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

I don’t think I can give a definite answer but I remember an immediate fascination with the piano though it wasn’t really something I seriously pursued until the age of about 11. Having said this, I don’t think one really chooses to pursue music but, rather, that it is a calling.

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

I suppose, repertoire-wise, Marc-André Hamelin was the biggest influence – his recordings really opened the door to me as to what there was off the beaten track. Opera has also been quite important to me in recent years. Aside from these more obvious things, art and literature (contemporaneous to whichever music I’m studying) are generally of huge importance when it comes to cultivating an understanding of the music.

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

I think most musicians, if they’re honest, will answer that earning a living is up there. In connection to this is the aspect of striking a healthy balance between teaching and playing together with whatever else we have to do.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

There are some tracks I’m very proud of. I think all CD recordings I’ve made I’m proud of in different ways but, for me, I also think it’s more a sense of what each CD represents; what was going on in my life at the time and the memories connected with learning the works.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

At the moment I am especially drawn to the nineteenth century. I feel I have a particular flare for operatic fantasies but if you had told me that ten years ago I would have laughed in utter disbelief!

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

At the moment, it tends to revolve around what I’m doing recording-wise but not exclusively so. There are also certain things I imagine I would like to play at certain times of the year – not quite sure why that is but the seasons do influence this.

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

I can’t say I do though there are places I enjoy playing and I do sometimes programme works specifically for the space and instrument if I feel it might be particularly gratifying.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Marc-André Hamelin, Myra Hess, Georges Cziffra, Raymond Lewenthal, Maria Callas and Richard Bonynge to mention but a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably giving the Hellenic première of the Liszt Hexaméron in Athens, 2012.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Earning a living – the rest is an added bonus.

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

I think a sense of what our purpose is. It’s something so obvious it’s overlooked. The world will always need music – it comforts, enlightens and, above all, unites us. Sharing it I regard as a solemn duty and one of grave importance in these fractured and distorted times.


Mark Viner is recognized as one of the most exciting British concert pianists of his generation and is becoming increasingly well known for his bold championing of unfamiliar pianistic terrain. He studied at the Purcell School of Music and the Royal College where his principal teachers included Tessa Nicholson and Niel Immelman. Having won first prize at the C.V. Alkan – P. J. G. Zimmerman International Piano Competition in Athens in 2012, his international engagements have flourished, he has been broadcast on German Radio and been invited to the Oxford Lieder Festival, Cheltenham Music Festival, ProPiano Hamburg and Husum Rarities of Piano Music in Germany. Last year he was invited to play for the Prince of Wales’s visit to his hometown of Oxford. Due to his close association with unjustly neglected areas of the piano literature, he was recently elected Chairman of the Alkan Society.

His recent recording of Aklan’s 12 Études in the major keys Op. 35 was praised for ‘turning Alkan’s forbidding torrents of notes into real music’.

Conductor, recording  producer and Artistic Director of the Hertfordshire Festival of Music Tom Hammond interviews Stephen Hough CBE, who this year is the Festival’s Principal Artist and Featured Living Composer – plus a cycle of his oil paintings will be on display at Hertford Theatre during the duration of the Festival (June 10-16).

Stephen, have you ever done an interview about your paintings that hasn’t referenced music, or the piano?
No I haven’t. In fact I’ve very rarely spoken about my painting, in speech or in print.
Do you remember a day when you put paint onto a canvas for the first time, and thought “Now, I’m a painter”?
I haven’t really thought in those terms. My painting is something very private, partly because it’s the most sensual thing I do artistically. Playing the piano is sounds in the air, writing music or words is marks on a page, but painting is dirty, physical, earthy – and tangible/present. I can look at what I’ve done and show it to someone. It exists. And it can be destroyed … gone for ever.
Can you describe your processes? What sort of paints, canvases, brush techniques, textures, etc.?
I’ve used mainly acrylics in the past but recently I’ve fallen in love with domestic gloss paint. Its liquidity and the vibrancy of the colours. I like to mix other things in with the paint – grit, sand, shredded paper etc. I use a palette knife mostly but also brushes. And fingers, but with surgical gloves!
When a painting is framed and/or hung, do you step back and think ‘finished’, or do you look at a canvas later and think ‘wish I’d done something slightly differently’?
I think with abstract art in particular it’s never finished. That’s one of its fascinations. It’s an improvisation like jazz. When is a riff or a solo finished?
Will you be nervous about people’s reaction to seeing one of your paintings?
The first time was hard – like taking off my clothes in front of strangers! And any time when someone else is in a position of judgement it is an emotional risk …
 
Is the process of painting cathartic, or stressful?
Mainly cathartic, though not relaxing. I get very excited and energized when I paint.
You’ve probably collected more air miles than Phileas Fogg; do you take paintings with you when you’re working in, Asia, Australia, South America…..?
In the past I tried doing small pieces in hotel rooms. But it’s pretty frustrating, and now I’m painting bigger works it’s impossible.
What was the last painting or other purely visual art that you saw that spiritually moved you, and can you explain why?
I loved the recent show at Tate Britain – All Too Human. I’m moved spiritually by the fragility of human life portrayed in art, not by angels and altarpieces. Christ in glory doesn’t move me; Christ as everyman suffering does.
In one hundred years time, would you like to be remembered for your paintings?
I honestly can’t think about that. But the indestructibility of paint perhaps means that when CDs are faded the globs on canvas which have avoided the landfill might still be hanging in there somewhere.

Stephen Hough will be in residence and involved in four events on June 10 and 11 at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music. Book online, by telephone or in person. Full details here
Image: ‘Dappled Things’ by Stephen Hough

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No. 6 in F major Op. 10 No. 2

7 Bagatelles Op. 33

Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major Op. 81a ‘Les Adieux’

Llŷr Williams, piano

Wigmore Hall, 4th April, 1pm

Fans of Beethoven’s piano music are in for a rich treat with Llŷr Williams’ new 12-disc box set Beethoven Unbound, released on the Signum label to mark the completion of Williams’ Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD). All the works were recorded live at Wigmore Hall over three years and nine recitals. What is especially rewarding about this set is that it contains not only the 32 Piano Sonatas but also the Diabelli, Eroica and c minor Variations (WoO 80), two sets of Bagatelles Opp 33 and 126, and shorter works such as the Andante Favori and Für Elise.

Llyr Williams must credit Benjamin Ealovega handout ...

I had the pleasure of hearing Llŷr Williams live for the first time (rather cross with myself for missing his earlier Beethoven concerts at Wigmore Hall!) at a special lunchtime concert to launch the recording. The three works in the programme offered a striking snapshot of Beethoven’s creative life over the course of nearly 20 years, demonstrating the revolutionary forward pull of his artistic vision – a slow movement in an early sonata (Op 10/2) which foreshadowed the spaciousness and lyricism of Schubert – and his debt to the classical tradition (traces of Haydn in finales and the Bagatelles). Williams’ has a rather unique stage presence which some may find off-putting: he makes little witty gestural “asides” to the audience, often at the end of a section or movement, as if to say “well, there you have it!”. I found this rather agreeable: at times it felt as if Williams was communicating directly with me alone and it created a rather charming and sometimes cheeky intimacy: one felt as if one was very much party to the humour. And there was wit and humour aplenty in the F major Sonata Op 10, No. 2 – a first movement of bright contrasts was followed by a slow movement of almost Schubertian intensity, rounded off by a galloping finale. In the rarely-heard Op 33 Bagatelles, Williams revealed Beethoven’s symphonic and ensemble writing in these piano miniatures, with clear voicings (wonderfully bright brass fanfares in the first Bagatelle and deep, resonant ‘cellos in a later one) and orchestral textures, while always alert to the pianistic nature of Beethoven’s writing: Williams’ clarity and attention to detail was impressive, especially his articulation and use of the pedal. The Sonata in E flat, Op 81a, ‘Les Adieux’, had just the right amount of emotion and heartfelt expression without becoming sentimental, and the “reunion” of the finale was memorably joyful.

As Williams’ said at the reception after his concert, while others choose to focus solely on the 32 Piano Sonatas (in itself a monumental undertaking), this recording steps outside of that traditional presentation, and the works on the individual discs in his Beethoven Unbound set are arranged not chronologically but like mini recital programmes, reflecting the way Williams presented the music in concert.

Recommended – and at £45 (that’s just £3.75 per disc) it’s very good value.

Beethoven Unbound (Signum Classics)

Meet the Artist – Llyr Williams


(photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

iain-burnside-web-2017

 

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

There was a wonderful piano teacher in Glasgow called Lilian Grindrod. I remember as a 5 year old watching my cousin Beth play and thinking, that looks like a lot of fun, I want to try that. My Grandpa was an organist and choral conductor and he put air under my wings at every stage of my childhood. My school was academically strong but ruthlessly anti-musical. I’m the only professional pianist I know who was never asked to play in a school concert. So all the music came through my family, where it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

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

When I was at Oxford, I nervously got on the London train for some lessons with Alexander Kelly. He opened my eyes to connecting emotionally with music in general, and the piano in particular. He was very generous and very funny, and lessons passed in a blur of excitement.

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

Challenges change shape as careers develop. We all have demons perched on our shoulders, and the enduring challenge is to block out their noise. When I was starting out I jumped in at short notice to play for Margaret Price in Vienna. It was a hard programme with lots of songs i’d never played. No-one had pointed out that audience would be sitting on stage with me, close enough to touch. And that it was being broadcast live. I opened the music and thought, this would not be a good time to mess up.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Recording is such a bittersweet experience. I mostly hate hearing my recordings, and see only things I don’t like. Occasionally there’s a track where you might think, hmm, that was ok, but mostly my (very Scottish) reaction is to question, did I get away with it? Being what the Americans call a collaborative pianist, it usually gives me more pleasure to listen to my collaborators.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

There is a particular circle of Performers’ Hell reserved for anyone who answers that seriously! I do identify more strongly with particular areas of repertoire, and I also have a few composer allergies. But those composers come up in programmes and it’s part of my job to be convincing with them too.

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

That’s a jigsaw: some programmes I choose, others land in my lap. I adore programming – it’s one of the great joys of this profession. But the choices other people make are often more interesting, and lead to musical discoveries.

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

I love the Crucible in Sheffield. Performing in the round with an audience raked above you is a transformative experience, particularly when that audience is warm and knowledgeable and welcoming. In a totally different way, the church at St Endellion in Cornwall is a place where magic happens, for reasons I’ve never fully understood.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I did a recital in Japan where every time I nodded for the page turner to turn, she slowly nodded back, transforming the gesture into a most elegant bow. Every time. I had to anticipate by half a line to keep the show on the road.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I’d love to come up with something highbrow and philosophical, but the honest truth is, getting by without major disaster. Actually enjoying the process is the Holy Grail.

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

Be true to the composer, and to yourself. In that order. Remember that a large part of talent is the capacity to change.

What is your present state of mind?

There’s not a pianist alive whose state of mind is anything other than “I Really Should Be Practising”.

The Ludlow English Song Weekend, for which Iain Burnside is Artistic Director, takes place between 6 and 8 April 2018. Further information here

 

Iain Burnside is a pianist who has appeared in recital with many of the world’s leading singers (“pretty much ideal” BBC Music Magazine). He is also an insightful programmer with an instinct for the telling juxtaposition. His recordings straddle an exuberantly eclectic repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Schubert to the cutting edge, as in the Gramophone Award-winning NMC Songbook. Recent recordings include the complete Rachmaninov songs (Delphian) with seven outstanding Russian artists (“the results are electrifying” Daily Telegraph). Burnside’s passion for English Song is reflected in acclaimed CDs of Britten, Finzi, Ireland, Butterworth and Vaughan Williams, many with baritone Roderick Williams.

Away from the piano Burnside is active as a writer and broadcaster. As presenter of BBC R3’s Voices he won a Sony Radio Award. For Guildhall School of Music & Drama Burnside has devised a number of singular theatre pieces. A Soldier and a Maker, based on the life of Ivor Gurney, was performed at the Barbican Centre and the Cheltenham Festival, and later broadcast by BBC R3 on Armistice Day. His new project Swansong has been premiered at the Kilkenny Festival and will play in Milton Court in November.

Future highlights include performances of the three Schubert songcycles with Roderick Williams at Wigmore Hall. A Delphian release of songs by Nikolai Medtner launches a major series of Russian Song in the 2018 Wigmore Hall season. Other forthcoming projects feature Ailish Tynan, Rosa Feola, Andrew Watts, Robin Tritschler and Benjamin Appl.

Iain Burnside is Artistic Director of the Ludlow English Song Weekend and Artistic Consultant to Grange Park Opera.

 

(Artist photo and biography courtesy of Askonas Holt)

217

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

Initially my grandmother who played, though not to a professional level, and taught me how to read music when I was about 5 years old. Also I think for a large part I have been motivated by my love of music and have always enjoyed the challenge that learning a new work brings. I remember as a teenager learning progressively more challenging pieces and there was a certain thrill in challenging myself. As I have got older it has been the desire to share the music that I love with as many people as possible, especially the music of Scriabin and less well-known composers. In addition, music is endlessly fascinating and you never really ‘master’ anything; each performance brings new challenges and the more you perform a work, the more you discover about it.

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

I have been lucky enough to study with a number of fantastic teachers, including: John York, Charles Owen, Martin Roscoe and Ronan o’Hora, and have of course learnt a great deal from all of them. I have always been excited by discovering composers and works which are not so well known – from the age of around 19 I found myself being drawn away from what might be considered the ‘core’ repertoire. This curiosity has led me to the performance of a lot of contemporary music, which is an area I am still very interested in. Most importantly it led to my ongoing obsession with the music of Scriabin, and particularly Scriabin’s late music. My desire to understand this music, and to comprehend how it came about has really shaped my career in the past 5 years, leading to 2 recordings and the completion of my Doctorate (which was based on the performance of Scriabin’s Sonata no. 6).

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

At times, simply keeping going. There are always periods where things are quiet, or perhaps teaching has momentarily taken over. During these times I have always tried to challenge myself with something new – this is partly why I decided to work towards a Doctorate, and partly what led me to crowdfund 2 recordings. The music profession is changing and you have to make your own opportunities, which can be tough at times, as well as daunting.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The two Scriabin discs I have recorded, which cover the complete ‘late’ piano music. Both records were organised by myself: everything from the crowdfunding, to the CD design. This is not easy music to record and the second disc (completed in January) was recorded in 18 hours over two days, which was very taxing, but completely exhilarating. The resulting recordings I have now heard and am quietly very proud of.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That’s difficult to say, but the works I enjoy performing best would certainly include the late music of Scriabin, Ravel and Debussy, Brahms and Schumann, as well as quite a lot of contemporary music – in particularly James Macmillan’s piano sonata and Thomas Adès’ ‘Traced Overhead’.

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

It’s important to play to your strengths, as well as to perform only works that you enjoy playing (where possible). I like varied programmes, particularly as I often include quite a lot of more unusual repertoire, so it’s nice to break this up with something more familiar.

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

I love the new Milton Court hall [near the Barbican]; it has a wonderful acoustic. I have also been very lucky to be able to participate in the ‘En Blanc et Noir’ festival in the south of France for a number of years now. Their concert venue is open air, in the main square of a little village called Lagrasse, under the covered medieval market. Despite the odd gust of wind, this is a really magical setting, especially when the sun is setting.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have become a very big fan of Stephen Hough’s playing, for me it encapsulates what I love about live performance; it is at once extremely exciting and passionate, and completely controlled. Having studied a lot of Scriabin, I have got to know the recordings of Norwegian pianist Hakon Austbo, and these have been a real inspiration to me throughout my preparation. I have been lucky enough to play to Hakon a couple of times and have always been struck by the reverence with which he treats the music, as well as his musical imagination. Finally I would have to add Martin Roscoe, who I studied with at Guildhall. He is one of the most exciting and versatile musicians I have ever met and I will never forget his performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata at Guildhall: it remains for me one of the most memorable concert experiences of all time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I have performed a couple of recitals of Scriabin by candlelight, which were both very special occasions. The first was in the monks’ dining room in an old monastery in France – it had a wonderful vaulted ceiling and was a perfect setting for the music. The second was in the Asylum chapel in Peckham, which was to launch my first Scriabin disc – it was extraordinarily cold, but no one seemed to care as the venue and music were so perfect together. It was this performance that convinced me that some works are simply better suited to certain locations – Scriabin in the concert hall works fine, but in the ruined chapel of the Asylum, it took on new dimensions.

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

The musical world changes and to survive you must be in touch with how this is happening. For instance Facebook is now arguably one of the most important methods of publicity, and artists must be able to engage with this form of promotion and communication. In addition, you have to make things happen for yourself, and cannot expect opportunities to be handed to you. This means being willing to put yourself on the line, as well as being forthcoming – not something I find easy. Constantly finding new and innovative ways of presenting yourself seems to be the way forward. I would also add that it is very important to know your strengths and play to them.

What is your present state of mind?

Determined.

James Kreiling has performed in most of the major London concert halls, as well as throughout Europe. His interest in contemporary and new music has led to performances in the Royal Albert and Barbican Halls – most notably in the summer of 2007 he performed solo in the BBC Proms’ composer portrait of David Matthews. In 2008 James was selected as one of the Park Lane Group’s young artists and this resulted in a solo recital in 2009 at the Purcell Room to great critical acclaim, as well as recitals in St Martin in the Fields and in the Little Missenden Festival. In addition James has broadcast regularly for BBC radio 3, including performances of the music of Jonathan Harvey, David Matthews and Peter Eotvos. Together with his wife Janneke Brits, James is a member of the Brits-Kreiling piano duo. They have performed together regularly since 2009 and have been regulars at the En Blanc et Noir piano festival in Lagrasse, France. They have performed in many of the major venues in London, and broadcast for BBC radio. They are both teaching assistants at Music at Albignac, a summer course based in the south of France run by pianist and French music specialist Paul Roberts. One of James’ biggest passions is the music of Alexander Scriabin and he is currently working towards a performance-based research doctorate at the Guildhall school of music, which is focused on the analysis and performance of Scriabin’s late piano sonatas. He gives regular lecture-recitals on Scriabin’s piano music and as part of the celebrations for Scriabin’s centenary in 2015, he will be making his first commercial recording in June of this year, which will centre around Scriabin’s late piano music.

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

When I was three years old, my Dad came back after work one evening with a tiny little electronic keyboard for me and a little book of tunes. This thing was so small – smaller than a harmonica, I remember. I think my Dad got it at the local petrol station where he had been collecting loyalty stamps and this was one of the rewards (no doubt along with some kind of tankard and a Castrol GTX baseball cap). Anyway, I remember the keyboard didn’t have black and white keys but just a series of black buttons with do re mi etc. printed below. I learned all the tunes in the book that first night and I really enjoyed it. I still remember the feel of this little gadget in my hands – I have a very strong memory for how things feel. Some time soon after that evening, my parents and I visited my grandparents’ antiques shop in the Cotswolds and there was a piano in the showroom. I somehow managed to work out the tunes I’d learned on my little keyboard on that piano and was playing away. My grandparents asked if I could pick out a tune from the radio and work it out on the piano and I seemed to be able to do this. My Mum decided I should definitely have piano lessons and so we got a piano and she learned too, to begin with. As far as I can recall, all though primary school I knew that I wanted to be a pianist and had already formed that identity for myself. I had about four weeks when I was ten when I thought I might like to be a stockbroker: I think that was because I’d seen some footage of traders doing all those fascinating hand signals on the trading floor and I thought it looked cool. I love hands, and hands doing interesting things. Other than that brief interlude I’ve always been hellbent on being a pianist. I was very lucky to have such supportive and encouraging parents. They were never pushy – they just did whatever was possible to give me the best opportunities they could and I’m deeply appreciative for all they did for me.

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

I’ve had loads of teachers over my life – way more than most people, for some reason. I don’t know why this is. I’ve had some really brilliant teachers. I’ve had a few truly terrible ones too, and, actually, I learned a tremendous amount from those awful ones in terms of what I don’t want to be, how I don’t want to play and how I don’t ever want to treat a student. Enough of the bad ones though – the good ones were oh-so-good and they made a big impact on me. My most influential teacher, with whom I studied through most of my teenage years, was Caroline McWalter. She taught me at the Junior Birmingham Conservatoire and was the best possible fit for me – always so encouraging, and I hear her all the time when I’m teaching my own students. Other big influences on me were Alexander Kelly, Darla Crispin, Martin Butler and Peter Feuchtwanger. I’m really thankful to have had some fantastic teachers – all of them very interesting people. I like interesting people……. sounds like a dumb thing to say, doesn’t it? When does anyone ever say “I don’t like interesting people”? But what I mean is that I needed people with real personality to respond to when I was a student. Personality is key.

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

Ten years ago I was at a really exciting point in my career. I’d left music college and was getting really good gigs at high profile venues and I had recording opportunities. Things were going very well but I was starting to lose my hearing. It was sporadic – my hearing would just go for several hours each day. At that same time I noticed many changes to my hands and feet. The joints would often look a purple colour and they would swell, become stiff and very painful. After many tests and much monitoring I was diagnosed with an aggressive type of rheumatoid arthritis that went on a rampage through my body. I was told by my doctor that there was a good chance I would be wheelchair-bound within four years. I was told to give up playing piano. This was devastating to me. Losing my career was the worst news I could have been given and losing my greatest joy, passion, my raison d’être was just awful. I was given a lot of serious medication to take (15 pills a day) and the news from my medical team was pretty gloomy. As my mobility decreased, some days finding it difficult to walk even a few steps, I entered a deep personal crisis. I was scared of my own body – scared to be in my body, scared of how my body was changing and scared of what my body would be like in the future. On getting the diagnosis I was sent on a course to learn about my “condition”. I was shown slides of terrible deformities and was told that this is what I’ve got to look forward to. Frankly, it was a form of torture. I can’t quite believe I had to go through five weeks of attending this impending doom/gloom fest and be told to give up hope. Their advice was basically to sit at home, take loads of drugs, don’t do much, and spend hours each evening with my arms strapped into splints. It was grim, grim, grim.

Then after a few pretty darned depressing years something suddenly changed in me and I thought “well, I’m not having this – this is not what I want for my life.” I connected with this little, tiny fire deep in me that fuelled me and gave me the confidence to change my life. It was around the same time that my father died and so big change of course was bound to occur. I understood that I had the power to heal myself. I started doing yoga (Iyengar originally but now I do kundalini yoga), I developed a wonderful meditation practice and I totally cleaned up my diet. Things started to improve and I became more and more positive and capable. I started playing piano again (I had still been teaching whilst I was ill) but I was extremely tense and found everything very difficult. I found my way to the late, great piano teacher Peter Feuchtwanger and he helped me find a very natural, easy technique and put me back on track. He also sparked my interest in Asian musics and philosophies. He really changed my life and I will be eternally grateful.

My body is my greatest teacher. I wouldn’t change a thing about what I’ve gone through. I’ve learned so much. I don’t believe that I had rheumatoid arthritis – I believe I was in a state of “dis- ease” and my body was telling me that I had to change certain aspects of my life. It was a case of soul-sickness physically manifested, lack of connectedness, and it needn’t have been medicalised. In order to transform and move into another phase of one’s life often one has to experience some pain and there is a form of “death” to go through…….. the cycles of life within one’s own life. I had some pretty dark times and I’m all the better for them. The journey from being terrified of my body to now being totally in love with it and with all that it does has been so remarkable and so valuable. These days I run, I take no medication whatsoever, I wear high heels (didn’t think I’d be able to do that again!), I play for hours and am really happy, really well and feel connected and ‘in the right place.’ The little fire I re-discovered in me several years ago is now big, beautiful, creative and passionately burning.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of my very first solo album which I’ve recently recorded. It’s called BHOOMA and is inspired by the Hindu goddess representing Mother Earth, she of infinite variety. It’s a collection centred around my own compositions alongside works from across Asia and America and is due for release in 2018. There are Indian textures and Persian rhythms and quite a lot of jazz. Although most of my career has been focused around contemporary classical music, in my heart I feel much greater affinity to jazz. I used to play a lot and am now steering myself back in that direction.

It’s difficult to categorise what I do these days so recently I’ve found myself opting for terms like “post-genre” and “polystylistic.” I don’t particularly like these descriptions but they can be useful.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Pretty obvious, I guess, but my own compositions are what I play best! I seem to be a good baroque player and I also gravitate to composers with rich, resonant soundworlds like Messiaen, Somei Satoh and my old teacher Peter Feuchtwanger. Huge generalisations about to come….. A lot of French stuff suits me. American too. Russian stuff doesn’t.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For some reason, my most memorable concert experiences are negative ones, but quite funny, some of them. For instance, I gave the opening concert of a new piano festival at a big venue in London a couple of years ago and only two people turned up. One of them was my best friend. Another time I was doing a gig at a venue, also in London, and arrived to discover that there was no middle C in the piano – caused me no end of bother having to move everything up and down an octave the whole bloody time. A few years ago in Manchester I was playing one of my very, very favourite pieces (Incarnation II by Somei Satoh) which is a hugely rich and resonant and intense work. I had built up so much sound in this small venue that it had really disturbed someone. She said to me afterwards that my playing made her feel physically sick. Charming, eh? She had to leave the room to puke.

I have also had many lovely memorable experiences too though. Having St. Paul’s Cathedral all to myself for a whole week of nightly concerts as musician-in-residence was rather marvellous. I’ve been lucky to have concerts in fabulous settings like French chateaus, candle-filled churches and once in an Italian cave. I love those wonderful concerts where you just hit the right flow and can hold everyone in a beautiful space together, in communion with sound.

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

1. Naturalness.

2. Personal authenticity.

3. You don’t have to be good at everything.

4. Don’t follow the crowd.

5. Take risks.

6. Don’t be an operative.

7. Make everything you do physically pleasurable.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Among my piano heroes are Bill Evans, Martha Argerich, Abdullah Ibrahim, Nina Simone, Rosalyn Tureck, Jeremy Denk, Nat King Cole…. there are more. Beyond the piano I love Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Handel, Monteverdi, Bach, Messiaen, Steve Reich, Shivkumar Sharma, Amjad Ali Khan, Toumani Diabaté, Elton John (childhood hero), Stevie Wonder, Scott Walker, Roxy Music, David Bowie. I could go on forever……

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

I see myself in ten years’ time living in France running a cross-cultural music exchange centre in a beautiful location where musicians from all over the world can come and meet and collaborate with other musicians from across the globe. I intend to have a recording studio there and I want a venue where I can run candlelit festivals of ineffably gorgeous music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The bright silence of transcendence. There is perfect happiness in meditation.

What is your most treasured possession

My beloved piano.

I also have a small nineteenth-century bronze shrine to the goddess Lakshmi that I’m exceedingly fond of. If there was a fire in my flat there’s no way I’d be able to save my grand piano, of course, but I would make sure I took my Lakshmi shrine and my box of family photographs with me as I ran from the burning building.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Playing piano, writing music, kundalini yoga, transcendental meditation, dancing, singing, eating, drinking, going on road trips, and having as much fun as possible.

What is your present state of mind?

Full of wonder.

 

www.helenanahitawilson.com