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

Whilst on a German school exchange to Munich when I was fifteen I was taken to a performance of Berg’s Lulu in the Nationaltheater. I had never seen or heard anything like it before in my life and decided on the spot that I wanted to be a composer, especially of dramatic music (i.e. theatre, opera, ballet, film)

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

Meeting Olivier Messiaen while I was a student at the Royal College of Music confirmed my lifelong passion for his music. At that time I studied and loved Britten’s operas, and learned much about dramatic timing and word setting. I’ve also had a lifelong love of the music of Leoš Janácek, who still remains a strong influence. The concision of his writing, his limitless imagination in the development of motifs and his sophisticated melodic curves of speech continue to fascinate me.

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

I had the good fortune to be offered a lot of film commissions in my thirties and forties. One of the challenges was to put aside enough time each year to compose at least one major concert piece. It sometimes became frustrating not to have enough time in the year to develop compositional ideas. It was for this reason that, when I retired from film music four years ago, I decided to take a PhD at Bristol University in order to really get to grips with composition technique and to become more familiar with what is being written today.

Of which works are you most proud?

One of the works I wrote for the PhD was called Kalon, for string quartet and string orchestra. What is unusual about it is that the two string groups perform almost throughout in different simultaneous tempi. I nearly abandoned it twice, so difficult was it to write clearly in polytempo without it sounding a mess. When I heard the Czech Philharmonic play it for the Signum Classics recording I felt so glad that I had stuck with it and that the piece really works.

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

I’ve always needed to work to a deadline, even if the deadline is three years off. I have a fear of the piece either not being ready or not being the best I can write, so I tend to finish a commission months before it is due for delivery. This means I can sit with it, re-visit and change or improve large or small things before it is published and the parts are sent to the performers. With my second violin concerto Niobe I persuaded the Czech Philharmonic, who commissioned it, to let me have a playthrough with the wonderful soloist Tamsin Waley-Cohen four months before the first rehearsal. I learned so much from the experience and, as a result, revised several passages to give it even more punch and dramatic impact. In such circumstances my publisher Nimbus Publishing were endlessly patient in allowing me to re-print the score and parts for what turned out to be the definitive version that we premiered and recorded.

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

Knowing the choir, orchestra or soloists is always a pleasure.

Pietà is my third commission for the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and as well as knowing the choir very well I am always thrilled to work with their conductor Gavin Carr. Gavin heard the piece at different stages of the composition and made a number of incisive observations about voicing and the overall impact of the work’s structure and climaxes. I feel very lucky to have worked with collaborators like him, and Pietà is dedicated to Gavin in thanks for all his support and encouragement over many years.

How would you characterise your compositional/musical language?

Hard to answer this one meaningfully. I’ve always felt a need to communicate with my music and consequently have tried, without limiting the freshness or originality of the work, to make it accessible and direct. Having experimented with atonal and serial music in my twenties I am now more interested in using different forms of modal music, or even triadic harmony in new ways. During the PhD I chose my thesis topic as polyrhythm, polymetre and polytempo, and I think my music is characterised by a rhythmic dynamism and freshness. People have also told me that my music is very melodic, and creating well-crafted melodic material remains one of my preoccupations.

How do you work?

I mostly work in my studio in the village in Oxfordshire where I live. The studio has inspiring views on a small lake and I work on a lovely Yamaha grand piano that is also aligned to a computer on which I write with Sibelius. I often sketch on manuscript paper, then go into short score or full orchestral. Occasionally I have ideas in the middle of the night and come downstairs to work for an hour or so. Mostly, I put in about eight hours a day and never work during the evenings, as my brain would be too stimulated to be able to sleep.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Having people want to perform and hear my music is entirely my definition of success. Creating music that is good to play, sing or listen to is all I can hope for. If at a concert someone comes up after a performance and says they sincerely enjoyed the piece, or were visibly moved by it, makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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

If asked, I always tell composers to follow their hearts and their instinct, to write what they want to write rather than what is considered fashionable or in vogue. I hope they will write or perform out of love for what they do, rather than for the critics or the approval of a small elite. But this is just my own experience, and every musician has to follow their own path and create their own truth.

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

At this stage of my life I have decades of experience behind me of writing music in every genre, from commercial to art music. I hope that, energy and good health permitting, I still have my best work to come. I am a great admirer of the Japanese artist Hokusai, who said that nothing he created before his seventieth year amounted to very much, but by the age of seventy he was just getting the hang of painting. I like to think that, aged 65, I am beginning to get the hang of writing music.

The world première of Pietà, a new work by Richard Blackford, which will take place at the Lighthouse, Poole on Saturday 22 June 2019. Pietà is a setting of the Stabat Mater, with additional poems by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. The work will be recorded for Nimbus shortly after the first performance. The London première will be on Saturday 19 October 2019 at the Cadogan Hall. 

Further information


Richard Blackford studied composition with John Lambert at the Royal College of Music, then with Hans Werner Henze in Rome. Early awards include the Tagore Gold Medal, the Ricordi Prize and the Mendelssohn Scholarship. He was first Composer-in-Residence at Balliol College Oxford, and later Composer-in-Residence to the Brno Philharmonic in the Czech Republic. His works were performed in the major music festivals of the world, including Adelaide, Berlin, Brighton, Montepulciano, Cheltenham, Long Island. He has composed in virtually every medium, including opera, choral, orchestral, theatre, film and ballet, with his most recent ballet Biophony (2015) in collaboration with Bernie Krause and Alonzo King, winning “Best Contemporary Performance 2016” in the Italian dance magazine Danza&Danza. As a media composer Richard was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music for his 4-hour score for the CNN/BBC series Millennium, and in 2015 was awarded Die Goldene Deutschland for services to music in Germany. His literary collaborators include; Ted Hughes, Maya Angelou and Tony Harrison. He is a Director of the charity Music For Youth, President of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, a Trustee of the Aberystwyth MusicFest and Trustee of The Bach Choir.

Richard Blackford’s music is published by Novello and Nimbus Publishing.

 

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

My first love was accordion which was brought to my attention in a very spontaneous way by my father when I was around 4 years old. The accordion is used in Macedonia mostly for folk music, although there are many talented people who can play classical music on it as well. I grew up playing folk music on it and I believe that being part of that tradition helped me a lot from the rhythmic point of view, as well as developing a natural musicality especially in terms of lyricism. At the time when I was entering the primary music school there was no accordion to study as a subject, so it seemed more natural to take up on piano.

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

I certainly had a great influence and great schooling from my Russian teachers, the Romanovs, who taught me the greatest things from the good old Russian tradition and understanding of the music in general. Than I listened to many of the pianistic legends who have inspired me in many different ways. During my concert career I have met many people from different fields around the world who have inspired me to share the musical views and the depths with music lovers. One learns each day and has many different experiences which are part of personal life and interpretation as well.

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

The music is a challenge by itself. In a good way of course – because it enriches the soul and makes life much more beautiful, especially in these crazy times. It is a challenge to keep such a high level of understanding and sophisticated taste on the music circuit and in the music scene nowadays, especially due to the very commercialized world. I am a person who likes purity and embraces life and tries to share that in the most natural way with the colleagues and audiences.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oh that is a very difficult question! Each concert or recording is a special in its own way. One concert differs from the other but the truth is that a professional and truly dedicated artist always gives his/her best to each performance. If I really have to give one example, then my very first CD for EMI with the Scriabin and Prokofiev Sonatas as well as Pletnev’s Nutcracker arrangement and Stravinsky’s Petrushka is a special one for me for many reasons. Certainly, I am looking forward to the recording that was done at the beginning of this year of my new folk project “Makedonissimo”, with transcriptions of Macedonian folk music, which will hopefully be released in the near future.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It would be unfair to my understanding of the music and my total dedication that I have towards all the different styles to answer this question. I think it is good to leave it to the listeners to judge that.

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

I try to have a variety first of all due to the fact that I want to have a more interesting life rather than staying mostly with the same repertoire. Then, I always try to accommodate to the promoters’ wishes and at the end we come to the mutual agreement. I do try to broaden the repertoire carefully each season.

You’re performing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 with Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in May. Tell us more about this?

I’m glad I was invited to play this piece with the BSO on tour to Dublin as well. I remember that I played this piece with the orchestra several years ago with Kees Bakels and as always with this group, I have really wonderful memories. I am also very happy to rejoin Kirill in this old warhorse which always brings an immense joy in performance, but we must not forget that it brings a great sense of responsibility due to the fact that it is one of the most popular pieces in the piano repertoire. That is why I always have a very serious approach to the “well known played notes” and I am looking forward to this collaboration again. 

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

There are certainly great halls around that I have played in, especially in the UK. One really feels nice at the Wigmore Hall, the Light House, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Birmingham Symphony Hall, Edinburgh and Perth and Dundee halls for example. But I also like playing in churches which give some majestic feeling. In any case I feel privileged.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones who show really natural musicianship and are very natural and simple people. No need to be cautious nor careful. Everything goes smoothly.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are really several ones. The first are certainly strong ones. It is not easy. If I have to give one or few, I will mention my debut with the Macedonian Philharmonic as well as my Wigmore Hall debut. I certainly remember my recital at the Light House in Poole which brings back wonderful memories.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being truly dedicated to what you do, pure and unpressured, and share that in the most natural way without any “external” needs. That should help you to be at one with the music, and that can be felt by the audiences. Keeping the feet strongly on the ground and not “flying in the clouds” artificially. That way you can certainly sleep calm during the nights. And fulfilled.

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

To be true to themselves after following the most natural guidance of the composers – written in the scores. Keep the logic and nature in the music. Do not try to pretend just for the sake of being different in an unnatural way. It gives the opposite effect.

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

Hopefully in a “safe” place both privately and professionally. Most importantly, to be healthy and with a peace in the soul and mind.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To see my family happy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My children.

 

Simon Trpčeski performs Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, conducted by Kirill Karabits, with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on 9 and 10 May in Poole (Lighthouse) and Dublin (National Concert Hall).


Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski performs with the world’s foremost orchestras including London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw, Russian National Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, WDR Sinfonieorchester Cologne, Helsinki Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Real Filharmonía de Galicia, New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, New Japan Philharmonic, China Philharmonic and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He regularly gives solo recitals in such cultural capitals as New York, London, Paris, Munich, Prague and Tokyo, and performs chamber music at festivals such as Verbier, Aspen Music Festival, Bergen International Festival, the Baltic Sea Festival and the BBC Proms.

Conductors he regularly collaborates with include Marin Alsop, Lionel Bringuier, Thomas Dausgaard, Gustavo Dudamel, Jakob Hrůša, Vladimir Jurowski, Susanna Mälkki, Andris Nelsons, Gianandrea Noseda, Sakari Oramo, Antonio Pappano, Vasily Petrenko, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Lahav Shani, Dima Slobodeniouk, Robin Ticciati and Krzysztof Urbański.

During the 2017/18 season Trpčeski will reunite with the San Francisco Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich on tour, as well as joining Stavanger Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra del Teatro di San Carlo, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra and Slovenian Philharmonic, amongst others. Autumn 2017 marks the beginning of a string of diverse performances at London’s Wigmore Hall as an Artist in Residence, featuring his regular duo partnership with the cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, as well as including the UK debut of the self-made folk-based project, “Makedonissimo”, celebrating the music, culture and people of his native Macedonia.

Trpčeski has recorded prolifically to widespread acclaim. His first recording (EMI, 2002) received both the “Editor’s Choice” and “Debut Album” awards at the Gramophone Awards. In 2010 and 2011, his interpretations of Rachmaninov’s four piano concertos with Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra were recognized with Classic FM, Gramophone “Editor’s Choice,” and Diapason d’Or accolades. Trpčeski’s March 2012 recital at the Wigmore Hall, released on “Wigmore Hall Live”, was immediately hailed by The Telegraph as “Classical CD of the Week.” His most recent recording for Onyx Classics features Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos No. 1 and 3, and again won him the Diapason d’Or in September 2017.

With the special support of KulturOp — Macedonia’s leading cultural and arts organization — and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Macedonia, Trpčeski works regularly with young musicians in Macedonia in order to cultivate the talent of the country’s next generation of artists.

Born in the Republic of Macedonia in 1979, Simon Trpčeski is a graduate of the School of Music in Skopje, where he studied with Boris Romanov. He was previously a BBC New Generation Artist, and was honoured with the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award in 2003.

www.trpceski.com

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

I was a 7 month old baby when I first came into contact with a piano. My mother, at the insistence of my grandmother, placed a 2 octave toy piano in my crib. To my parents’ surprise, I spent hours discovering its sounds, and within a few months I was playing the lullabies my mum sang to me on that little piano. I didn’t have a chance to be inspired! It was always there as a part of my nature.

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

There are, of course, negative and positive influences. They both weigh heavily on the development of a person. My piano studies began with Lyl Tiempo (aged 4 to 8) in Caracas and it was the very best beginning I could have had. She was a wonderful teacher. But most of my childhood and adolescence was marred by a negative influence. I stopped playing for almost 3 years. Then, came the positive influences in my twenties. Discovering the great, historical recordings was pivotal to how I heard and imagined music. It gave me a sense of freedom I had never before been aware of. A sense that the possibilities of music extended far beyond the written score. I also had a wonderful teacher, Hamish Milne, at the Royal Academy of Music, whom I credit for rekindling my love for music. I was in my early twenties, and too young to profit from his wisdom and artistry, but it left a mark on me. I can’t fully answer this question without mentioning Martha Argerich. Martha, upon hearing me play Schumann, Beethoven and improvise, changed my life. From one moment to the next, she took me from barely playing and seriously considering studying psychology (dedicating my life to something useful!) to beginning these last 17, hectic, challenging but rewarding years of my life and career. I owe a lot to her. She has also been a huge inspiration as an artist and human being.

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

Being a single mother to two young daughters and at the same time juggling an intense concert career– without a shadow of a doubt! I am now happily married. My friends and colleagues ask me how I survived, and I really don’t know how I managed to perform well under the constant excruciating worry and pressure. Add to that the heart-breaking situation of my country, Venezuela, and my daily work of the last 8 years as a dissident and human rights advocate, and it has been anything but easy.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Any performance when I feel I am deeply connected and when I give the most honest and committed performance I can give, is one I am most proud of. It doesn’t matter where it is or how many people are sitting in the hall. I am very proud of my last recording (which is yet to released) of my own concerto – the Latin Concerto!! I had an amazing team to work with in Carlos Miguel Prieto and the YOA Orchestra of the Americas.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That’s difficult to answer. Most people would describe me as a very big, impassioned and powerful player. I do think that is a very strong element of my musical nature, but at the same time, I am discovering the intimacy and subtleties in the way I play Mozart – which is opposite to how people have heard me perform the romantic repertoire. I am fond of extremes and contrasts, and in Mozart, I am finding a new relationship and sound to an instrument that has been most suited for me in the large and virtuosic pieces. I am a work in progress.

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

Until now, it has always been determined by what I want to play. But now, I am beginning to design programs around a common story, a personal narrative, relationships or connections between pieces. I’m becoming more interested in metaphors that connect people and works.

You’re performing with Carlos Miguel Prieto and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in March – tell us more about this?

I love Carlos Miguel. That’s the most important part of my answer! He is a dear friend, a respected colleague and someone who understands the kind of musical animal I am on the stage, and what my life is like, offstage. I am so looking forward to performing Ravel again with him (also included on our last recording) and to performing for the first time with the BSO. I can imagine it will be a wonderful combination.

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

I love the Wigmore Hall, the Teatro Colon, any hall in Italy, the Palau in Barcelona. There are many. I prefer smaller and more intimate halls. I think I play better when I am in a beautiful space, surrounded by beauty and inspired by the aesthetics of a hall.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Hmmm.. Martha Argerich, Martin Fröst, Alison Balsom, Bill Evans, Horowitz, Annie Fisher, Rachmaninov, Angela Hewitt… There are a few more. All of the people alive in this list are my friends, but I am not biased! They really are wonderful.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s hard to say. I recently performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Mirga [Gražinytė-Tyla] and the Berlin Komisch Oper Orchestra in Berlin, and as she lifted her arms to begin the concerto introduction, a couple in the audience interrupted her by singing the national anthem of Venezuela. I sat there heartbroken and stunned, fully aware of what a gesture of pain and courage that moment meant to that couple and I. I will never forget that. Playing at President Obama’s first inauguration was also incredibly meaningful. I felt it was the beginning of a deep and long awaited healing process for the US and its people, and I was very honoured and touched to be a part of it. You had to be there to understand what it felt like. Unfortunately, things have changed significantly since then, and not for the better. But there have been many moments that will forever remain etched in my memory.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The older I get, the more I understand that for me, success is inexorably linked to how I contribute to society. I am no longer only a pianist and composer, I am also someone who is trying to rescue people from Venezuela, someone who tries to be a lifeline and a voice to many, and above all, a human being who suffers the pain of those around me. For me, success is not defined by fame and fortune, or playing with a renowned conductor or orchestra, or being on someone’s “favourite” list. It is reaching out to people and knowing I’ve made a difference. We have choices, and they speak volumes of who we are. Success is making the right ethical choice.

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

Be inspired!! Live!! Love!! Give!! Enjoy! And then, take all those stories and paint them on the score, with the colours of sound. You can’t be a storyteller if you have no stories to tell.

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

In a free and democratic Venezuela. That’s my greatest wish. But sooner, I hope.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Helping someone. Knowing that my girls are well. Having a laugh with my husband. Composing. Mozart. Chocolate.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Hamburg Steinway D… and my Maltese [dog], Louie.

What is your present state of mind?

Expectation. I am now on a flight back home, and will soon be hugging my 15 year old daughter, Isabella. I haven’t seen her in two weeks and I can’t wait to get off this plane!!

Gabriela Montero performs with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Carlos Miguel Prieto on 7th (Poole), 8th (Portsmouth) and 10th (Brighton) March. Further information here


Born in Venezuela, Gabriela Montero gave her first public performance at the age of five. At age eight, she made her concerto debut in her hometown of Caracas, which led to a scholarship from the government to study privately in the USA. She continued her studies under Hamish Milne at the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating with the highest honours. She currently resides in Barcelona, with her husband and two daughters.

Read full biography here

 

(Artist photo: Shelley_Mosman)