Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)
Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)

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

I owe everything really to Charlie and Ciss Hammond, who were our next-door neighbours when I was a toddler in Kent; they had an upright piano on which I used to fiddle around. Although I don’t come from a musical background it must have been apparent to my family that I was musically inclined very early on. I was too young to remember much about it, but my guess is that it was exactly the same instinct which makes us learn language as children. I was extremely fortunate that my first teacher, Dr Jennie Coleman currently of Dunedin, was beyond excellent and gave me a very solid foundation at a very early age.

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

Originally I had intended to be a violinist. At that time Yehudi Menuhin was it! I think the experience of having been a good string player has shaped my way with the piano.

Later on I hero-worshipped (and still do) Sviatoslav Richter and I am lucky enough to have been one of the few of my generation to have heard him live outside of Russia, an experience I shall never forget. No recordings represent what I heard on those evenings.

As I get older two figures return to my work over and over again; if I face a thorny technical problem or one of those little niggles where the head contradicts the heart I will ask, “what would Graham Fitch or Peter Feuchtwanger recommend?”. I believe the advice of these two men will always be a guiding light.

Being a pianist is less about playing the piano than it is about being a human being. The numerous extra-musical things which have made me who I am have also made me the artist I am. A musician can only express what they are and what they know.

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

I’m in my early forties and still a musician – that is challenge enough.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My complete Faure Nocturnes. I recorded it in tremendously difficult emotional conditions. My whole heart is in it and it is the recording I feel most accurately mirrors my inner being.

Although I move forward from past stuff quickly, I will always take pride in my Liszt and Erard project. The concert at the Wigmore was a definite high point in my career and I can still bear to listen to the CDs, which is unusual for me. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_wSsz-K8Cg)

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Schubert

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

I am a Gemini and my mind is always jumping from place to place, this has given me a very large repertoire so my choices are more often than not subject to passing whim.

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

Give me a piano that works and people who want to listen and I will play.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This changes by the hour though I always seem to return to Schubert and Liszt who I think of as artistic brothers. Last year I subjected my home village of Brenchley to the entire first book of the Frescobaldi Toccatas, which I was in love with at the time – the following week I performed Liszt. I have a hungry mind and like not only to know the music posterity calls great, but the music around it.

Mostly I listen to music other than piano. I love the Organ and wish I were clever enough to play it well. I listen to the Symphonic repertoire most and lately I have been much impressed by the Symphonies and Cantatas of Sergei Tanayev.

I listen to the Monteverdi Vespers every Christmas and I love them.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I favour different artists for different qualities. Some because they resonate with my nature, others because they challenge my nature. For example, I have long loved Ignaz Friedman, and there is something in his improvisatory streak that I recognise in myself. On the other hand, Daniel Barenboim, a pianist who couldn’t sound more different from me in many ways, fascinates me. The tone production is extraordinarily concentrated. I can’t get enough of his late Beethoven at the moment. I have worn out Stephen Hough’s CDs of the Saint-Saëns Concertos and I’ve lately very much enjoyed listening to Maria Joao Pires play Chopin with unusual depth. I just bought a splendid recording of Bart van Oort playing Field and Chopin Nocturnes on original pianos with highly original extemporisations. I could carry on…there are so many of us! But what is amazing is that we all have something totally different to say.

I can’t not mention Ingrid Haebler – hardly anyone I know has heard her Schubert Sonatas yet it is some of the most cultivated music making I have ever heard.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One in a London hotel where a leg fell off the piano.

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

Follow your own instincts at all times. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Know your audience – all of them – and always remember that music is a birthright not a luxury. Never forget that we are the luckiest people alive; our job is our hobby – however difficult a life in music gets, and at times it really, really does – never lose sight of how much you love your art.

 

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

In front of a piano

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Dvorak in the bath by candlelight…

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music, running

What is your present state of mind?

Contented

 

www.danielgrimwood.co.uk

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

I started learning the piano when I was five after hearing my older brother play (he started learning a couple of years before me). I remember just being very excited at the prospect of having lessons as I always loved the sound of the instrument and, having heard my brother play a little, I just couldn’t wait to make those sounds myself. Deciding to make the piano my career came rather late for me, though: I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, and the first time I ever saw a professional pianist play wasn’t until I was about 14! So I suppose I didn’t even realise it was a possible career until then. I think the real turning point was when I started having lessons with my second teacher Ian Jones. He used to lend me CDs every week and I’d listen to them obsessively. I grew up in the countryside and there weren’t many opportunities to hear live classical music, so my early knowledge of pianists came mainly from these recordings (Michelangeli’s Gaspard; Lazar Berman playing Rach 3; and Perahia playing Bach English Suites; and Aimard playing Ligeti Etudes to name a few). I think listening to these recordings was what made me decide to be a pianist.

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

As I mentioned above I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, but ever since I started studying at the University of York, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing musicians and people, and it’s very hard to single one thing, or person, out. I learnt with a local piano teacher until I was sixteen, and, while she did cover the basics, I had all sorts of problems by the time I met my second piano teacher, Ian Jones (now teaching at the RCM). I owe a lot to him: he helped me through a really difficult period in my development. I was really quite behind as a pianist for my age, but he was a real inspiration and very supportive, and helped me catch up quickly. But I think the single most important thing that has inspired my musical life has always been the people that I have studied with, worked with, and met throughout my life (and not just musicians!). Anyone who thinks that western art music is on the decline should go to any university music department, festival, concert venue, or music college and they’ll see that there is just so much musical activity happening in every single direction, and involving such intelligent, creative, and interesting people. I find that extremely inspiring.

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

Probably settling into music college once I got there! I had a real crisis once I arrived. It’s such an intense, competitive, and intimidating atmosphere, that I really struggled at first. It took me a long time to realise that you just have to focus on your own activities and ideas and that there’s not one right way of doing anything (even if your teachers say otherwise!). It’s so easy to get distracted by what other people are doing at a music college. Once I got used to all of that I had a great time.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve been pretty lucky in the last 5 years, having done so many interesting and challenging projects. One of my favourite performances has to be doing Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar, which was in 2011. It’s such an ecstatically joyous piece and so much fun to play that it’s a hard experience to beat! I’d love the chance to do it again someday……

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’ve always been fairly proud of my Debussy Images (particularly book II). And Brahms’ 1st Concerto. Turangalîla is up there too.

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

I never have total control over this, which I think is healthy. It’s great when you have to learn a piece you don’t know for a specific project and it ends up being a real discovery for you, and something you might not otherwise have come across. Obviously this does sometimes go the other way! The rest of the time I just try to programme the things I’m particularly interested in at that time. I also like to keep learning new repertoire each season. This makes things a little harder, but it’s so satisfying and you learn so much with every new piece you play that I try to include a new one per programme.

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

Wigmore Hall is a lovely place to play – beautiful acoustics and a wonderful instrument. I also love going back to where I studied for my undergraduate degree (University of York) – the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall there has such an intimate atmosphere. It is a little over-resonant, but for certain repertoire I haven’t yet found anywhere better. But every venue has its own pros and cons really, and you’d have to be unlucky not to find at least one piece in the programme that the venue really suits.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love Bartók at the moment. Any of the piano pieces or string quartets. Morton Feldman has been a recent obsession. I haven’t played anything big yet (but learning For John Cage very soon), so will have to get back to you on the joys of performing Feldman! Debussy has always been a favourite of mine to play. Recently, I’ve played a bit of Ives which was great to perform — really brash, eccentric, and full of life. Will certainly be doing more in the future. And I always love to hear or play anything by Cage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

It’s always the composers that interest me. John Cage is a real hero of mine – amazing ideas, amazing music, and such a positive influence on the 20th Century! Ives was a fascinating character – full of contradictions and astonishing to think that he was writing such experimental music so early in the 20th Century. Pianists I love are Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Cortot, Myra Hess and Maria Joao Pires.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Very hard to single one out. Probably seeing Anton Kuerti give a lecture-recital on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations several years ago at the Chethams Summer School. He knew the piece so intimately and played so wonderfully that all the usual performer/audience boundaries seemed to break down: it just felt like we were inside the music. I actually found it hard to move from my seat afterwards.

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

Do the things you believe in; don’t be distracted by others; constantly re-assess everything; and don’t give up!

What are you working on at the moment?

Chopin’s Barcarolle; five Scarlatti Sonatas; Luigi Nono’s Sofferte onde Serene for piano and tape; Mists by Xenakis; Sposalizio by Liszt; and Mantra by Stockhausen.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Walking and wild camping in the Scottish Highlands.

Joseph Houston performs at the Ryedale Festival on Friday 25th July. Further details and tickets here

Described by the Financial Times as a musician of ‘versatility and poise’, Joseph Houston is a London-based pianist specialising in Contemporary Music. He studied at the University of York and the Royal College of Music where he received a first-class honours degree in Music and an Mmus in Advanced Performance with distinction. While at the RCM he won the Frank Merrick Prize, the 2nd Prize in the Beethoven Piano Competition, the Emanuel Piano Trophy (North London Music Festival), and a place on the London Sinfonietta Academy 2010. His teachers have included Ian Jones, Ashley Wass, and Andrew Ball.

In his first year at the RCM Joseph was selected to perform British composer Michael Zev Gordon’s The Impermanence of Things for solo piano, electronics, and ensemble with the RCM’s New Perspectives Ensemble. Since then, he has performed at venues across the UK, including Steinway Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Weston Auditorium (University of Herts.), the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall (University of York), Kings Place, Cafe Oto, the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room and Wigmore Hall. Soon after graduating from the RCM, Joseph was invited to perform a piano duet version of Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with his teacher, Ashley Wass, resulting in a performance at the RCM’s Brahms festival and conference in 2011. He has also been in demand as a concerto soloist, performing such classic 19th and 20th century works as Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar (ondes Martenot), conducted by John Stringer; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Henley Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ian Brown; John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra with the RCM’s Variable Geometries Ensemble; Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with the De Havilland Philharmonic Orchestra; and the UK premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Ryedale Concerto for solo piano and orchestra at the 2013 Ryedale Festival. Also active as a chamber musician, Joseph is the principal pianist of the Octandre Ensemble, a collective dedicated to the promotion of young composers and rarely-performed Contemporary repertoire.

Full biography on Joseph’s website:

www.josephhouston.co.uk

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

One of my early piano teachers, Christopher Vale. He is one of those amazingly enthusiastic musicians and teachers who couldn’t fail to inspire anyone. His passion for music was contagious at a very crucial time in my life.

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

My conservatoire teachers: Richard Ormrod, Alexandre Léger, and Rolf Hind. And Nelly Ben-Or and Chris Cullen for an inspiring and timely introduction to both the Alexander Technique and to mindfulness. And I really appreciate the time I spent away studying in France.

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

The realisation that what I’ve decided to do with my life will be hard and likely not bring much certainty or security, but that somehow I have to do it regardless.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Messiaen Cantéyodjayâ, Bartók Out of Doors, Ives ‘Concord’ Sonata

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

I pick things that I like – that excite me – and that I want people to hear. And I play new works, which is exciting in itself as I don’t always know what I’m going to get.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Listen to: Bartók Piano Concerto no. 2. Watch: Globokar Corporel. Play: Reich Sextet.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Bartók, Ligeti, Kate Bush.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Feldman’s For Philip Guston (a four-and-a-half-hour-long trio) during which the venue’s heating stopped working (in February). Both musicians and (most) audience members powered through the cold to the end.

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

Keep at it – something is bound to happen.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Watching birds and doing a jigsaw.

Siwan Rhys is a Welsh pianist based in London. She currently holds the position of Artist Fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, specialising in contemporary piano music, and also teaches piano at City University, London. Recent concert engagements include performances of Stockhausen’s Kontakte and of Feldman’s four-hour work For Philip Guston

 

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

I was inspired by my much older cousin Geoffrey who was at the Royal College of Music in London playing the piano when he and his parents came to us for Christmas. We had a good upright piano at home.

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

Ruth Railton of the National Youth orchestra and teachers Dorothy Hesse and Maria Curcio.

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

The greatest challenges have been getting to the top venues in the world.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

A performance in Carnegie Hall New York, after which I was signed up by a big agent.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Beethoven, most of the Romantic composers and Debussy.

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

It depends whether I’m preparing for a recording and include that repertoire, and playing works which didn’t feature in the previous season. Also learning something new.

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

The Wigmore Hall since I played there when I was twelve and it was the most exciting place in the world to me then. I love the warm intimate atmosphere.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Beethoven Op. 2 no. 3, the ‘Appassionata’, Debussy’s Estampes and the Chopin 4th. Ballade. I love listening to Martha Argerich playing Gaspard de la Nuit.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Schnabel, Lipatti, Julius Katchen, Vlado Perlemuter Rubenstein and Argerich.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

First time in the Royal festival Hall with Tchaikovsky 1 and the RPO.

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

To play through repertoire to people prior to a performance, and a concerto with someone accompanying on another piano, and to feel absolutely prepared for a performance. Also to learn how to look good, to walk and bow, and not to be put off if things don’t go well. Go back to the drawing board and try your best to put things right.

What are you working on at the moment?

The Chopin B flat minor Sonata & the 4th Ballade and the Schumann and Gershwin concertos.

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

In 10 years’ time I would like to have gained greater recognition and have become a name synonymous with the top pianists in the world.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Either being on a horse or on a beach in the Bahamas.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cats and my grand piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Practising, and parties after concerts that have gone really well.

What is your present state of mind?

Optimistic.

Angela Brownridge performs Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F minor, Op 57 as part of the third St Barnabas Beethoven Piano Sonatas Festival, 17-18 May 2014. Full details here

Angela’s playing restores spontaneity, character, and beauty of sound to the platform… Hailed as a major star in classical music Angela Brownridge has been compared with such pianists as the legendary Solomon, Rachmaninov, Cherkassy, and Bolet. She began her life in an atmosphere of freedom and individualism virtually impossible to find today. Under the guidance of Maria Curcio, who had been a pupil of Schnabel for many years, she absorbed the ability to produce every nuance of the piano, and to present music flexibly and persuasively instead of concentrating on a single method of technique or continual displays of brilliance, learning to deal with the differing requirements of a varied range of composers which recalls Cortot in his prime. Indeed, by realising that many pianists of a bygone age played with far more individuality, magic, and inspiration than has become the fashion, she was able to develop her own unique personality. In an age which has become over-fascinated with mere technique, and which seeks the degree of ‘perfection’ offered by over-edited CDs, Angela’s playing restores spontaneity, character, and beauty of sound to the platform.

A child prodigy, equally talented in composition, extemporisation, and technically brilliant, Angela first performed in public at the age of seven, and a year later had several pieces published. By the age of ten she had given her first concerto performance, and in her early teens was appearing regularly as a recitalist and concerto performer throughout Great Britain and abroad. She later won a piano scholarship to Edinburgh University, and after graduating B. Mus. was awarded a further scholarship for a two-year period of study in Rome with Guido Agosti. As the winner of several competitions she was able to continue her studies with Maria Curcio in London, where she now lives. Since then Angela has appeared in all the major London concert halls, and has visited Eastern and Western Europe, the USA, Canada, and the Far East, as well as performing extensively in the UK. She has been a soloist with many leading orchestras and conductors, and Festival engagements include Bath, Edinburgh, Warwick, Newport Rhode Island, Bratislava, Brno, Hong Kong, and Maastricht.

Her recorded repertoire is very varied, including some first ever collections of the complete piano music of Barber and Gershwin. Her recordings have received worldwide critical acclaim, several being voted “Critics’ Choice” by Hi-Fi News. She has also appeared on BBC TV in programmes which have involved her in discussion about the music she has performed. She often gives lecture recitals and master classes, and maintains her love of improvisation which has led her on occasions into the world of jazz. In 2004 Angela recorded the complete piano works of Kenneth Leighton who was her professor in harmony, counterpoint, and composition at Edinburgh University where she was on a piano scholarship. Leighton, who died in 1988 has been described as “the most important British composer of piano music of the twentieth century”. The three CD set is available on the Delphian label: DCD 34301. (Source: Mary Kaptein Management)

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

I don’t think it was the piano specifically that attracted me as a child – I just always loved music and wanted to be involved in it in any way possible. I don’t come from a musical family, and my parents didn’t really know any classical music till I came along (I was brought up on Motown, Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Queen…), but they’re both creative people and incredibly supportive, and recognised that I had an absolute fascination for music of all sorts from a very young age. The first ‘classical’ record I remember my parents buying for me was of David Munrow playing Mediaeval and Renaissance wind instruments, which I became quite obsessed with. As a child, I took up the recorder, piano, cello and oboe, but what I really wanted to be more than anything else was a composer. I’m not quite sure how I ended up being a pianist – I don’t remember a conscious moment of decision, and always feel the instrument chose me rather than the other way round. As for making music my career, I just never considered doing anything else, though for a long time I hadn’t the faintest idea how a career actually worked.

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

My first piano teacher, Hilary Morrison, was a schoolteacher who lived round the corner – she’d never taught the piano before, but it’s only with hindsight that I realise what a brilliant start she gave me. I wish she was still alive so I could thank her properly. I was incredibly fortunate to study from the age of nine onwards with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who taught me pretty much everything I know about playing the piano, pushed me to achieve things I thought I couldn’t, and inspired me to work much harder than I ever would have done otherwise. I owe her so much, and my life would have been very different without her. Many of the principles of chamber music playing which I hold dear were instilled in me by the wise guidance of Michael Freyhan at Pro Corda when I was in my teens. He showed me how to really listen – to myself and to others. There are so many other wonderful people who have had a huge influence on me, from primary school music teachers to chamber music colleagues; I can’t list them all for fear of leaving someone out, but I hope they know who they are!

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

In the earlier stages of my career I had to fight hard to avoid being pigeon-holed: I played a lot of chamber music from a young age, because I’ve always loved it, and discovered at a certain point that once people see you in that box, they often assume you’re not really a ‘solo’ pianist, despite the fact that I’ve always had a busy schedule of concertos and solo recitals. Such assumptions strike me as very odd, because it seems only natural to me that a pianist exploring Beethoven (for example) should want to play his solo sonatas, duo sonatas, trios, concertos, songs and so on – everything feeds into everything else. I’ve always thrived off the variety and balance of repertoire, and I’d hate to close the door on any part of it. And I already feel that being a pianist is more of a specialism than I’d originally intended!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m not sure that pride is a feeling I particularly associate with, but sometimes there are wonderful, indefinable moments in certain performances (I wish they happened more often!) where everything comes together in a magical way and it feels like you’re flying, as if anything’s possible. I have so many reservations about the process of recording (not least that I miss the audience hugely when I’m in a studio), and I find it very difficult to listen to my own recordings, but I do feel a sense of achievement over my new recital disc, In Dance and Song, which contains a very personal selection of works and reflects some of my wide-ranging passions. Also, the one time I dared to listen to it, I quite enjoyed the disc of the Chausson Concert which I recorded two years ago with Jennifer Pike and the Doric Quartet – it’s a wonderful piece, full of soaring melodies (and a ridiculous number of notes for the pianist).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Not sure if I can answer that, but I’ve always adored melodies and vocal music, so I find pieces with a lyrical bent particularly gratifying to play.

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

Pianists are spoiled for choice when it comes to repertoire, and it would take so many lifetimes to explore all the great works – as time goes on, I realise more and more that it’s a waste of time for a pianist to play anything that doesn’t really grab them. I enjoy hugely (though it sometimes requires an exhausting amount of thought) coming up with interesting and (I hope) cohesive programmes. Often, however, the ones I’m most pleased with are then scuppered by promoters saying e.g., “[A much more famous pianist] is already playing most of those pieces in his recital this season” or “Can you include a barcarolle by Snosveldt to mark his 186th anniversary year?” or (and this is a genuine quote, from a much missed promoter in Ireland) “Fauré spells death at the box office”.

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

Among many others, I love the Holywell Room in Oxford, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, and the Wigmore Hall. Playing at the BBC Proms is always a huge thrill. The Spoleto Festival in Italy when Gian Carlo Menotti was around was unforgettable.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To play – far too many to list, but here are some which I find particularly enjoyable and/or rewarding to play: Beethoven concertos (including the Triple), Brahms piano quartets, Chopin solo works, Dvorak chamber music, Fauré (lots), Grieg miniatures, Mendelssohn chamber music, Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time, Mozart (all!), Rachmaninov concertos, Ravel (lots), Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, Schubert’s Trout Quintet, Schubert and Schumann Lieder, Richard Strauss’ early chamber music, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio. And – stretching back to my schooldays and early jobs in hotel bars – I’ve always loved playing Gershwin, Kern, Cole Porter and the Great American Songbook. To listen to – this changes a lot, but perhaps most consistently Bach, Mozart operas, Sondheim musicals, Ella Fitzgerald’s songbook recordings.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Along with the great composers whose music I play (of whom Mozart has perhaps brought me most joy of all) and the wonderful colleagues I have the pleasure of working with (not least my dear friends in the Aronowitz Ensemble), here is a very incomplete list featuring some musicians who have greatly inspired me in some way or other, which I’ve restricted to those I don’t know personally: Leonard Bernstein, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Emil Gilels, Fritz Kreisler, Dinu Lipatti, Radu Lupu, Joni Mitchell, Ginette Neveu, Luciano Pavarotti, Oscar Peterson, Lucia Popp, Nina Simone.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a listener – a concert in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge in 1999, part of John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage; most specifically the final aria of BWV 159, one of the most heart-stopping moments of my life so far. As a performer – I think I have a pretty good memory, so I remember most of my concert experiences, both good and bad, quite vividly. Two experiences which I will always associate with a wonderfully heady mixture of fear and immense joy both involved Robin Ticciati and the SCO – touring with the Ligeti Concerto in 2010 (the most fiendishly difficult piece I’ve ever played, but also utterly enthralling), and playing my first Brahms 2 at three days’ notice when Pierre-Laurent Aimard cancelled. (That wasn’t actually my most last-minute stand-in: I once got off a plane at 4.30pm and, when I turned on my phone, there was a message asking if I’d play the Grieg Concerto at 7.30pm that evening. The rehearsal had already taken place, but I jumped in a taxi and somehow got through the performance unscathed, and with a curious sense of liberation on stage!) I will always remember with huge fondness my appearance in the BBC Young Musician final back in 2000, under the starry ceiling of the Bridgewater Hall. It was a big, thrilling moment for a rather naïve boy who’d always felt something of an outsider and who’d never experienced anything remotely on that scale. It also opened a lot of doors. On a non-pianistic note – and perhaps reflecting my early desires to be an actor as well as a musician – I enormously enjoyed appearing as reciter in Walton’s Façade a few years back at Aberystwyth Musicfest (where I’ve also played the swanee whistle in drag).

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

First and foremost, that music is the most important thing, and if you love it so much that you can’t be without it, then immerse yourself and go for it – but try to be flexible and open-minded about your exact path. Avoid cynics and negative people – there are a lot of them around, such as the ones who like to hover after a concert and say helpful things like, “It’s a terrible struggle, the music business, isn’t it? Must be very difficult for you.” Of course there are tricky times, but no money in the world could persuade me to switch to another profession.

Regarding education, I personally think it’s important to remember there are valid alternatives to the music school/music college route. All my schooling took place in the comprehensive system, and my first degree was at university. It dismays me when people express surprise (which they really do) that some of us in the classical music profession hail from a regular state school background; I’m also immeasurably saddened that, if music in state schools continues to be eroded and marginalised by the government, before long there may not be many aspiring musicians to pass such advice to.

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

Doing pretty much what I am now. Though I’d like to have written a hit West End musical in the interim. And to have successfully campaigned (without it having taken up too much time) for the provision of free music education for all children, which would incidentally have enabled world peace.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To see an aardvark, moose, tapir or dugong in its natural habitat.

What is your present state of mind?

Sleepy.


Tom Poster is internationally recognised as a pianist of outstanding artistry and versatility, equally in demand as soloist and chamber musician across an unusually extensive repertoire. He has been described as “a marvel, [who] can play anything in any style” (The Herald), “an unparalleled sound-magician” (General-Anzeiger), a “young lion” (The Guardian), and as possessing “great authority and astounding virtuosity” (Est Républicain). He won First Prize at the Scottish International Piano Competition 2007, the Ensemble Prize at the Honens International Piano Competition 2009, and the keyboard sections of the Royal Over-Seas League and BBC Young Musician of the Year Competitions in 2000. 

Tom’s full biography and diary is available on his website: www.tomposter.co.uk

Interview date: 10th March 2014

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

I think the piano was its own inspiration.  We had no classical music in my home at all but an aunt had a piano and it was love at first vamp.  I picked out tunes on its yellow keys and wanted to take lessons.  it was a short step (over a long time) for that to become my career.

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

Definitely my main piano teacher Gordon Green.  Also Derrick Wyndham (both taught at the RNCM) then later Robert Mann (former 1st violinist of the Juilliard Quartet) with whom I played and recorded all the Beethoven sonatas in the 1980s.  I was 23 and had everything to learn; he was a great partner and, indirectly, a teacher.  I would also cite Alfred Cortot and many other pianists from the first decades of the 20th century whose playing I got to know well through recordings.  They were always and remain my favourites.

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

Just doing it – day after day.  Specifically the extreme contrast between being as tough as a old boot offstage (travel, hotels, paperwork etc. etc.) and as sensitive as a bejewelled ballet shoe when at the piano.  It requires a unique kind of schizophrenia!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ah tough to say!  The Hummel concerto record was the first one where I felt good in the studio, despite very little time.  We had less than six hours for each concerto, to rehearse from scratch (correcting parts along the way) and record.  it was seat of the pants but I still remember the exhilaration and excitement of playing those pieces and making the first complete recording of works which were absolutely central to the repertoire of Liszt, Chopin, Schumann etc.  Later Mompou was a joy to record and more recently my own 2nd piano sonata (on the CD ‘In the Night’).  Strange to record your own music!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I really can’t say.  But I do feel able to slip into different roles.  I feel as involved and connected playing Mozart and Beethoven as I do playing Chopin and Liszt as I do playing Schoenberg and Webern.

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

Some of it ties in with recording plans, sometimes there are anniversaries, or specific requests.  With concertos it depends a lot on the programming being done by the conductor and management of the orchestras.

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

Not really.  Many famous halls are famous because they’re great – main stage of Carnegie New York or Concertgebouw Amsterdam or Musikverein Vienna.  The Wigmore of course is special.  I also love Severance Hall in Cleveland … too many to name though.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Impossible to say!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Mainly those who died before I was born – Cortot, Rachmaninov, Friedman, Kreisler etc.  I’ve worked a lot with Steven Isserlis and he is one of my favourites, for personal as well as musical reasons.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my debut at the Hollywood Bowl when I raced over from Cheshire to replace Pogorelich at the last minute.  it was my first taste of the fast-lane, crazy side of having a career.  Paganini Rhapsody with Sir Charles Groves.

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

Study the score intensely then play as if you’re improvising.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think ‘success’ is one of the hardest words for a musician to define. There is no way to measure it externally; it passes and fades like life itself; it depends entirely on the subjective impressions of others; chasing it almost guarantees its lack. All I can say is that if music still thrills, charms, touches, moves, inspires us every day (and through us, other people too) then we are successful musicians.

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

Same place but deeper.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Surprised by happiness when not looking for it – and sharing it with someone else.

What is your most treasured possession?

My sanity.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Many things.  To choose one would be to squeeze it dry of magic.

What is your present state of mind?

Content yet tired and a little anxious – but grateful for life and health and food and friends.


Named by ‘The Economist’ as one of 20 Living Polymaths, British pianist Stephen Hough is a rare renaissance man of our time. Over the course of a long and distinguished career as one of the world’s leading concert pianists, he has also excelled as a writer and composer. Mr. Hough combines an exceptional facility and tonal palette with a uniquely inquisitive musical personality, and his musical achievements have resulted in many awards and accolades for his concerts and a discography of more than fifty recordings.

Stephen Hough was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List.

Stephen Hough’s full biography

www.stephenhough.com