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

I grew up in a strict religious household, so when an upright piano – a gift from a church member – arrived at our house it was just a large and welcome new toy to play with. My parents had somewhat draconian views on children’s entertainment; consequently we had no television and only really listened to classical music. There are of course pros as well as cons in this approach but…

Thus, at the age of four years old, I (apparently) began to pick out tunes with one finger and it was quickly decided I should have lessons. These were kindly donated at no charge by the church organist, one Marion Mills. Although I had many kind and patient teachers over the years, Peter Crozier at Pimlico Saturday school, Peter Jacobs at Latymer Upper School and lastly John Irving and Danielle Salomon at Sheffield University, what truly inspired me to take up a career in music was being allowed to arrange for and direct the band in school shows.

Our school Christmas spectaculars, essentially lavish pantomimes, really were worthy of the ‘spectacular’ tag, played out to a paying audience of several hundred in our large school hall, brilliantly converted into a theatre. To allow a 16-year-old to run a 20 piece band for the shows while he sat in the audience was quite a display of faith from our brilliant head of music – Shane Fletcher; so if I had to nominate one person as an inspiration it would be that light touch teaching that secured my fate!

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

I’ve already mentioned many of the teachers who mostly looked kindly on my endless desire to improvise and managed in spite of that to instil the rudiments of a proper musical education into me! Being raised with the perpetual backdrop of classical music gave me a sound knowledge of most of the repertoire but a seminal moment was when my parents finally yielded to my sister’s and my cajolings and bought a small portable black-and-white TV when I was thirteen. One of the first things I watched entranced, after my parents had gone to bed, was a late night BBC2 show with Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. I was literally open mouthed (and eared). I had never known a piano could make sounds like this, much less that somebody could forge a career playing music other than Chopin! I obsessively hunted down all the jazz I could find and along the way discovered the cabaret genius of musical comedians such as Dudley Moore and Victor Borge (who also showed me that it was possible to make people howl with laughter using classical references). I can’t miss out other names such as Richard Rodgers, Bill Evans, Art Tatum and Fats Waller and the wit of French impressionists such as Satie and Milhaud.

Lastly, although not directly musical influences, I must also mention two performers that I worked with for over a decade. A large part of being a cabaret artist is one’s ability to recount stories and give context to the music on stage, an area in which I was resoundingly absent of talent. A brilliant performer I accompanied for fifteen years was a singer called James Biddlecombe (Biddie). Described as the uncrowned king of the cabaret scene in London, he championed obscure old songs that nobody had heard of and to this day I have never witnessed an audience in such paroxysms of tearful mirth as he managed to regularly engender. Watching him and another act, larger than life magician Fay Presto, beloved of royals and celebrities, whom I also accompanied for many many years, I slowly and painfully learnt how to communicate on stage.

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

Being an improviser with a classical sensibility, I often find myself on the same programme as truly jaw-dropping international concert talent. Keeping one’s self together in such exalted company is a trick in itself. They are without exception always kind and express admiration for what I do but knowing just enough to know quite how brilliant they are really can be enough to freeze the blood in one’s veins. The first time I went on Radio 3 taking live requests to play anything in any composer’s style, I was literally shaking. Recounting this to a friend afterwards he asked innocently “Why were you so worried? There’s only one man and his dog listening to Radio 3 at any given time.” Patiently I had to explain to him “Yes, but even the dog has a doctorate in ethno-musicology”.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I have recorded two albums – ‘In the wrong key’ and ‘All the way through’ – both of which I regard reasonably proudly, but my output will never be judged by recordings. My proudest moments are getting on a really good roll in an improvised Bach invention or during something very silly like Postman Pat in the style of Rachmaninov, hearing the audience reaction change from laughter to engagement as you fuse low and high art and for a few glorious seconds it comes off and becomes an entity of its own. Audiences always know those rare and special moments when you channel something perfectly in a composer’s style for a brief moment. You don’t have to explain it.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

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

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

If I may take the liberty of combining these four questions… To explain: these questions fall into a different category for myself compared to a classical performer. Performances with Alexander Armstrong where I was musical director and arranger linger fondly in the memory, particularly one at the Palladium. Also an end of year review playing solo cabaret to a packed Birmingham Symphony Hall for Raymond Gubbay was a wonderful experience. My favourite performance and venue are probably one and the same – a charity gala at the Royal Albert Hall for SOS villages, an organisation working against the spread of AIDS in Africa. That venue is a seminal one for me – redolent with so many memories from my introductions to the Proms with my parents. The fact that they were sat in the front row whilst I took the host’s Aled Jones request to play Kylie Minogue ‘I should be so lucky’ in the style of Wagner (only request I can remember) and the consequent laughter echoing around the Albert Hall is something I shall never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Ultimately, music is all about communicating emotion. There are many different ways of doing this – interpreting the works of geniuses who have gone before in a respectful yet original way and profoundly moving all those that hear it is of course the most prevalent. However, I feel there is a space to play with all those references that audiences know so well and juxtapose them in a comical fashion. Although this is light entertainment, most of the time people sense when the fun is borne of a true love of the music and in amongst the laughter and silliness there is beauty too. So my definition of success is simply to bring joy to as many people as possible.

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

To show young students that improvisation is not a modern phenomenon or something to be scared of. It should absolutely be taught alongside all other musical knowledge – the principles therein are as old as the hills; Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were all serial improvisers. It is my life’s mission to get some aspect of improvising onto the national curriculum as I passionately believe it improves listening skills, time, arranging and composing and the relation with one’s instrument!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It’s a toss up between one of these three (if you can have a three sided coin…!)

1. Walking around the Borghese gallery in Rome.

2. Watching James Anderson destroy an Australian batting lineup at Lord’s.

3. Tucking into a particularly juicy Times cryptic crossword with Eugenie Onegin on in the background.

Harry’s extraordinary talent and breathtaking creativity have earned him a reputation as one of the most gifted improvising pianists in the world. Celebrities and critics alike have lined up to shower him with praise often smacking of astonishment. No other musician can spontaneously reinvent Michael Jackson in the style of Mozart, recreate a night at the Groucho club through the TV themes of its actor members, and improvise a seamless medley of audience requests ranging from James Bond to Shostakovich via West Side Story.

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Pianist Emmanual Vass was one of the first interviewees in the Meet the Artist series, back in 2012. Now, 8 years on, to coincide with the release of his third album, Manny has updated his interview to reflect on his influences and inspirations, and his career path to date and beyond…

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

All my life, I wanted to connect with people, and be creative. As mentioned in my first interview 8 years ago, I started playing piano by complete chance, and it has always been my outlet and my joy. Pursuing a musical career made complete sense; it still does now, aged 31!

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

Picking myself up, and getting back on my horse after having been knocked off yet again. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much rejection, “no” answers, and unsuccessful attempts I’d face as an artist. It’s definitely easier as I get older, thankfully. Perspective is important.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My third album, “The Naked Pianist” released 19th June 2020 is by far my best recording to date. I’m really proud of it because I sound the best I have ever sounded, and the mix of pieces are very well suited to me: you’ve got the big guns from composers such as Chopin and Rachmaninov; popular classics by Beethoven and Debussy, and I’ve also included 3 of my original compositions which I’m sure listeners will love.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Bach and Debussy, but for opposing reasons! Funnily, I’ve just seen that I answered Bach 8 years ago, too. I’m clearly obsessed with him.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I’ve become fascinated by cosmology and astronomy; it’s absolutely mind-boggling! There are at least 50 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, the Milky Way, then at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable Universe! Here we are, little old earth, with intelligent, sentient life that wants to create and express. Utterly inspirational!

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

“What do I want to play, and what might audiences like to hear from me?”

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

No – as per my original answer 8 years ago: anywhere with a half-decent piano.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

In 6 words: continue spreading the joy and love.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I love watching amateur concerts; they really inspire me. The word “amateur” comes from the verb “to love”, and it’s always a joy to watch other human beings be creative purely for the love of the music and the instrument.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To feel happy and fulfilled.

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

I say this regularly as part of my role as a lecturer: being a 21st Century musician is incredibly different and contrasting to past generations of musicians. We no longer live in the, “Beethoven sonata + tailcoat = money”, or the, “Orchestral excerpts + audition = job for life” age. Arguably, we never really did!

Did I ever imagine myself doing two UK reality TV shows as part of my career? No. Did I think I’d own a record label, from which I am to self-release my 3rd album? Certainly not. Did I ever envisage discussions with talent executives about some potential TV/radio presenting opportunities? Never. But alas, welcome to life as a 21st Century musician! I tell you what though, I’m happy, thriving, and thoroughly enjoying my life. I can’t ask for much more!

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

This is a particularly poignant question for me right now! I’m 31, and incredibly happy with where I am in life overall. I’ve recently appeared in two huge reality TV shows here in the UK: Britain’s Got Talent and First Dates Hotel both aired in May 2020. There’s a bigger picture/purpose for me doing these shows.

All I’ll say is dear Emmanuel Vass, aged 41, I hope it’s all worked out in the end, dude! And if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end, is it…?!

Emmanuel Vass’ third album The Naked Pianist is released on 19 June.

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A Yorkshire lad who has performed for the Prince of Monaco; crowdfunded a #1 album, broadcast on ClassicFM, BBC World Service, and BBC Radio 3, and featured extensively across 30 countries. He became a senior lecturer at just 28 years old…

Named as ‘one to watch’ by The Independent newspaper, ‘rising star’ by BBC Music magazine, and ‘unsigned artist of the month’ by Yamaha, thirty year old Emmanuel Vass has established himself as, ‘one of the most charismatic pianists on the contemporary scene’, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Following a successful crowd funding campaign which ended at 165%, Manny self-released his 2nd album, Sonic Waves, an album of water themed classical music, and his own arrangements of traditional, British sea shanties. Following broadcasts on ClassicFM, BBC Radio 3, and BBC World Service, the album reached #1 in the UK specialist classical charts; spent a month within the top 10, and featured across national print media in Attitude magazine, and Cheshire Life magazine.

His first CD, From Bach to Bond, and Sonic Waves CDs and tour titles reflect both Manny’s eclectic taste in music and his versatility as a pianist. He is as at ease with the challenges of Bach as with the demanding pianistic technique required for his own arrangements – in the manner of Liszt – of the James Bond theme, traditional sea shanties, and Bohemian Rhapsody.

This supreme versatility is also revealed in the calibre and variety of his recent engagements. Manny’s busy performance diary has included The Bridgewater Hall (Manchester); Edinburgh Fringe, Sheffield Cathedral, the Welcome to Asia festival, Castle Howard, and Hexham Abbey, as well as at the prestigious London venues Steinway Hall, Queen’s Theatre West End, Kensington Palace Gardens, 1901 Arts Club Waterloo, St Lawrence Jewry, and St James’s Piccadilly.

He has performed for Lord Levy and the Russian ambassador in the Golden Room in Kensington Palace Gardens, for the Filipino ambassador at St. Sepulchre’s Church London, and for the French ambassador at The Lowry Theatre in Salford. At the Variety Club Jubilee Ball he played for the Prince and Princess of Monaco on the same programme as international artists The Manfreds, the boy band Blake, and Lulu.

Manny is a qualified, award-winning educator. He was a senior lecturer at Leeds College of Music in music business; marketing, and e-commerce. Here, he was nominated for “most innovative”, and “best feedback” awards, and won “most inspirational” in 2017.

Emmanuel now lectures at both the University of Liverpool, and BIMM Manchester. He frequently gives guest lectures and talks across the UK and internationally; most recently at Music and Drama Expo 2017 (London), the BSME Arts conference (Dubai), Reeperbahn Hamburg, and the Norwegian Academy of Music (Oslo).

Emmanuel Vass was born in Manila, Philippines and grew up in East Yorkshire. Having passed Grade 8 piano with distinction at the age of 15, he subsequently studied with Robert Markham at Yorkshire Young Musicians, a centre for the advanced training for gifted young musicians. This was followed by four years at the Royal Northern College of Music, where Manny studied with John Gough, and was supported by scholarships from the Leverhulme Scholarship Trust and the Sir John Manduell Scholarship Trust. He graduated in 2011

Wigmore Hall/BBC Radio 3 Special Broadcast series

JS Bach, arr. Busoni Chaconne from Partita No 2 in D minor for solo violin, BWV 1004 Schumann Fantasie in C, Op 17

Charles‐François Gounod – Meditation sur le 1er prelude de Bach (encore)

Stephen Hough, piano

Monday 1 June 2020

I admit I welled up as Stephen Hough played the opening measures of the Bach D minor Chaconne, transcribed for piano by Ferruccio Busoni. Yes, that opening has a spine-tingling authority, but the spontaneous tears were less for the music and more the effect of having beloved Wigmore Hall filled with music again – if not filled with an audience. Along with many other people, musicians and music lovers, I miss live music so much: I feel painfully bereft and in order to deal with this emptiness, I have avoided, until now, the many livestream performances and other music making which is going on online all the time now.

This was the first of a much-heralded and eagerly anticipated series of live concerts from Wigmore Hall, made possible by a collaboration with Radio 3, the hall and a generous benefactor. Why is this so significant, so tear-jerkingly meaningful? Because in the third week of March 2020, Wigmore Hall, along with the rest of London’s cultural life, closed its doors in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. My last visit to WH was at the very end of February to hear, with a good friend, Jonathan Biss scorching his way through Beethoven, a concert which had an edge-of-the seat electricity and immediacy, and left us speechless. I didn’t know then that this would be my last visit to beloved Wigmore Hall for many months; I don’t know when I will be back there.

But, as Stephen Hough said in a conversation with Petroc Trelawny on Radio 3’s Breakfast show, the fact that live music has returned to WH, albeit bereft of an audience but for the Radio 3 presenter and hall director John Gilhooly, is a glimmer of hope, a sign that things may be making tiny, tentative steps to return to normal (I refuse to use phrases like “the new normal”!). Later, in an interview on Channel 4 News, Stephen said that not since the 16th century had we been “starved of” live music in this way; the concert halls remained open and the music played on even during wartime.


The programme was, of course, exemplary in both its selection and execution. One can guarantee that Stephen Hough will always perform music which is so much more than notes on the page. Ferruccio Busoni was a regular performer at the Wigmore, then Bechstein Hall, in its early years, and indeed played at the hall’s inaugural concert. His transcription of the extraordinary Chaconne is a romantic tour de force, for both instrument and player, a fantasy of sorts, while remaining faithful to Bach’s original conception. Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C, Op 17, is also a tour de force, of the myriad facets of love, originally conceived as a deep lament for his beloved Clara during a period of enforcement separation.

This music is profoundly moving at the best of times, and now, in what for the music industry is the worst of times, it had a special resonance, emotionally charged, brave yet never showy, authoritative and thoughtful and, in the Schumann, both extrovert and virtuosic and passionately tender. Inspiring, uplifting and painfully wonderful, there was Stephen Hough on stage, immaculate in his usual concert attire, playing beautifully to an empty hall.

As he said in his Channel 4 interview, the audience are a crucial part of the concert experience for the performer. Not only does a hall full of people have a different acoustic, but a living, breathing – and, yes, coughing – audience creates “a very active involvement in the music, and I think a performer senses this, the energy…and that quietness, when people are listening and attentive, and you feel an electricity there that you cannot replicate” (Stephen Hough).

An empty hall has a different kind of quietness, and in that strange solitude Busoni’s architecture seemed all the more monumental, while Schumann’s inner struggles had a greater poignancy.

Apparently, some 2000 people tuned in for the livestream performance, which was notable for the high quality of both sound and filming (for piano nerds like me, close ups of the pianist’s hands were a real treat – you just don’t get that close as an audience member). As a friend of mine, like me a regular at Wigmore Hall, remarked on Twitter:

Of course this makes us ache for performance with an audience again; but it’s also brought home to me that this is the only way some people can *ever* see/hear a Wigmore Hall concert. That so many of us are ‘together’ remotely for this adds something inexpressible to the stream. @Adrian_Specs

There was, via the social networks, indeed a shared experience. Not the same shared experience as one enjoys at a concert with friends, but nonetheless a very palpable togetherness. I knew I was listening with several of my regular concert companions, albeit remotely, and this brought a feeling of solidarity too. Because we will be back at Wigmore Hall. We will once again sink into its plush red velvet seats, open the programme to peruse the evening’s offering, enjoy conversation and wine during the interval, and experience the incomparable thrill of live music.

In the meantime, BBC Radio 3’s Special Broadcast series continues at Wigmore Hall every day until 19 June. Full details here

Watch Stephen Hough’s concert here





What inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music?

In an odd way, music itself. I was eleven, still at primary school, when I wanted to explore some extra-curricular interests, something to call my own, and I was drawn to the piano in the corner of the assembly hall that one of the teachers used to play to lead us in songs. In addition, a couple of my close friends took piano lessons, so it felt like a natural course for me to take. I asked my mum if I could start piano lessons at school, but she reluctantly said no, having just been made redundant from her job as a result of the financial crisis.

I decided to get creative, so I drew a keyboard onto some pieces of paper, and I began to follow music theory lessons online; I started cross-referencing the sounds of notes, scales, and chords with the visual patterns on my paper, until I could begin to her those sounds in my head, when I could then pick out some easy pieces. I found the internet was an invaluable resource when it came to understanding how music worked, but it was also my first introduction to classical music. I didn’t come from a musical family at all, and the only classical music I heard was the odd offering from an advert, so when I discovered such a vast selection of music, across Bach, Debussy, and Rachmaninov to name some of my favourites at the time, I resolved then to play those pieces myself; I’m proud that I’ve ticked off a few, but I’m still working my way through the list!

I worked like this on my own for six months, until my mum managed to raise enough money from friends to pay for my first piano lessons at school. I would pass my Grade 1 exam with Distinction after only four hours of tuition, practising at home still on my paper keyboard; the excitement of performing, even if only to the examiner, encouraged me never to look back. I have tried to retain that childlike curiosity and delight as I continue to work through my repertoire now.

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

I came quite late to the piano, so there was a lot of catching up I needed to do if I were to realise my ambitions of a career in performance. I spent the much of my teens scrambling for opportunities to practise on real pianos. I would wake up at 5:30 in the morning to ensure I got to school by 7am, when the gates opened, as the Head of Music there allowed me to practise on the school’s grand piano whenever it was not in use. I would fit in about an hour and a half’s worth of practice in the morning, followed by the total time of another hour of my mid-morning break and lunch, and another long stretch after school, normally until the caretaker kicked me out. I would get home for dinner, but I would rarely get to sleep before 1am, due to work I had to do for both my school commitments and mental practice… and added to all this, I was continually bullied by my father, who refused to support my musical efforts. I don’t think I’ve been pushed quite so physically or mentally since the three years I followed that daily routine.

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

I have had a news article about Lucas Debargue on my wall for several years, whose story renews my spirits when things get tough. I am grateful for the encouragement and advice of my piano teachers, particularly Soojin Kim, who encouraged me as I first turned my attention towards a career in music, and Charles Owen, my current piano teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who inspires me every week. I must also thank the Head of Music at my secondary school, Johanna Martin, and William Fong and Mary-Kate Gill at the Purcell School, for all their guidance and support. I am forever thankful, though, for my mum, whose love and belief in me has helped me every step of the way.

Which performance are you most proud of?

I was awarded the opportunity in my second and final year at the Purcell School to perform at the Milton Court Concert Hall at Guildhall, where I performed Berg’s Sonata Op 1. I relished the musical, mental, and emotional challenges of such an incredible piece — I had to learn to look at music in very different ways — and it felt like a culmination of everything I achieved there. I’ve enjoyed more performances of the work since, and I think back to that concert every time I play it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I doubt I’ll ever figure that one out, but I’m happy to spend my life trying.

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

I always look for something that will push me towards greater playing; after all, what is a musician without the curiosity to learn? I like to include a mix of repertoire favourites with less familiar works, which I hope leaves the audience with two interesting experiences: hearing the classics in new and different contexts, and discovering music within the wider history of the musical catalogue. I like to incorporate a single unifying thread into my recital programmes too, although I don’t always share exactly what that is!

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

Milton Court, St John’s Smith Square, and the Fazioli Concert Hall in Italy are among my favourites — have you tried those pianos?! I’ve had some really lovely experiences at several other venues, however, simply because the people there were so caring and welcoming, which makes all the difference as the nerves begin to set in.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Aaaah, there are far too many! I’ll have to mention Alfred Brendel, Martha Argerich, Robert Levin, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Claudio Abbado, Mariss Jansons, Dame Janet Baker, Diana Damrau… I’m afraid this list could go on quite a bit longer!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was once asked to play a short recital as part of an outdoor arts festival. I took to the stage, and as I sat down to play Bach, a young boy at the front shouted “Beethoven!”, so I played Beethoven for him instead. I ended up taking requests from the audience for the whole recital as they shouted out the names of different composers after each piece. I never got to play any Bach, but I did get a taste of the ‘rock star’ life, or at least as close as I can expect to get!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

As a human, to be happy. As a musician, to be human.

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

Listen, in every sense; I can’t begin to explain how important that is.

I’ve found you can’t just wait to be inspired, rather you need to find inspiration from within, and that comes from the love of music; if you find new ways to love music, you’ll find new ways to be inspired.

Finally, another item from my bedroom wall:

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well…”

— Johann Sebastian Bach

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

If all goes well, at the piano.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Yamaha b1 SG2.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited. Inspired. Happy.

Andrew Garrido began learning the piano at the age of eleven, in 2010; lacking funds to afford lessons or an instrument, he drew a keyboard onto paper and learnt from YouTube for six months before his first piano lesson. He began study with Danielle Salamon upon his entrance to the prestigious Purcell School only five years later in September 2015, where he was awarded the Senior Piano Prize and Senior Academic Music Prize in 2017; Andrew obtained a Licentiate Diploma from Trinity College London (LTCL) that August.

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Andrew Garrido also hosts a podcast series Scores and More



(Photo Paul Cochrane)

JS Bach – Chaconne from Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV.1004 arr. Busoni for piano
Busoni – Berceuse élégiaque (Elegy No.7), Op.42
Chopin – Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.35 (Marche funèbre)
Stephen Hough – Sonata No.4 (Vida breve)
Liszt – Funérailles from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S.173; Mephisto Waltz No.4 (unfinished); Mephisto Waltz No.1

Stephen Hough, piano

Tuesday 19 November 2019, Tuner Sims, University of Southampton

My first visit to Turner Sims concert hall at the University of Southampton, and a treat of an evening in the company of British pianist Stephen Hough playing music by Bach arr. Busoni, Busoni, Chopin and Liszt.

This was a typical Hough programme, thoughtfully conceived and superbly presented, deadly serious, for the theme of the concert was death – pieces inspired by or identified with death, including Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 with its famous Marche Funèbre, and Liszt’s Funerailles, written in the same month as Chopin died and at the time of the violent Hungarian revolution of 1849.


Superlatives quickly become redudant when describing a pianist of Hough’s calibre, whose wide-ranging intellectual acuity always informs his programmes and his playing; therefore this is not a review, rather some reflections on what I thought was a most absorbing programme, especially the first half. In addition to the thematic asssociations between the pieces, there were musical connections too: the dark rumbling bass octaves in the Bach/Busoni Chaconne were reiterated in Chopin’s Marche funèbre – a plangent left hand accompaniment which, in the reprise of the famous theme dominated, with a dark tolling grandeur. And this figure was later heard again in the opening of Liszt’s Funerailles. Likewise, the haunting, unsettling soundworld of Busoni’s Berceuse (more a mourning song than a lullaby) was reflected in the finale of the Chopin Sonata, a curious, hushed fleeting stream of consciousness, and then in the wayward uncertain harmonic language of Liszt’s ‘Bagatelle without tonality’.

The Bach/Busoni Chaconne was a magnificent, emphatic opener for this concert, and Hough gave it a multi-layered, orchestral monumentalism. The Berceuse was a remarkably contrasting work, interior, intimate, mysterious and disquieting, and by segueing straight into the Chopin Sonata, Hough infused this work with a similarly discomforting atmosphere. With agitated tempi the Sonata moved forward with an anxious intensity but Hough lingered over the more lyrical Nocturne-like moments in the opening movement and the Scherzo. Like the Chaconne, the funeral march was magisterial rather than simply funereal and the tender, dreamy middle section lent an other-worldliness to the music’s atmosphere before the tolling bass and mournful theme returned.

Hough’s own piano sonata No. 4 ‘Vida Breve’ opened the second half of the concert, an abstract work constructed of five tiny motivic cells (including a quotation from the French chanson En Avril à Paris, made famous by Charles Trenet) lasting a mere 10 minutes, a comment on the transient, fleeting nature of life, its passions and turmoil. The concert closed with three pieces by Liszt – Funerailles, whose meaning is obvious, and two Mephisto Waltzes, devilish in their whirling virtuosity and frenetic, tumbling notes.

Stephen Hough plays the same programme at the Royal Festival Hall in March 2020. Details here


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

I remember being drawn to the piano as a very young child. I had a French aunt who was a superb pianist. When she came to visit and sat to play at the old Bechstein grand that we had at home, a kind of magic descended on the household. I naturally enjoyed starting lessons at the age of seven. It was only quite late in my life that my mother confessed to me that she had listened to gramophone records incessantly while she was pregnant with me, with the express intention of producing a musical child (my older brothers had not shown great interest in music…). I was a bit taken aback to think that I had been brainwashed in the womb, but, on reflection, I am quite grateful!

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

I could make a long list of people who have been important in shaping my musical life, amongst whom would be many composers and colleagues, not least my fellow players in the Schubert Ensemble (which has remained unchanged for 22 years). But three teachers stand out above all others. My greatest debt of gratitude goes to Rosemary Hammond, a local schoolteacher and choir director, who took me under her wing when I was eleven years old and floundering at an unmusical boarding school. She was no great performer, but had an infectious love of music and was an inspirational teacher. She introduced me to playing on clavichord and fortepiano as well as modern piano, taught me to compose and encouraged me with astonishing warmth and generosity. In my twenties I was lucky enough to study with Vlado Perlemuter, whose honest and unmannered musicality is still an inspiration to me, and also with Peter Feuchtwanger, a maverick and unorthodox teacher who taught me to open my eyes and ears in unexpected ways and gave me the courage to shape my career by following my enthusiasms.

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

It may sound simplistic to say this, but the biggest challenges of my career have been developing that career in the first place and then sustaining it. I can honestly say that I have loved my professional life, but for years it involved a huge amount of hard work and uncertainty about the future, together with the constant battle of trying to juggle travelling and working at unsociable hours with bringing up a family. These pressures are common to many freelance professions, but we pianists inhabit a world overcrowded with dazzling talent and I can’t think of a single moment over the years when I have felt I could take my career for granted. The musical challenges (of which there have been many!) have felt easy by comparison.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Without any hesitation, I would hold up my recording of Pavel Zemek Novák’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, which came out on Champs Hill Records in 2011. It is a monumental work lasting around 75 minutes, which was written for me over a 17-year period from 1989 to 2006. I found the pieces incredibly difficult to play (and to read – they were written in manuscript and almost every page was covered in dozens of corrections!) and the recording took a huge amount of preparation. It was a labour of love, but massively rewarding. The Preludes and Fugues comprise some of the most important and original piano music that I have ever played. Pavel is not hugely well known outside the Czech Republic, but I am convinced that his music will become better and better known. Of the 45 or so CD recordings that I have made over the years, I think this is the one most likely to outlive me.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I am probably the last person who should try to judge what I play best, but I feel especially at home playing Schubert, Chopin, Fauré and Janáček, and if I had to single out one work of each composer, they would be the Wanderer: Fantasie, the First Ballade, the Sixth Nocturne and In the Mists.

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

I like to introduce new works into my repertoire each season and to return to works I have not played for a while. Recording plans and new commissions also affect the make-up of programmes, and large-scale projects too at times. At the moment my programmes are built around love songs for solo piano, both romantic pieces and a large collection of newly commissioned works.

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

I tend to judge venues as much by the pianos they offer as well as their acoustic. The Wigmore Hall ticks all boxes for me. While I love performing in its acoustic, it also has one of the best-maintained Steinways in the country. Next year will be the fortieth anniversary of my first concert there, so I can add familiarity and decades of happy memories to its attractions! Competing with the Wigmore is the medieval Great Hall at Dartington, which is a beautiful space to perform in, and is also full of memories for me. I heard many of the most memorable concerts of my life there as a student at the Summer School in the late 60s and 70s and it always gives me a huge thrill to be playing there myself.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It would be too difficult to choose my favourite pieces to perform – they tend anyway to be what I am working on at any given time. Naming my favourite pieces to listen to is easier. They would be Mozart’s G minor String Quintet and Janáček’s Second String Quartet.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have too many favourite musicians in the present who I could list – composers, instrumentalists and fellow pianists who are friends and many others who I admire from afar – so I will stick to those from the past who I heard play live and whose recordings I still love to listen to Artur Rubinstein, Vlado Perlemuter, Shura Cherkassy, and Rudolf Serkin.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Nearly 20 years ago the Schubert Ensemble launched a project called Chamber Music 2000, in which we commissioned several dozen new chamber works for young pianists and string players. We put on over twenty public concerts in venues all over the UK, including the Wigmore Hall and South Bank Centre, in which young musicians, mainly teenagers, performed whole concerts of works by living composers. These concerts had a wonderful spirit of engagement and adventure and were some of the most memorable I have attended as a listener.

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

It is the privilege of older musicians to specialise (if they want to!), but I think for younger and aspiring musicians a broad experience of music is essential. It is important to hear lots of live performances and to study as wide a repertoire as possible, and, very particularly, repertoire beyond that written for your own instrument. And I firmly believe that working with living composers can teach us an enormous amount about how to approach interpreting music from the past.

What is your present state of mind?

I feel very positive about life at the moment! I am enjoying playing the piano more than ever right now and I have a number of projects on the go that I am finding fascinating and challenging.

William Howard is established as one of Britain’s leading pianists, enjoying a career that has taken him to over 40 different countries. His performing life consists of solo recitals, concerto performances, guest appearances with chamber ensembles and instrumentalists, and regular touring with the Schubert Ensemble of London, Britain’s leading group for piano and strings and winners of the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Best Chamber Ensemble. He can be heard on around 40 CDs, released by Chandos, Hyperion, ASV, NMC, Collins Classics, Black Box, Champs Hill, Nimbus and Orchid Classics.

His solo career has taken him to many of Britain’s most important festivals, including Bath, Brighton and Cheltenham, and he has been artist in residence at several others. He has performed many times in the Wigmore Hall and the South Bank in London and has broadcast regularly for BBC Radio 3. For many years he has been invited to perform and teach at the Dartington International Summer School. His recording of Dvořák Piano Works was selected in the Gramophone Critics’ Choice, and his recording of Fibich’s ‘Moods, Impressions and Souvenirs’ won a Diapason D’Or award in France.

Recent solo engagements have included a performance at the 2015 Bermuda Festival, the premiere of David Matthews’s Four Portraits at the Spitalfields Festival in London and performances at the Cheltenham, Deal, Leamington, Petworth and Paxton Festivals, at Kings Place in London, in Brno (Czech Republic), Italy and Oregon, USA. In 2011 he made a recording of Pavel Zemek Novák’s extraordinary 75-minute cycle of 24 Preludes and Fugues. A double five-star review in the BBC Music Magazine described the performance as “superb” and the music “a real discovery”. His most recent album, Sixteen Love Songs, released in June 2016 on Orchid Classics was selected as ‘Drive Discovery of the Week’ on Classic FM.

He is passionate about 19th century piano repertoire, especially Schubert, Chopin, Schumann and Fauré. He also has a strong interest in Czech piano music, and has been particularly acclaimed for his performance of Janáček, for which he received a medal from the Czech Minister of Culture in 1986. Many leading composers of the present day have written for him, including, Sally Beamish, Petr Eben, Piers Hellawell, David Matthews, Pavel Novák, Anthony Powers, Howard Skempton and Judith Weir. In 2016 he launched a project to commission sixteen love songs for solo piano from leading composers in the UK and abroad, including Elena Kats-Chernin, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry and Judith Weir. He also set up an international composing competition for writing piano love songs that attracted over 500 entries from 61 countries.