Pianist Peter Donohoe (picture credit Sussie Ahlburg)

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

I didn’t really make it my career. It kind of chose me, after many years of vacillating between instruments and other musical disciplines (like composition, musicology etc). Looking back to the beginning the most formative influences were countless people – in a kind of chronological order:

  1. My mother, who was an amateur pianist.
  2. My father, with whom I argued so much that it embarrasses me to remember, but he was right…. and I am still learning from his life lessons.
  3. Alan Taylor, who was the music teacher at my primary school.
  4. All my subsequent piano teachers (Alfred Williams, Donald Clarke, Derek Wyndham, Yvonne Loriod, Olivier Messiaen – more importantly than any pianistic or teaching qualities – they were all wonderful people.)
  5. My percussion teacher, Gilbert Webster – an extraordinary man, with enormous experience at the very highest level (amongst other things he had been the BBC SO’s principal percussionist during the Boulez era). He was the man who, more than any other, showed me how to practise – whatever the instrument.
  6. All my friends, who argued with me when I was convinced that a career as solo pianist was not for me, because I didn’t think I was good enough.
  7. My wife, Elaine, who is herself a professional pianist, critic and supporter.
  8. Martin Roscoe, my two-piano partner of 40 years, and our Best Man.
  9. All the conductors who invited me to work them in my early days, particularly James Loughran, Edward Downes, Charles Groves and Simon Rattle.

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

  1. The composers whose works I am trying to communicate to the public.
  2. The public itself.

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

  1. Taking the plunge in my early 20s and deciding after all to be a solo pianist.
  2. Maintaining the natural sense of British taste and reserve at the same as learning to be emotionally open, and keeping the balance between the two.
  3. Playing Bach.
  4. Standing in for Daniel Barenboim playing Bach.

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

Exploring the characters of everyone one works with, and making the most of those characters, rather than going in with a fixed ideal and trying to make everyone fit in with it.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I don’t know, because I don’t listen to them once I have swallowed my disappointments and approved them. I suspect that the live recording of the Busoni Concerto from the 1988 Proms might be the one I would be least disappointed with.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

Many in diverse places and for diverse reasons. If I had to choose – the Bolshoisal in the Moscow Conservatory – a great hall, with a great atmosphere, and many wonderful memories.

 Who are your favourite musicians? 

The ones I am working with at the time. That might seem like a pretentious answer, but it is a good way to look at things. There have been several over the years whom I could name, but better if their identity is not revealed for the sake of the others.

What is your most memorable concert experience?  

That depends on the reason it is memorable….

The one that was the most thrilling to listen to was possibly Richter and the Borodin String Quartet playing Brahms 2nd Piano Quartet in Moscow in 1987. Other contenders would be Bernard Haitink and the LPO playing Bruckner’s 8th Symphony, Charles Groves and the BBC SO playing Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony with Jeanne Loriod and John Ogdon in the 1970 Proms, Emerson Lake and Palmer on tour in 1971, Reginald Goodall conducting Wagner at ENO in the 1970s, and a concert given by the Red Army Chorus in Moscow in 1983.

Of my own performances:

  1. The formative ones were Beethoven Piano Concerto 3 with the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra when I was 12, singing in Bach’s Mass in B minor in Manchester Cathedral when I was 17, my London debut at the 1979 Proms and my US debut at the Hollywood Bowl in 1983.
  2. The most significant and life-changing was the final of the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1982.
  3. The most nerve-wracking was when I conducted Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra in 2007.
  4. The strangest, although very rewarding, was giving the first ever classical recital in Papua New Guinea in 2006.
  5. The one that went the least well is best left unmentioned, although there are many contenders!

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

Far too many composers and pieces to mention. Much easier to think of pieces of music that I don’t like to play or listen to, and I daren’t name them for the sake of those who disagree – although there are actually very few.

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

  1. That we are all part of a culture that is far bigger than we are.
  2. That the greatness of the music and sharing that greatness with the listeners are both far more important than our commercial success and our ego.
  3. That we need to identify in our own minds exactly why we really want to be performing musicians, and what we feel is the true role of music in modern society.

What are you working on at the moment?  

Bach’s complete 48 Preludes and Fugues has been my main project since 2005, but there are many other less all-emcompassing and to some degree more familiar ones.

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

Where I am now, but with more memories and experiences from which to draw.

In the years since his unprecedented success as Silver Medal winner of the 1982 7th International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Peter Donohoe has built an extraordinary world-wide  career, encompassing a huge repertoire and over forty years’ experience as a pianist, as well as continually exploring many other avenues in music-making. He is acclaimed as one of the foremost pianists of our time, for his musicianship, stylistic versatility and commanding technique. Read Peter’s full biography here.


Peter Donohoe opens the autumn season at Sutton House Music Society with a concert on Sunday 21st October 2012.


Here is a beautifully written, informative and informed post about Debussy’s first book of Images, by pianist Christine Stevenson.

Christine is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Debussy’s birth by exploring an A to Z of Debussy’s piano music in a series of blog posts. I am working on Hommage à Rameau as part of my LTCL Diploma programme, and I found Christine’s notes on this piece particularly helpful and well-expressed.

I is for Images – Debussy’s Images I.

Debussy at the piano, with friends

“There is no word to describe it because all the work, all the sacrifices, all the things you put into it, it’s just unbelievable.” (Mo Farrah, double Olympic gold medallist)

You won the gold medal, you achieved the ultimate accolade, you revelled in the euphoria of success, the attention, the adoration of the crowd. You worked hard for this, every day for weeks and months, maybe even years. It’s everything you’ve strived for. You ascend the podium, bow your head to receive the medal on its purple ribbon. You lift the gold medal to your lips and kiss it as a thousand flashbulbs go off all around you…..

During the London 2012 Olympic Games we have witnessed many moments like this, from athletes of all nationalities, who have been successful in their chosen field, and whose hard work and dedication has been rewarded and recognised. But how does it feel the day after the ceremony, and the day after that, a month down the road? The euphoria of winning, of achieving such dizzying heights, soon wears off as you contemplate that early morning start on the track, in the dark, in the rain. As British rower and four-times Olympic gold medal winner Matthew Pinsent admitted in a programme on BBC One ahead of the closing ceremony, after the euphoria has worn off comes the question “what next?”.

Musicians understand and experience these feelings too: the euphoria of live performance is matched by a special kind of depression compounded by a profound tiredness after the event. In the last days and hours before a concert, just like the distance runner or the sprint cyclist, everything you do is geared towards the single-minded responsibility of the main event, a super-human organisation of physical and emotional resources.

A vast amount of energy – mental and physical – is expended in the experience of the performance, and the excitement of the concert fills your every moment in the hours leading up to it. And then, suddenly, it is all over. (Sometimes, when performing, you lose all sense of time passing. I was astonished, when I checked the clock on my mobile phone after my Diploma recital last winter, that a full 45 minutes had passed: it felt like no time at all. And yet, the moment in the Liszt Sonetto when I had a minor memory lapse felt like a lifetime……)

After a performance, you feel drained, your mind is completely out of breath, your body physically depleted. You’re ready for your bed, but you’ve still got to do the PR thing post-concert: meet people, sign programmes and CDs, give interviews. But there’s no time for exhaustion: you have work to do tomorrow – and work is the best antidote to these feelings of depression and tiredness.

“At this low point, we have only to let music itself take charge. For every challenge we can possibly want lies before us in the vast and inexhaustible repertory that cannot but replenish our spirit. For true musicians, depression is temporary because their music is permanent.” (Seymour Bernstein, from ‘With Your Own Two hands’)

For the athletes, there’s not just the next Olympic Games to train for, there are any number of trials, competitions, and world championships to prepare for. The winning of a medal or medals has endorsed all those hours of training, and may even encourage a shift of focus, an adjustment to a tried-and-trusted regime. And for the pianist, there’s the next concert. There’s no future in looking back, going over what has been (a promise I made with myself immediately after my Diploma recital was “no post-mortem!” – I refused to analyse what had happened in the exam room, errors, memory slips, etc., at least not until I received the report and could set any of these issues in context). As performers, we’re only as a good as our last performance, and if that was less than perfect, the best thing is to move on and plan the next performance. We draw strength from our love of the repertoire, our excitement about our individual pieces and the prospect of putting them before an audience. Like the runner on the track, the rider entering the show-jumping arena, the swimmer poised to dive, the performance is what endorses all the hours of practice and preparation, and a fine performance will erase the memory of a bad one.

(a future blog post will focus on performing)

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

I’ve always sung, since I was a little girl, and I’ve always loved music. So singing as a job seemed like a natural step. However, I didn’t follow a logical route, as I first became a Barrister, after reading Law at Cambridge University. But the lure of singing was too great in the end, and so I accepted a place at the Royal College of Music and I’ve never looked back.

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

My most important influence has been my wonderful teacher, Lillian Watson. She has brought me to where I am today and I owe her everything. I have also been very lucky and have come into contact with some amazing artists who have guided me: Sir Thomas Allen, who gave me my first role as Mrs Herring in his production of Albert Herring at the RCM; Christa Ludwig, who has given a number of masterclasses I was fortunate enough to participate in; the late great Philip Langridge, who coached me in song and presentation; and currently Dame Anne Evans, who is guiding me through all of the Wagner roles I am learning.

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

Balancing being a wife and mother with a career that often takes me far away from home.

Which performances / recordings are you most proud of?

Every performance or recording is a learning experience, and so as long as I’ve given my best I’m proud of all of them. But I suppose if I had to select one, I would say my debut at the Salzburg Festival in Mozart’s La Betulia Liberata.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

The Wigmore Hall. There’s no better acoustic to perform in – it’s a beautiful space.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

In oratorio, I love Mahler 2 and Das Lied von der Erde, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Verdi’s Requiem and Bach’s St Matthew Passion. I also love song repertoire, especially by Schubert, Brahms Britten and Mahler, and in opera I love singing Wagner. My favourite pieces to listen to are Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Mozart’s Requiem and anything by Mumford and Sons!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Christa Ludwig, Dame Janet Baker, Sir John Tomlinson, and Stephen Hough.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Singing Bach’s St Matthew Passion with the Dallas Symphony under Van Zweden. It was simply wonderful.

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

Always be true to yourself, and work hard. Preparation is everything!

What is your most treasured possession?

My home. I spend a lot of my time away, so time at home with my family is precious.

Jennifer Pike (image credit Eric Richmond)

A dramatic and absorbing concert of “limitless possibilites”, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, given by three young performers who demonstrated great insight and maturity in their approach to the music. Read my full review here.