House, Hackney, east London on Sunday 18th November with the debut of “Inventions”, a fascinating programme juxtaposing Bach’s Inventions with Inventions by contemporary composers including Ligeti, Gubaidulina, Finch and Shchedrin. Further details and tickets here.

Born and bred in El Sistema, Elena’s infectious enthusiasm for “boundary- jumping” (Time Out), and for bringing new music to a wider audience has brought her accolades all over the world.

A leading exponent of the Hispano-American, her CD of Sonatas by Soler was released to great acclaim by the Spanish label Ensayo. She is a regular visitor to the Festival Latinoamericano.
Elena has commissioned, edited, published, performed and recorded over 40 new works giving countless world premieres including Sir John Tavener’s “Ypakoe”, written especially for her. Elena’s efforts on behalf of new music and as a keen educationalist led to the publication by Boosey & Hawkes of ‘Salsa Nueva’ in 2006 – now on its second run and in 2009 ‘Elena Riu’s R’n’B Collection’ and ‘Out of the Blues’ CD.

Elena has toured extensively and has performed in all major concert halls in the UK and abroad.

An eclectic artist, Elena has pioneered collaborative work. She was the brain behind the sell-out multicultural Spanish Plus Series at the SBC and re-launched their Childrens and Families series. Her most recent collaboration: The Adventures of Tom Thumb was awarded a coveted Fringe First Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Riu studied at Trinity College of Music in London with Joseph Weingarten where she won many prizes ands competitions. She was also a student of Neil Immelman, Maria Curcio and Roger Vignoles. Later, Elena won a scholarship from to travel to Paris for advanced tuition from Vlado Perlemuter in Paris.

www.elenariu.com/