Thoughts on Artistic Identity

I bet you could easily name a handful of classical musicians who have distinct identities. From vertiginous heels to extravagant physical gestures, hair tossing or audible muttering or humming, these individuals’ public artistic identities are evident whenever and wherever they perform.

Most performers have a personal style, or identity, and in our visually-driven age how you look on stage is as important as how you sound. Thus one’s outward musical identity becomes almost a USP or “brand” so that one is easily recognisable wherever one is. Working in such a competitive profession, many musicians seek to develop a musical/artistic identity which is distinct and, in some case, attention-grabbing: thus, while one may be praised for producing a beautiful sound or insightful performances of Bach, how one deports oneself on stage, in both gesture and attire, also influences the way one is regarded by others.

In fact, for most professional musicians their personal artistic identity is developed and defined by their music and music-making rather than their physical appearance. Musical identity can develop from a young age, influenced by family, teachers and mentors; observing one’s peers in college and one’s colleagues in the profession; cultural and societal expectations; and one’s personal values, self-definition (“I am a pianist”, for example), self-efficacy, and intent.

While the title “musician” implies a performer, most musicians have what is fashionably called a “portfolio career”; in reality this is a number of different working roles within and sometimes also outside of the musical profession, and a certain fluidity in one’s identity is necessary to suit these different roles. For example, a concert pianist needs a particular identity and mindset when performing as a soloist, including a degree of extroversion and ego, while the same pianist must temper his/her artistic personality when playing in ensemble where the piano is not the main instrument and one is required to collaborate with others. Equally, when teaching one may need to adapt one’s identity to effectively connect and communicate with students. Over time, one’s musical identity becomes deeply ingrained as one grows more experienced. Adaptability, resilience, and career flexibility allow one to both survive and thrive, and one becomes adept at balancing other artistic aspects of one’s identity, which may remain private, with one’s outward professional artistic identity.

On a more esoteric level, musicians place their music at the very heart of what they do and for most it is their raison d’être (in the way that perhaps other professionals, such as accountants, do not). Music, and music making, is what drives them and the exigencies and uncertainties of the profession can have a detrimental effect on one’s ideals and aspirations as a musician. Thus it is important that young musicians in conservatoire and those embarking on a professional career receive support and mentorship to enable them to balance their expectations with the realities of the profession today.

There are reserves of power in Mr Hough’s touch, and an ingrained refinement; his self-composed encores usually dissipate with sly comedy the high seriousness of his art. Elegantly at ease with himself, he is a performer with whom audiences also feel easy.

(from He’s the Piano Man, article about British concert pianist Stephen Hough in The Economist, August 4th 2016)

 

 

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

I come from a musical family. All of my siblings learned an instrument when we were growing up, although I was the only one mad enough to have taken it up as a career. Myth also has it that my paternal grandfather (whom I never met) had a wonderful tenor voice, but he was too poor to have it trained. I was lucky in that from a very early age my parents took me along to all the concerts at our local music club. It happened to be one of the best in the country, which meant I regularly heard artists such as the Amadeus Quartet, the Beaux Arts Trio, Barenboim, du Pré, Brendel, Lupu, Menuhin, Perlman, Fischer-Dieskau, de los Angeles. The list goes on and on – I even heard Arthur Rubinstein a couple of times. How could I not want to be able to make music like these musicians?! It was subsequently one of my proudest moments when I stepped out onto that very same stage years later to do a recital myself.

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

I think that all of my teachers in turn helped to make me into the musician and person I am today – Cyril Smith, Angus Morrison, Vlado Perlemuter, Leon Fleisher. Even my very first teacher, a retired professor from the Royal Academy of Music, whom I remember as being quite strict and rather grumpy, but he ensured that I knew all the basics of harmony and counterpoint so that by the time I went to the RCM I already had almost half of Bach’s ’48’ under my belt. And I even managed to survive a few lessons from the legendary Adele Marcus (legendary for all the wrong reasons!), long enough to learn how to draw a beautiful cantabile out of the instrument. A massive inspiration for me was meeting and playing with Leonard Sorkin, the leader of the original Fine Arts Quartet in the USA. It was a formative time in my career when I was still in my early 20s, and I learned so much from working and performing with Leonard – he literally spoke from the heart through his playing, and his phrasing and articulation were so utterly natural and so ‘conversational’. I have always since tried to emulate that.

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

Combining motherhood with a performing career was definitely challenging as they are both so emotionally all-consuming. Undoubtedly though, the greatest difficulty for me was the decade I spent dealing with a seemingly endless succession of career-threatening physical problems. They were all apparently due to something my specialist told me was ‘dysautonomia’, a malfunctioning autonomic nervous system. I won’t go into the medical details here (otherwise it would be guaranteed to make my readers instantly click onto another page!), but I had to have operations on my shoulder and hand, as well as numerous cortisone injections in both arms. Thankfully that is now all several years behind me, and I am back playing again.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I remain particularly proud of the very first time I played at the Royal Festival Hall – Grieg Concerto with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra, and recorded by the BBC. I remember walking off the stage thinking: “Yes, I can do this!”.

I was also very proud of the live radio broadcast I did with Leonard Sorkin for WFMT Chicago. As I mentioned previously, I was at the beginning of my career while he was in the twilight of his. I remember the producer being visibly moved after we played the Brahms G major, saying it had reminded him of Bush/Serkin. As far as my recordings go, maybe they are are bit like children (or students) in that you’re not supposed to admit to any favourites! But if pushed, I do harbour a particular fondness my recording of the Russian Mighty Handful, such attractive repertoire and much of it still seldom played.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That feels a bit like asking someone what they like/dislike most about their appearance, so I couldn’t possibly comment! My listeners might have their own views…

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

Obviously concerto repertoire gets discussed with orchestras/promoters – you have to fit in with their season. Solo recitals give one much more freedom of choice, and I have always loved to explore highways and byways, or to come up with some sort of theme or connecting thread in my programmes. I have always believed that you need to offer audiences something they wouldn’t normally just get listening at home.

You are performing in the London Piano Festival – tell us more about this?

I have known Charles Owen for a number of years and he has become a very dear friend. We used to live in the same neighbourhood and would meet each other for lunch or a walk in the woods and have a good old natter about life and the universe and all things music. So when he asked if I would like to take part in the two-piano gala at this year’s festival, the answer was of course a resounding yes!

Given my association with the music of Arnold Bax, it seemed obvious that we should choose something from the wealth of two-piano repertoire he wrote. We’ve picked two fabulous pieces: ‘The Poisoned Fountain’ which has a totally spooky atmosphere, and ‘Hardanger’, which is a light-hearted and infectious tribute to Grieg. I’m also playing a group of Poulenc pieces with Katya Apeshikeva which are sheer riotous fun!

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

My favourite concert hall is anywhere with a warm, supportive acoustic and a feeling of connection to the audience. Somewhere like the Wigmore Hall fits the bill perfectly, plus I have an extra fondness for the place as it was where my husband-to-be came into my life when he turned up backstage there a few years ago!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Where do I start? – it’s a long, long list! Pianists past include Rubinstein, Cortot, Lipatti, Curzon, Gilels, de Larrocha, Annie Fischer. Pianists present include Lupu, Perahia, Goode, Schiff, Kovacevich, Fleisher, Peter Frankel. And that’s just the pianists…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience has to be the super-glam concert of film music I took part in at the Royal Albert Hall. The LSO was conducted by John (Star Wars) Williams and the evening was compered by Sir Richard Attenborough. I got to perform some wonderful pieces, and Michel Legrand had even made a special arrangement for me of his music from “The Go-Between”. There was a great deal of razzmatazz about the whole concert, although I have to say it did take me by surprise when they changed the colour of the lighting each time the music changed key!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The definition of success for me is when I manage to meet my own exacting standards – it could be a single phrase, or a movement, or maybe (but rarely!) even a whole concert.

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

When I was starting out, a friend of my parents who had been a professional violinist very helpfully advised me that if I loved music I shouldn’t take it up as a career! Of course I ignored his advice but, joking aside, his provocative words did make me realise how important it is never to lose sight of why we have chosen to do music in the first place. There will inevitably be times of struggle and disenchantment which could severely test one’s love of music. Whatever happens, we must try to keep our passion for music intact whether we are performing or teaching. On a practical level, in an over-saturated market, it is vital to be creative and flexible in the way one manages ones career. If we are still going to persuade people to come and hear live music, we have to find ways to make that experience more meaningful and relevant, be it collaborating with other genres such as dance, the visual arts or theatre, or working with living composers, or simply being able to talk to your audiences in an engaging manner.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

Still playing and teaching, please.

What is your present state of mind?

If we are talking about the way the world is heading, I am very worried. But if it’s on a personal level, then I am happy and contented, being surrounded as I am by a warm, loving family and many wonderful friends. On a professional level I am feeling really excited as I have a major recital project happening next year. It is based on an idea that is very close to my heart. As it is still in the process of being organised, I can’t talk about it just yet except to say: watch this space!

Margaret performs in the London Piano Festival’s Two-Piano Marathon on Saturday 6 October. Further information and tickets


Margaret Fingerhut is regarded as one of the UK’s most distinguished and poetic pianists, renowned for her exploration of the highways and byways of the repertoire. As a concerto soloist she has appeared with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the London Mozart Players, in major venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall and the Barbican. She is often heard on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM and many radio stations worldwide.

Her extensive and eclectic discography on the Chandos label has received worldwide critical acclaim and won many accolades. Her numerous discs reflect her long-standing fascination with exploring lesser-known repertoire, including works by Bax, Berkeley, Bloch, Dukas, Falla, Grieg, Howells, Leighton, Novák, Stanford and Suk as well as several pioneering collections of 19th century Russian and early 20th century French piano music. She was the soloist in the première recording of Elgar’s sketches for his Piano Concerto slow movement, arranged by Percy Young. Other première recordings include Edgar Bainton’s Concerto Fantasia, Bax’s Octet and works by Howells, Leighton, Lennox Berkeley and Michael Berkeley. “Margaret Fingerhut deserves our most heartfelt admiration for her championship of the byways of the British repertoire twentieth century piano repertory.” (MusicWeb International). Margaret also made the first recording of a student piece by Rachmaninoff, as well as two solo piano pieces by Sergey Taneyev.

Two of her Bax recordings – the Octet with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Ensemble and the Concertante for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra with Vernon Handley and the BBC Philharmonic – were short-listed for Gramophone awards. Her disc of solo piano music by the Polish/French composer Alexandre Tansman was awarded the accolade of “Diapason D’Or” in France and received high praise: “A triumph of piano playing” (Pianist). Her recent CD of encores, “Endless Song”, was Featured Album of the Week on Classic FM and was selected as “Editor’s Choice” in Pianist magazine as well as being awarded an “Outstanding” accolade in International Record Review.

Margaret also maintains a keen interest in working with contemporary composers and she has commissioned and performed works by Paul Spicer, James Francis Brown, Peter Copley and Tony Bridgewater, in venues such as the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room and at the Three Choirs Festival.

Margaret is a Professor of Piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire and a Visiting Tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire where she was recently awarded an Honorary Fellowship. She is a regular guest at summer schools such as Chetham’s, Jackdaws and Dartington. Her teaching at Dartington was described by The Spectator magazine as demonstrating “enormous skill and sympathy”. She has given masterclasses in the USA, Canada, China, and Japan, and she has also been on the jury for many competitions including the BBC Young Musician of the Year.

Born in London of Polish, Ukrainian and Irish ancestry, Margaret went to the Royal College of Music where she studied with Cyril Smith and Angus Morrison. She subsequently studied with Vlado Perlemuter in Paris and Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Baltimore. Margaret lives in London and East Sussex.

margaretfingerhut.co.uk

Guest review by Mary Grace Nguyen

✭✭✭✭

In Jane Gray’s sensitive and stirring production of Tchaikovsky’s Yevgenyi Onyegin, now showing at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, tensions rise in Pushkin’s tale about a young girl who falls in love with a man who realises too late that he is also in love with her. Tchaikovsky’s alluring and stupendous music score, exquisitely performed on the piano by David Smith, elicits the love the young girl, Tatyana holds dear for an unsatisfied aristocrat, Onyegin as well as the suffering and torment of love’s powerful nature. 

Opera Loki’s new production has been touring in France and the UK. Sung in English, Onyegin is a refreshing opera for both avid opera-goers and those who are new to Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. A vocally athletic cast take to Tchaikovsky’s vocal lines with ease and rapture, evoking the tragic and melancholic essence just as the Russian composer intended.  At St Paul’s Covent Garden, the staging is kept to a minimum, yet the use of a handful of props and collection of lush costumes, by Pam Line and Carolyn Bearare, bring the audience closer to Pushkin and his era.

There are a selection of noteworthy scenes in this production which demonstrate Tchaikovsky’s unique interpretation of regret, rejection and resilience. Hope for young Tatyana, engrossed in her fantasy novels of heroes and warriors, can be found in Act I when Tatyana writes her letter to Onyegin, disclosing her deepest feelings for him. Act 2 plays with fire when Onyegin turns on his closest friend, Lenski, by crossing the line, attempting to steal Lenski’s lover and all of her attention, leading to fatal consequences and an unexpected duel. It is only when Onyegin sees his friend lying dead on the ground that he realises he has made a big mistake.

The use of masks in a banquet scene in Act 3 — representative of Onegin’s loneliness and absence of love in his life — is a clever insight into Onyegin and Tatyana’s polarising characters: one was inspired by her emotions and passions; the other learned to feel too late and remains stuck in his own Byronic, wandering state. 

Kirsty McLean is adaptable for both the roles of young and old Tatyana. (It’s fascinating how a change of clothes and great acting skills can influence one’s performance.) McLean is vocally sharp and eloquent with a beguiling performance as the distraught little girl in Act 1. By the time the final act arrives, the audience is clenching their fists, angered by Onyegin’s foolish behaviour, yet sympathising with a woman who has suffered the brunt of unrequited love and the biggest rejection.

Jonny de Garis’s Onyegin is robust and vocally controlled in the first two acts, depicting a man of class and with a touch of stoicism. His most moving and heartfelt performances come in Act 3 — the entire audience was at the edge of their seats the night I attended as they watched Onyegin begging on his hands and knees for Tatyana’s forgiveness. This was perhaps the most intense scene in the opera; together McLean and Garis give an exhilarating and suspense-worthy performance to set both Tatyana and Onyegin free from the tension.

Jack Roberts (Lenski), Lara Rebekah Harvey (Tatyana’s sister) and Georgia Mae Bishop (Tatyana’s nanny) also gave terrific performances. Jack Roberts’s voice was warm and romantic; it projected effectively across the stage. His character is easy to pity,  particularly in Act 3 when we the sense Lenski’s friend was using him for his own amusement. Lara Rebekah Harvey’s singing in Act 1 is a joy to see and hear, vocally clear and graceful as Tanya’s sister. And Georgia Mae Bishop’s performance is filled with wit and delight as she tells Tatyana tales of her past loves.  Julian Charles Debreuil’s performance of ‘All men surrender to Love’s power’, as Gremin in Act 3, is brilliantly sung and full of wonder. And not forgetting to mention strong and supportive performances from Ryan Hugh Ross and Helen Rotchell.

Oneygin may not have his happy ending, yet here is a  wonderful production that demonstrates the vicissitudes of the human condition and the fragility of our emotions. In the face of rejection, one will regret but must eventually move on in order to survive. 

Opera Loki’s Yevgenyi Onyegin continues until 29 September – details and tickets here


Mary Grace Nguyen is a writer and blogger. She is creator of TrendFem, an online platform to promote the theatre, entertainment and arts scene in London, as well as independent off-West End shows and new works performed at some of best theatres in the world. Mary holds an MA in Journalism from Birkbeck College, London

 

Pictures from Opera Loki

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

I was born into a family of musicians: my mother is a pianist and she was my first teacher. She inspired me to take up the piano and supported me with my further studies.

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

Of course my teachers: my mother Liubov Chistiakova, Elena Khoven, Anatoly Ryabov, Mikhail Voskresensky, Boris Petrushansky. I was also very lucky to have wonderful teachers of chamber music and accompaniment: Guzal Karieva, Sergey Voronov, Galina Brykina. And my musical life, thoughts and way of playing changed a lot when I moved to Italy.

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

Life and music are inseparable: that’s the greatest challenge of my career.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am never happy with my performance! But I’m really proud of my second CD of French Music which was recorded in Germany thanks to the Shigeru Kawai team. Things are good when you work with professionals.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

There are some pieces that are always successful: Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, Petroushka Suite by Stravinsky, Liszt’s Paraphrase “Don Juan”, La Valse by Ravel, several miniatures by Chopin.

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

There is always something or someone who inspires me to make a choice. I like it when a concert program makes sense for me and for the public.

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

It’s the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory. I have the best memories from there and it’s always a dream to go back there.

Who are your favourite musicians?

A lot of names and not only from Classical, but Jazz, Rock and Popular music as well. I love musicians, people with a great culture, education and respect for the listeners.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s the first time I played with an orchestra at the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory. I played the 1st Chopin concerto there when I was 12.

I remember when there was an orchestral tutti I felt how the floor was vibrating under my feet and it was so thrilling and so exciting. It was the youth symphony orchestra of Moscow with lots of kids, but they were already professional musicians, like me, so for me it seemed to be very powerful and energising.

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

Practise with passion, never give up and never regret.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Peace and health of my family, well organised life, travels and concerts.

What is your present state of mind?

Fantastic! I became a mother one year ago and it’s an absolutely wonderful feeling.

Galina Chistiakova performs in Manchester Camerata UpClose: The Next Generation at Stoller Hall, Manchester on 4th October 2018. More information

Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D major K. 448

Schumann Andante and Variations in B flat major WoO 10

Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals

Piano Galla Chistiakova

Piano André Gallo

Manchester Camerata Principal Musicians


When we consider the role of musician as “curator”, we tend to think of someone who organizes a concert series or music festival, much in the same way as a museum curator organizes exhibitions.

At a recent piano masterclass I attended, the tutor talked about “curating every note” and I really like this notion of the musician as the personal curator of the music, its sound and interpretation. In practice, what this means is that when we study and learn music, we should attend to every single detail in the score. This not only ensures that we honour the composer’s intentions, but also allows us to study the music in depth so that our interpretation and communication of it is both faithful and personal, thus creating a unique listening experience for our audience. And so for each and every note, rest and fermata, dynamic or articulation marking, and all the other details that make up a musical score, one should consider how and why that marking is there. What is its purpose? What effect is the composer suggesting? What stories or emotions might lie behind those notes and markings?

This detailed curatorial approach is particularly appropriate for Classical Period music (such as the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven) where all the little articulation marks, in particular, need to be observed because of their significance to the sound and intent of the music. Even the tiniest two-note slurs in Mozart or Beethoven, for example, create wonderful effects if observed correctly – a little more emphasis on the first note of a two-note slur and a fractional shortening of the second note to create tiny separations, redolent of string articulation. Mozart and Beethoven are both very specific in their markings: take the first movement of Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata Op 31 No. 2, with its plethora of drop slurs which, when observed correctly, bring incredible drama and energy in those opening bars. We ignore these details at our peril for they bring the music to life with vibrancy and vivid colour.

maxresdefault
Beethoven – Piano Sonata Op 31/2, ‘Tempest’

As players and performers, at whatever level we play, we have a responsibility towards the music, and for me, this is the broader definition of the musician as a “curator”. It is a huge privilege to be able to play these great works by Bach and Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven et al – works that rank alongside Aristotle and Shakespeare in their magnitude and cultural importance. One can feel like a conservator, or a curator, taking responsibility for them and sharing them with others. It is a cultural gift – a gift to oneself, and a gift to those who love to listen to the music.


 

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

My great uncle gave me the family piano when I was six and I started to have piano lessons. I then went to a pretty average comprehensive school in Liverpool. The music teacher, Edward Fielding Kirk, was a great inspiration to me. He was a composer, arranger, pianist and conductor. He spotted early on that I had some musical talent so took it upon himself to come to my house one evening and talk to my parents (both of whom were not musicians). On his advice, I took up the opportunity to have free cello and percussion lessons at school (as well as keeping up the piano). It soon became clear that my real interest lay in percussion.

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

Mr. Kirk arranged trips to concerts throughout the school year. I attended performances given by the RLPO, Fires of London, London Sinfonietta and many others. This initial exposure to new music really fired my enthusiasm for contemporary performance. I then went to Huddersfield Polytechnic for one year before moving to the RNCM in 1986. At Huddersfield I organised all the percussion for the 1985 festival and I attended as many performances as I could… reinforcing my passion for new music. In 1991 I formed Psappha based on the instrumentation of the Fires of London for whom Peter Maxwell Davies [known as ‘Max’] had already developed a body of work. Max was composer/ conductor at the BBC Philharmonic. I met him regularly as I was freelancing with the orchestra. Max officially became Psappha’s Patron in 1995 and continued to be my inspiration both personally and for the group until his death.

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

I formed Psappha in 1991 as I really enjoyed the challenge of performing new music. I also looked after the management of the group from the outset. As our work has developed my main challenge has been the balance between practice time and administration duties.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Psappha was invited to give the 70th birthday concert for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall for our then Patron, Peter Maxwell Davies, in 2004. It was a concert of works selected by Max and the performance was well received. It was a fantastic occasion that I won’t forget. The group has performed Eight Songs for a Mad King more than 70 times over the years and worked with Max on interpretation on many occasions. We decided to make a second recording of the work (on limited edition vinyl) as Max agreed to supervise the recording. This was a very special collaboration and I’m very pleased that we managed to do this only a few years before Max passed away. I’ve worked with American composer Steven Mackey over many years and I really enjoy his music. We recorded his Micro-Concerto for percussion and ensemble with Steve and I’m proud of the recording.

Playing Harrison Birtwistle’s Axe Manual at Plush Festival with Tim Horton on Harry’s 80th birthday (at the composer’s invitation) and working with György Kurtág on his Scenes from a Novel were real high points too.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It’s rare that I’m completely happy with myself. I’m very critical… Most recently I was pleased with the performance of Stravinsky’s Renard with BCMG and Oliver Knussen – I played cimbalom.

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

I listen to lots of music when I’m deciding on the repertoire for each Psappha season. I like to support composers at all stages of their careers as well as including some classic works each season.

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

I’ve been lucky to play in many fantastic concert venues all over the world with Psappha and through my work as a percussionist/timpanist with symphony orchestras. But I’m really fond of the intimacy of Psappha’s two Manchester venues – St Michael’s and Hallé St Peter’s in Ancoats.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I learnt a lot about music from Peter Maxwell Davies, I love the spontaneity of Bernstein, the intimate musical knowledge and showmanship of Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the amazing performances of Claudio Abbado.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Every concert is special but if I had to pick only one concert experience it would be a performance with ECYO in 1988 at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder conducted by Claudio Abbado. It was the first time Abbado had conducted the piece and the performance and rehearsals were from memory. The soloists were the best in the world and included Jesse Norman, Brigitte Fassbaender and Philip Langridge (I didn’t know at the time but he was to be my future father-in-law!). The performance was amazing and perfect in every way….

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be well prepared and give the best performance possible. If the audience enjoys the performance, is moved, or hears something new that excites them, then that’s a success.

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

My musical development started properly from the age of 14 and involved attending as many performances as possible. I was born in Liverpool and attended every RLPO performance – I also managed to sneak into rehearsals too. I learnt a lot from those years and continued attending performances all the way through college too. You have to be true to yourself but at the same time listen to others and take advice, listen to live performances, listen to multiple recordings of the same piece and work out how you want it to sound. Record yourself and listen back; in my experience it doesn’t always sound the way you think it does! If, like me, you have the privilege of working with composers, make sure you spend a decent amount of time with them and get into their sound world.

Don’t limit yourself to a single genre. Communication with an audience is just as important in classical music as it is in other genres. I recently took my son to an Earth, Wind and Fire performance… Verdine White, the band’s founder bass player, who’s been with the band for 45 years was one of the best communicators I think I’ve ever seen.

What is your most treasured possession?

[Sir Peter Maxwell Davies] Max gave me two handwritten manuscripts, which are my most treasured possessions. The first was the timpani part to Throstle’s Nest Junction – he knew I was playing timpani in the première of the piece with the BBC Philharmonic so wrote a special part for me. The second was the sketches of the scene change music for Mr Emmet Takes a Walk the opera Max wrote for Psappha in 1999. Both include personal notes to me.

Tim Williams is the founder of Psappha, which launches its 2018/19 season on 27 September 2018 with ‘New Adventures’ at Stoller Hall, Manchester. The full programme is available here: http://www.psappha.com/diary/

Tim Williams has performed with most of the UK’s symphony orchestras, opera and ballet companies as a freelance percussionist and timpanist. His particular interest in new music led him to form the ensemble Psappha in 1991. Since its inception he has been its Artistic Director, General Manager and also its percussionist. With the ensemble he has performed throughout the UK, in Europe (France, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Ireland & Belgium), North America (New York and San Francisco), South America (Caracas and Buenos Aires), Hong Kong, Australia (Barossa Festival) and most recently at the Jerusalem Festival.

He has been featured prominently in such works as Stockhausen’s Kontakte (also broadcast on BBC Radio 3), Birtwistle’s The Axe Manual (including a performance for the composers 83rd birthday), Peter Maxwell Davies’s Stedman Doubles (original 1955 version) (also recorded for CD, film and BBC Radio 3), Steven Mackey’s Micro-Concerto (UK tour and CD recording), Martin Butler’s Going with the Grain, Gordon McPherson Little Moses (also recorded for CD and BBC Radio 3), Alvarez’s Temazcal, Boulez’s Le Marteau sans Maitre (also recorded for BBC Radio 3) and Anthony Gilbert’s Moonfaring (UK tour and recorded for CD).

In 1999 Tim Williams went to Budapest, bought a cimbalom (Hungary’s national instrument) and taught himself to play it, going on to perform many works on the cimbalom including Stravinsky’s Renard (BBC Proms, BCMG (This is Rattle)) and Ragtime (BBC Proms & Britten Sinfonia) , Jonathan Harvey’s Weltethos (CBSO UK premiere), Boulez’s Eclat/Multiples (London Sinfonietta), Mackey’s Five Animated Shorts (Network for New Music, Philadelphia and Princeton and with Psappha, Cheltenham Festival, Lancaster, webcast and CD recording), Peter Maxwell Davies’s Image, Reflection, Shadow (UK tour), Peter Maxwell Davies’s Sonatina and Farewell to Stromness. In 2001 he worked on Scenes from a Novel with its composer György Kurtág at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. He has had works written for him by Gordon McPherson (Memory Crash and Lorelei), Anthony Gilbert (Vers de Lune) and John Casken (Fractured Lines). He has also taken part in Kodály’s singspiel Háry János on a number of occasions, Howard Shaw’s Lord of the Rings Symphony and Kurtág’s Stele.

Since 2008 Tim has developed Psappha’s online presence and has directed all the films you find on Psappha’s websites.

Tim is a Sabian Artist