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

I remember sitting in a school assembly at the age of five, hearing schoolmates perform little piano pieces, and thinking to myself quite definitely, as other children of that age surely do in their inimitable fashion: ‘I want to do that too’! It used to bother me that this initial self-generated impulse to play music was ‘sociological’ rather than ‘musical’, motivated more by the situation and ritual of musical performance than by its content. But much later I realised that what I love doing is to commune and communicate with people through the beautiful world of sound and sound structures. Thus the original ‘sociological’ motivation makes very good sense to me.

The point at which I decided to attempt a professional career in music did not come until the age of eighteen. This resolve came to me a few days after arriving at university to start a degree in Natural Sciences. As I had combined various interests for years throughout my school life, this more serious commitment to music didn’t need to divert me from my scientific studies. In fact, I found the university environment to be ideal in terms of the opportunities it offered for making music with others, broadening my study skills, and meeting colleagues with a wide range of interests. Perhaps not studying music for my degree helped avoid some potentially constraining burdens of expectation.

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

I was fortunate to have an outstanding music teacher at primary school. She brimmed with enthusiasm and energy, quickly making music a favourite topic for me. She taught me the piano until I was ten, and as I recall, more than ‘just’ the piano – there was basic theory too right from the start. Her talents extended to composing dramatic works for children – I remember taking part in one, aged eight, as an auxiliary percussionist among a small group of professional freelancers, on one occasion playing a mark tree in an inappropriate improvised manner and far too loudly.

As I became more serious about the piano, several pianists became a great source of inspiration and support, each in their own way. Alexander Kelly, Piers Lane, Irina Zaritskaya, and lastly Maria Curcio, all oversaw and supported my pianistic development. But that development was also brought on by wider musical experience. I played the clarinet, french horn, and composed enthusiastically. At the Junior Royal Academy of Music I joined a piano quartet that rehearsed and performed together for a period of four years. During the summer holidays I would often find myself at semi-staged opera performances and observing voice masterclasses. I can’t unpick what was most important and why, at least not yet.

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

Without doubt it is juggling the demands of performance with those of teaching and of family life. In addition, as someone who is curious about new, neglected, and forgotten works as well as ‘mainstream’ classical repertoire, I need to spend a lot of time learning pieces, and this can be more exhausting than the travel and performance schedule itself. Last year I was preparing Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and at the same time practising the first two books of Ligeti’s Piano Études – I should probably avoid allowing those two worlds to collide again in order to preserve my sanity.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

With regard to recordings, I don’t know how to answer as I rarely listen to my recordings once they have been released. Perhaps I should, but I am inevitably more concerned with the journey ahead, asking myself how can I improve my performances and deepen my interpretative insights rather than patting myself on the back. This isn’t to say that I don’t take pride in my work, especially if I feel a concert performance or recording session has gone well, but anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t indulge myself.

One performance does come to mind: some years ago I decided to accept an engagement to play Saint-Saens Fifth Concerto at three weeks’ notice. I hadn’t played a note of the work before, but rightly calculated that it was possible to learn and memorise this piece in time. I worked very methodically to ensure I did so. The concert went very well and the performance was released as an unedited live recording.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I don’t know the answer – that’s up to my listeners to decide, and I trust them. I have to trust them as much as they trust me.

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

There is no set formula, and I must admit that I am reluctant to make decisions very far ahead. My guiding principles are firstly that I have to be passionate about and deeply involved with the music I am to play, so that I can share it with others effectively; secondly, I like to construct programmes that can feel like a kind of journey, even though they often traverse a huge range of music written over at least two centuries.

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

I am fortunate to perform in some beautiful halls with very good acoustics, but I love the way that each venue (even a dry speech theatre, as occasionally happens) creates a particular set of challenges that demand engagement from performers and listeners alike. For me the moment of communication and the content of the music are much more important than the venue, even though a comfortable venue helps performers and listeners alike.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are several: Krystian Zimerman at the Royal Festival Hall performing Ravel’s Valse Nobles et Sentimentales, Chopin’s Ballade no 4 and the Sonata in B flat minor incomparably; Yo-Yo Ma playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the Houston Symphony; Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony at the Barbican; Simon Rattle and the Rotterdam Philharmonic performing Parsifal at the Proms (yes, I stood up for the entire opera, and didn’t feel even a slight ache); Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting a small ensemble in Franco Donatoni’s Hot.

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

Live your life to the full and never stop searching. You can never know enough, be experienced enough, ‘finish the work’, or be truly satisfied! This is potentially frustrating but also liberating because the process leading up to each performance is what becomes important and enriching. Aspiring musicians should gain the widest possible musical experience, get to know and engage with other art forms, read widely…. You never know where an idea or an inspiration might be lurking, and behind every seemingly simple answer lies a multitude of questions.

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

Doing what I do now, hopefully quite a lot better.

 

British pianist Danny Driver trained with Alexander Kelly and Piers Lane whilst studying at Cambridge University, with Irina Zaritskaya at the Royal College of Music in London, and completed his studies privately with Maria Curcio. As a student he won numerous awards including the Royal Over-Seas League Keyboard Competition and the title of BBC Radio 2 Young Musician of the Year.

Read Danny Driver’s full biography

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

I picked out tunes on our piano at home, then my grandfather showed me how to play showtunes by ear on his Hammond organ. My first professional jobs were as a church organist (including an inspiring year at Lincoln Cathedral), a jazz pianist in bars all over the Midlands, and a one-man backing-group for a Patsy Cline tribute act! I came to accompanying when singers at university started asked me to play for them in their recitals. I immediately loved the experience of playing in a duo and was fascinated the idea that it is possible to ‘play words’ as well as notes. I’m still fascinated by it now…

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

David Whittle (a music teacher at school), John Streets and Malcolm Martineau could hardly be more different, but were inspirational and incredibly generous teachers. I’ve also been influenced and inspired by many of the singers and musicians I’ve worked with. One of the first was Anthony Rolfe Johnson, whose straight-from-the-heart singing I will never forget.

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

The biggest challenge for a piano accompanist is also the most interesting part of the job: to reinvent constantly the way you play pieces you know well and have played many times to reflect new ideas brought to the table by different partners.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m excited about two I’ve just finished making, both of which will come out early next year. I’ve always loved his music of Percy Grainger and was thrilled when Claire Booth asked me to collaborate on a disc of his folksong arrangements. I also really enjoyed unearthing the little-known songs of Donald Swann (of Flanders and Swann fame, but also a ‘serious’ composer) for a recording with Felicity Lott, Kathryn Rudge, John Mark Ainsley and Roderick Williams.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I find that very hard to answer and will have to leave it for others to judge!

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

A lot depends on what I’m invited to do by the singers and instrumentalists I work with – and it’s nice to be surprised. My own projects are often motivated by an interest in finding new ways to present old music, such as a recent venture to present the Schubert song cycles in new English translations by Jeremy Sams.

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

I love the Wigmore Hall for its unique atmosphere and audience. There is a special excitement to playing in Carnegie Hall, but I also love the modesty and intimacy of the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. I also really enjoy the wonderfully varied venues of the

Ryedale Festival that I’ve got to know so well – from Castle Howard to remote country churches.

Favourite pieces to listen to?

I love early English music, especially Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons and Purcell. Anything and everything by Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Schubert. Operas by Verdi and Janacek, string quartets by Bartok and Shostakovich, piano music by Chopin, Liszt, Mussorgsky, Debussy, Fauré and Ravel. Orchestral music by Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Bruckner, Mahler and anything recorded by Harry Christophers’ choir The Sixteen. Favourite albums by Leonard Cohen, Edith Piaf, The Smiths and Joni Mitchell. I also love musicals, my new favourite being Tim Minchin’s amazing Groundhog Day.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My musical heroes include Sviatoslav Richter, Alfred Cortot, Martha Argerich, Gerald Moore, Clara Haskil, Benjamin Brittten, Andras Schiff, Daniil Trifonov, Bernard Haitink, Trevor Pinnock, Jacqueline du Pre, Peter Schreier, Janet Baker, Maria Callas and Victoria de los Angeles.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The experience of taking part in the Passion project with Streetwise Opera and The Sixteen was unforgettable. We staged Bach’s St Matthew Passion with professionals performing alongside people with experience of homelessness – the results were moving and inspiring.

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

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’. Learn how to read a score and acquire the technique you need. Then feel like you are improvising. Tell stories and paint pictures in music. Distrust anyone who thinks they have all the answers. Stay curious.

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

Still playing – and able to say I’ve done something to bring classical music to a wider audience. Also to have written my book and a hit musical (some way to go on both those last two!)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The sort that appears when you least expect it and aren’t looking for it.

What is your most treasured possession?

A first edition of Schubert’s Schwanengesang.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Spending time with my children and those closest to me. A pint in a good pub with a friend.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited, as I’m deep in planning for my festival – the Ryedale Festival – next year.

 

Christopher Glynn is a Grammy award-winning pianist and accompanist, working with leading singers, instrumentalists and ensembles in concerts, broadcasts and recordings throughout the world. He is also Artistic Director of the Ryedale Festival, programming around 60 events each year in the many beautiful and historic venues of Ryedale, North Yorkshire.

Described by The Times as having ‘beauties and insights aplenty’ and praised in Gramophone for his ‘breathtaking sensitivity’, Chris has performed with singers including Sir Thomas Allen, John Mark Ainsley, Sophie Bevan, Claire Booth, Susan Bullock, Allan Clayton, Lucy Crowe, Sophie Daneman, Bernarda Fink, Michael George, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Christiane Karg, Jonas Kaufmann, Andrew Kennedy, Yvonne Kenny, Dame Felicity Lott, Christopher Maltman, Mark Padmore, Joan Rodgers, Kate Royal, Kathryn Rudge, Toby Spence, Bryn Terfel, Sir John Tomlinson, Robin Tritschler, Ailish Tynan, Roderick Williams, Catherine Wyn Rogers, Elizabeth Watts and many others.

He has also performed with instrumentalists including Julian Bliss, Andrej Bielow, Adrian Brendel, Michael Collins, Nicholas Daniel, David Garrett, Tine Thing Helseth, Daniel Hope and Steven Isserlis; with ensembles including the Elias, Heath, Fitzwilliam and Szymanowski Quartets, London Winds, Britten Sinfonia and Scottish Chamber Orchestra; and with choirs including The Sixteen.

Chris was born in Leicester and read music an organ scholar at New College, Oxford, before studying piano with John Streets in France and Malcolm Martineau at the Royal Academy of Music. His many awards include a Grammy, the accompaniment prize in the 2001 Kathleen Ferrier competition, the 2003 Gerald Moore award and the 2002 Geoffrey Parsons award.

Since making his debut at Wigmore Hall in 2001, Chris has performed in major concert venues and festivals throughout Europe and North America, and toured to Japan, China, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Russia and Canada. He has made over 20 recordings on labels including Hyperion, Decca, Erato, DG, Coro and Signum. He has also made many studio recordings and live broadcasts for BBC Radio 3.

Chris enjoys working with young musicians and is a Professor at the Royal College of Music, an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, a coach for the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera House, and a course leader for the Samling Foundation. He has been an adjudicator for many international competitions.

Recent highlights include recording the piano soundtrack for the forthcoming film ‘Altamira’ (starring Antonio Banderas), the world premiere of a newly-discovered work by Mendelssohn on BBC Radio 4, performances at the BBC Proms, collaborations with the Richard Alston Dance Company and Rufus Wainwright, rediscovering the ‘serious’ songs of Donald Swann for a forthcoming CD, and ‘The Passion’ with The Sixteen and Streetwise Opera.

Future plans include a series of concerts entitled ‘Songbooks’ that he will curate for Wigmore Hall, Winterreise with Mark Padmore at the Endellion Festival, and a forthcoming CD of Grainger songs and piano pieces with Claire Booth. Chris will also join Toby Spence, Roderick Williams and Sir John Tomlinson for the first performances of new English translations he has commissioned from Jeremy Sams of Schubert’s song cycles.

 
(interview date: November 2016)

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

I played all kinds of instruments when I was young, but the piano is like a universe. You can use it to compose and to perform – it represents so many different styles of music from early French keyboard music and Bach, to Beethoven and John Cage, jazz and blues. I’ve always loved the piano, and loved listening to other pianists.
I’m devoted to practicing and studying music, mainly. It’s the physical and intellectual stamina it requires that I still find so exciting; I really enjoy talking a pencil and marking the score, and spending hours with a work. It’s allowed me to travel all over the world, which I never expected, as a performer. I love teaching, and collaborating with other artists and composers.

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

My mother had me when she was young, and I was her first piano student. She was very imaginative in her musical tastes: together we played Bach, Mozart, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Beatles songs, and gospel music. Being taken on by YCAT (Young Concert Artist Trust) in my twenties was a fantastic apprenticeship; I built up a big repertoire, and learnt to communicate with audiences.

David Sigall was also undoubtedly a major influence. He was my manager until he retired last year. He taught me to see the long game, and encouraged me to be a curator and artistic director. He seemed totally unfazed by anything I got up to, whether it was starting a record label, conducting or collaborating with world musicians.

I’ve also been heavily influenced by jazz musicians; the way they collaborate, make things happen, hang out together, and support each other’s gigs.

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

I’ve always loved playing at the BBC Proms – my first one was nearly thirty years ago! And broadcasting live is tough – you have to be on top of everything.
My most treasured memory is working with Pierre Boulez, twice; first on a European tour with the Philharmonia and later with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was witty, warm, elegant, gossipy and just a gorgeous musician to be with, both on and offstage.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Impossible to say, as they’re all flawed to my ears, of course. But for different reasons, Messiaen’s Vingt Regards; Deep River with the saxophonist Andy Sheppard, which explored music of the Deep South; and my most recent recording, the complete Chopin Mazurkas.

Very early on in my career I recorded Charles Ives’ First Sonata, an absolute epic, at Snape Maltings. I still love his music very deeply.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I seem to gravitate towards intense miniatures – Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys, Chopin Mazurkas – or huge cycles – Messiaen, Beethoven, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. I like architecture; on the other hand I also like playing in the moment. I find so much music is a mixture of structure, and unfolding, like following a fork in the road.

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

It depends on the venues, and what I’d like to add to my repertoire. I still learn new pieces – this year it was Schubert’s last sonata in B flat, coupled with some late Liszt and Ligeti. I’m not at all rigid about the number of recital programmes or concertos I’ll carry around in any one season. It depends on all the other collaborations and new work I’m doing; I always seem to be working on new projects with poets or artists, as well as other musicians.

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

Many favourites – the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Bimhuis in Amsterdam; the Wigmore Hall, the medieval hall at Dartington. Something to do with intense atmosphere and audiences.

Favourite pieces to perform?

I always love Bach and Beethoven; I love practising them. I’m heavily into Chopin’s fifty-eight mazurkas at the moment, played chronologically; rather like reading someone’s personal diary.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many. The pianists I listen most to (at the moment) are Edwin Fischer, Rubinstein and Maria João Pires. I adore spending time with Alfred Brendel; I admire great improvisers and slip into their concerts all the time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably playing Shostakovich First Piano Concerto at the Last Night of the Proms – memorable for all kinds of reasons, including the controlled hysteria backstage. Being invited to play the Goldberg Variations at the Albert Hall by John Eliot Gardiner was pretty exciting for me.

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

Individuality, fearless talent, creativity, and the ability to design opportunities – fundamental to building a long career. The piano students at the Royal Academy of Music (as Head of Piano there I mentor them all) come with a very high degree of technical skill and musicianship. But I encourage them to develop other skills—curating, improvising, working with multimedia, commissioning composers, conducting from the keyboard, having a working knowledge of early keyboards—that will help them flourish at the beginning of their careers. Every summer we run a Piano Festival, which is largely curated now by the students themselves, and it’s a testament to their imagination and unstoppable energy.


Joanna MacGregor is one of the world’s most innovative musicians, appearing as a concert pianist, curator and collaborator. Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music and Professor of the University of London, Joanna MacGregor is also the Artistic Director of Dartington International Summer School & Festival.

As a solo artist Joanna has performed in over eighty countries and appeared with many eminent conductors – Pierre Boulez, Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev, Sir Simon Rattle and Michael Tilson Thomas amongst them – and orchestras, including London Symphony and Sydney Symphony orchestras, Chicago, Melbourne and Oslo Philharmonic orchestras, the Berlin Symphony and Salzburg Camerata. She has premiered many landmark compositions, ranging from Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Django Bates to John Adams and James MacMillan. She performs regularly at major venues throughout the world, including Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre and the Barbican in London, Sydney Opera House, Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Mozarteum in Salzburg.

 

Top of the list of competitors is twenty-year-old British pianist Martin James Bartlett. Winner of BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2014, Martin now studies at the Royal College of Music.  

Martin James Bartlett

FORT WORTH, Texas, March 7, 2017—The Cliburn announces today the 30 competitors selected to participate in the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, taking place May 25–June 10, 2017, at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas, USA.

Two hundred and ninety pianists submitted applications to participate in the 2017 Cliburn Competition, and 141 auditioned live in front of a five-member screening jury in London, Hannover, Budapest, Moscow, Seoul, New York, and Fort Worth in January and February 2017. 

After an exhilarating and quite thorough process, I am extremely happy with the 30 pianists who will come to the Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth this May. They are engaging and skilled, and—most important—will inspire and move you,” said Jacques Marquis, Cliburn president and CEO.

The 2017 Cliburn competitors hail from all over the world, representing 16 nations: Russia (6), South Korea (5), the United States (4), Canada* (3), Italy (2), Algeria*, Austria, China, Croatia, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Romania, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom (*one competitor has dual Algerian/Canadian citizenship, and both nations are counted here). There are 21 men and 9 women, and the competitors range in age from 18 to 30.

2017 CLIBURN COMPETITORS

Ages are as of June 10, 2017, the final day of the Competition.

Martin James Bartlett, United Kingdom, age 20

Sergey Belyavskiy, Russia, 23
Alina Bercu, Romania, 27

Kenneth Broberg, United States, 23

Luigi Carroccia, Italy, 25

Han Chen, Taiwan, 25

Rachel Cheung, Hong Kong, 25

Yury Favorin, Russia, 30

Madoka Fukami, Japan, 28

Mehdi Ghazi, Algeria/Canada, 28

Caterina Grewe, Germany, 29

Daniel Hsu, United States, 19

Alyosha Jurinic, Croatia, 28

Nikolay Khozyainov, Russia, 24

Dasol Kim, South Korea, 28

Honggi Kim, South Korea, 25

Su Yeon Kim, South Korea, 23

Julia Kociuban, Poland, 25

Rachel Kudo, United States, 30

EunAe Lee, South Korea, 29

Ilya Maximov, Russia, 30

Sun-A Park, United States, 29

Leonardo Pierdomenico, Italy, 24

Philipp Scheucher, Austria, 24

Ilya Shmukler, Russia, 22

Yutong Sun, China, 21 

Yekwon Sunwoo, South Korea, 28

Georgy Tchaidze, Russia, 29

Tristan Teo, Canada, 20

Tony Yike Yang, Canada, 18

ABOUT THE FIFTEENTH VAN CLIBURN INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION

Established in 1962, the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is widely recognized as “one of the world’s highest-visibility classical-music contests” (The Dallas Morning News) and remains committed to its original ideals of supporting and launching the careers of young pianists, ages 18–30. 

[source: press release]

(Picture: BBC)

A tribute from Divine Art Recordings

Described by The New York Times as “a man whose nature was designed with pianos in mind”, Anthony Goldstone was recognised as one of Britain’s most respected pianists. This exceptional musician passed away 2 January at the age of 72. As a major figure in the Divine Art Records catalogue (as well as recording for Toccata and previously Olympia and Gamut) both as a soloist and duo partner with his wife Caroline Clemmow, he will be very sadly missed. Held in the highest esteem by critics worldwide, for some reason he never quite achieved the international media recognition he deserved. Divine Art is currently working on Goldstone’s last solo recording which is likely to be released in the summer (“Piano at the Ballet, Vol. 2”) and also the re-release of the stunning 7-CD set of the complete works for piano duet by Franz Schubert, which when first issued by Olympia in 1999, established Goldstone and Clemmow as Britain’s leading piano duo.

Born in Liverpool, Anthony Goldstone studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music, now the RNCM, which later honoured him with a Fellowship, where his piano professor was Derrick Wyndham, and later in London with Maria Curcio, one of Schnabel’s greatest pupils – which incidentally makes him a sixth-generation pupil of Beethoven. Inspired by this wonderful heritage, Goldstone always regarded the classics and Romantics as being at the heart of his repertoire; this is illustrated by two specific CD projects: a series of rare Russian Romantics – Rebikov, Lyapunov, Arensky and Glière – and a series of six CDs devoted to the major solo works of Schubert which were very highly praised: “Goldstone is a native speaker of Schubert in the highest degree. This is perhaps the greatest version of the work [Sonata, D. 959] I have ever encountered, either live or on disc.” – Fanfare, USA. His series of solo CDs for Divine Art have ranged from Beethoven and Mozart to 20th century British composers (all with new completions and including many rarities and premiere recordings) to transcriptions from ballet and opera, all of which have received the highest accolades.

International prizes in Munich and Vienna and a Gulbenkian Fellowship launched him on a busy schedule of recitals and concertos. His travels took him to concert appearances in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australasia, prestigious festival invitations and many broadcasts. Numerous London appearances included important solo recitals and Promenade Concerts, notably the 1976 Last Night, after which Benjamin Britten wrote to him, “Thank you most sincerely for that brilliant performance of my Diversions. I wish I could have been at the Royal Albert Hall to join in the cheers.” This was one of four Proms appearances.

Complementary to the mainstream repertoire was his avid interest in exploring intriguing musical byways – not only unknown works by acknowledged masters, leading to première recordings and performances of works by Parry, Sibelius, Bruch, Franck, Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Holst and many more but also unjustly neglected nineteenth-century composers such as Goetz, Herzogenberg, Alkan and Moscheles.

A personal reflection from Divine Art founder and CEO Stephen Sutton:

“Tony first told me of his illness back in the summer of 2016; it had developed rather quickly and long term treatments were scheduled, but sadly liver failure brought his life and creativity to an early end. Until the very last week, he was writing to me about his projects, retaining an amazing level of wit and even frivolity in what must have been extremely difficult circumstances, referring to the ongoing Schubert Duets project as ‘Sherbert Dips’.

I first met Tony and his wife Caroline, who I am also honoured to call a friend, in late 2000 (if I recall correctly without digging up files!) when he approached me about the release of his recordings of Schubert solo piano works; I believe he had been introduced by one of our other artists. Long story short – we issued three double CD sets of the Schubert Masterworks which received the most wonderful reviews, and led to my encouraging Tony and Caroline to submit more projects. This they did in spades: both solo and duo recordings appeared at the rate of two or three a year, forming the backbone of our piano repertoire. And while Tony was not enamoured of the avant-garde, his delight in finding unpublished manuscripts and unfinished pieces, which soon became new performing editions, matched our own ethos of expanding the recorded repertoire, not only in new music but from all ages. His completions of unfinished works by Schubert, Mozart and others also garnered much praise for the seamless ‘invisible joins’ – testament to Tony’s high skill as a composer. Through the years Tony and Caroline (though we met but infrequently) became very special to me; for the quality of musicianship and performance, but also efficiency and speed in providing detailed program notes – models of their type – that avoided the delays and foot-thick files that some projects seem to engender! Always a perfectionist, our main quibbles usually centered around whether an apostrophe in a certain typeface should be curly or straight. What most customers (and critics) have not realized, because we did not promote the fact, is that practically all of the Goldstone recordings were made by Tony himself at his local church of St John the Baptist, Alkborough, which has housed the couples’ twin Grotrian-Steinweg instruments for many years. To do this and be given so much praise for sound quality is another facet of Tony’s skill and dedication.

In the early spring of 2016 Tony presented his last solo recording; this will be released later this year as ‘Piano at the Ballet, volume 2’. (In fact, the contract for this project, which he signed last week, arrived in my office today – 4 January). Whilst still a fantastic performance by any standard, I could tell that it was not Tony at 100%. I said nothing but was less surprised to hear, some months later, of the illness that was afflicting him. As well, the 7-CD box set of Schubert’s Complete works for piano duet is in progress for release in early summer. Both recordings will be suitable memorials to a wonderful musician, and a lasting gift for Caroline.”

 

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

It was my mother who first took me off to piano lessons age five although I can’t really say it was a particular calling at that age – I’m fairly sure I was going to be Prime Minister. It was not until I was a bit older and not really practising enough that my mum made me sign a contract promising that I would practise every day or the piano and the lessons would be gone! It was only then that I began to realise just what an important part of my life music was and became determined to dedicate myself to it further. Actually pursuing a career in music was never a particular ambition, however, until age 16 I was on the Chetham’s Piano Summer School and one of the professors simply said ‘why are you not here?’. Well, I didn’t have an answer so the next year I enrolled as a student and haven’t looked back since!

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

I’ve been so lucky with my piano teachers over the years and they have all been hugely influential, but the person who really believed in my abilities as a pianist and really challenged me to be the best I could be, was John Railton. John was an astonishing man – with only one arm he managed to have a successful career as a pianist and conductor, recording for the BBC, conducting at the major concert halls and being the central point of many different communities music making. He had a total disregard for potential obstacles and just believed firmly that I would be a pianist – I really wouldn’t be here without him!

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

The biggest challenge for me is performance anxiety – I wouldn’t say I get crippling nerves but I have found it frustrating sometimes when I can’t achieve the same focus on the music because my mind is worrying about being worried! The challenge is to find techniques to control any anxiety and transform it from something destructive into a positive energy. As an accompanist I have also had to become very time efficient. Our job often involves learning lots of repertoire in very short periods of time and the ability to practise efficiently without getting injured is paramount.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I recently launched the Devon Song Festival and I was so pleased with our inaugural concert. There was an unusual amount of pressure in organising the event, trying to keep the audience happy and performing but it went brilliantly and our reception was so enthusiastic. I’m so thrilled it was success and we can expand the festival next year.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I definitely feel most at home in the song repertoire, specifically German lieder and English song though I also love the sound world of cello and piano sonatas and am beginning to explore this further. I love playing with singers because I am able to find a deeper connection to the music when text is set. I rarely perform as a solo pianist these days but when I do it’s nearly always Russian: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev being particular favourites!

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

Last year I played at the Wigmore Hall for the first time and I absolutely loved it. It’s such an intimate space and from the piano it feels perfect as a hall for song. There is incredible clarity in the acoustic and you can really challenge yourself as to how quiet you can play and what extremes of articulation you can reach. It of course helps that the piano is absolutely beautiful too!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This year I’ve been working on Stephen Hough’s ‘Other Love Songs’ (for a performance at Wigmore in May 2016) and it is just the most brilliant cycle. It was written as a companion piece for the Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes and really cleverly picks up on themes from the original work but set to a wonderful selection of texts covering all forms of love and emotions from the heart-breaking to the comic. My personal highlight in the performance comes near the end where the pianists get to join in singing and my part is mostly just hitting the piano!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I’m lucky enough to be taught by one of my favourite musicians, Eugene Asti. I have huge admiration for his attention to detail and respect for the score and the history of every work he plays. Importantly it is not only theoretical but you can really hear all that detail in his playing and it brings the music to life amazingly. Another is Iain Burnside, his playing is so robust and clear and I find his recordings of English song especially moving in their simplicity.

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

I suppose as I’m still a student I would consider myself to be still aspiring! But I definitely think all young musicians need to think about more than just practise and performing. I’ve been working with Alisdair Hogarth recently and he has shown me the importance of being savvy when it comes to self-promotion and the commercial side of music making. He suggested that we should be spending as much time promoting performances and developing our career as we do practising. Whilst I can’t quite bring myself to do that just yet, I can see that when I leave music college, working hard to find performances and creating appealing programmes will be just as important as working on technique!

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

In ten years’ time I would like to be living in London enjoying a fledgling career as a song accompanist and working as a broadcaster for Radio 3. Basically, I would like to follow in the footsteps of Iain Burnside!

Originally from Devon, Natalie Burch initially studied with John Railton before moving to Manchester to study solo piano with Peter Lawson at Chetham’s School of Music. In 2014 she graduated with first class honors from King’s College London where she studied musicology and took lessons at the Royal Academy of Music with Daniel-Ben Pienaar and Andrew West.  Natalie is currently studying for a masters in accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama under the tutelage of Eugene Asti and Andrew West.

Recent and future highlights include performing at the Wigmore Hall alongside Alisdair Hogarth and the Prince Consort, a new commission for the Leeds Lieder festival, rehearsal pianist for Tchaikowsky ‘Rococo Variations’ with Guy Johnston, a recital for the Elgar Society and a number of concerts and masterclasses as resident pianist for Opera Prelude.

Read more about Natalie here