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

I had played the piano for some years, and was playing occasional concerts by my early-teens, but for me the epiphanic moment was watching Jorge Bolet giving masterclasses and performing on BBC television. I suppose it came at just the right point in my musical and personal development, but suddenly I was obsessed, and pretty much every waking moment became about playing, listening to and reading about music – rather to the detriment of my school work.

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

Here I have to mention my first teacher, June Luck (who died recently). She was my local piano teacher in Ipswich, and had certainly never had a performing career, but she instilled one truly great maxim that has shaped my life and career: you can be anything you want as long as you’re willing to work hard enough. Then there were two teachers at the Royal College where I studied for my undergraduate and master’s degrees – John Barstow, who was really responsible not only for teaching me how to really control the instrument but also how to make friends with it, and the composer Edwin Roxburgh, who really opened my ears to contemporary music for the first time. After college, of course, there were many other teachers and mentors including Lev Naumov in Moscow, David Dubal in New York and Martino Tirimo in London, but special mention must be made of Ronald Stevenson. By the time we met at the end of my 20s I had established a performing and academic/lecturing career and was fairly well-known for my passion for Busoni. Ronald, who was the preeminent authority on Busoni and his circle made me understand the much larger perspective around early Modernism and its relationship to the piano, and led me along so many ‘paths less travelled’ in our epically long days in his music room and library which he called his den of musiquity!

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

Of course, the early years, establishing a career are always difficult, but my particular career as a pianist-lecturer seemed to baffle friends, colleagues and promoters alike – I suppose, back then before the internet and the portfolio career as a norm, it seemed strange that I didn’t fit into an easy pigeon-hole. Fortunately, the Royal College of Music awarded me a fellowship for two years during which time I was able to show how such a career could and did work, and indeed it set me on my third, rather unexpected path as an academic professor.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m soon to be performing the Busoni piano concerto in London. I’ll never forget the day when I discovered John Ogdon’s recording of it in a second-hand record shop, and then a few weeks later, listened through to it with a score borrowed from Westminster Library. It was simply overwhelming, and as I started to pick my way through the score’s complexities, I couldn’t really begin to imagine how I could ever learn it. Eventually, about ten years ago, I gave a series of performances of it in the UK and New York with my amazing friend and colleague, Aleksander Szram playing the orchestral parts at a second piano (although we also had a live choir for the last movement). A couple of those performances are up on YouTube and although I certainly play it differently now, I am inordinately proud of the journey I made with that music.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m very influenced by the idea of ‘Sprezzatura’ which was a term used by 16th-century courtiers to refer to a noble disdain. The idea is that you have to study every detail of your task, and then throw away the rulebook. I think I probably perform best those compositions which respond to such an approach – certainly Liszt, Busoni and Enescu amongst them.

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

Of course, I’m still influenced by promoters and venues, so for instance I recently gave some Medtner recitals in Bengaluru to celebrate the life of the Maharajah of Mysore, and a little while back was asked to give the premiere of the Edwin Roxburgh Piano Concerto. However, for the last few years I have also ensured that each season I include a work or two from my ‘bucket list’ which I’ve kept since my teens. This year it was the Schulz-Evler transcription of the Blue Danube, whilst previous offerings have included the Godowsky Passacaglia and Sorabji’s Jardin Parfumée. I realise I’ll never complete the list, but it’s really important to still treat myself to works I’ve always wanted to learn.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For the last few years I have been living in India (my family home) for a few months each year, partly trying to offer educational opportunities to young musicians and teachers and partly giving concerts in my capacity as the first Indian Steinway artist. The concerts are sometimes quite traditional, but the really memorable ones have been where audiences have literally never seen a piano or knowingly heard Western music before. That’s a real privilege and responsibility, but it also sometimes reminds me of the memoirs I’ve read of the early years of the piano recital – the piano circus life as Liszt called it. So, I’ve headlined music festivals (even had a review in Rolling Stone magazine for performing Liszt!), given recitals to with brand tie-ins from wine to sports cars, and played for royalty (and was given the snuff-box to prove it!).

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Leading others (students and audiences) away from the increasing mundanity of our everyday lives to see the truly extraordinary in our world, ourselves and one another – whether just for a few minutes in a concert, or as an inspiration for future living.

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

To have an imagination, and then to work hard in order to turn into a reality both for themselves and their audiences, whilst at the same time trying to avoid the perils of narcissism (especially in the age of the selfie).

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

I’d like to have helped to create the first degree-awarding conservatoire in India, and have my own den of musicquity by the sea on the south coast of England, with a Great Dane by my side.

Karl Lutchmayer performs Busoni’s Piano Concerto in C at St John’s Smith Square on 30 November, with Seraphin Orchestra, conducted by Joy Lisney. This concert is the culmination of his 3-day concert series ‘Busoni – The Romantic Modernist’ which explores Busoni’s music beyond his well-known transcriptions of J S Bach.

Further details and booking


Karl Lutchmayer is equally renowned as a concert pianist and a lecturer. A Steinway Artist, Karl performs across the globe, and has worked with conductors including Lorin Maazel and Sir Andrew Davis, and performed at all the major London concert halls. He has broadcast on BBC Radio 3, All India Radio and Classic FM, and is a regular chamber performer. A passionate advocate of contemporary music, Karl has also given over 90 world premieres and had many works written especially for him.

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

There was always music being heard at home because both my parents are music lovers but actually playing the piano was introduced relatively late to me. I had many friends my age (8 at the time) who were playing an instrument and so my parents simply thought, why not?

It wasn’t until much later that I realised just what it might mean to be a concert pianist which was when I went to hear the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto at the Royal Festival Hall. The concerto captures your attention from start to finish and you can imagine how impressive it was to a child aged eleven. Of course my reaction then and what thoughts whirled in my head would not be how I hear the concerto now, but I learnt at that moment about the communication of music.

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

My many professors, of course, have all had an impact to my music making. One of my first professors was Christopher Elton. I was at the Purcell School and searching for a new teacher. I was introduced to Christopher and he accepted me in his class but I was this incredibly shy child who didn’t talk much to adults but was determined to make efforts through playing. Christopher was incredibly patient with me, and has, in in a way, been a musical father to me, as he has seen through all my career phases. Many, many years later, we still keep in touch and a friendship has developed since, which is always one of the nicer aspects of a musical relationship.

Then there is Maria Curcio-Diamond, who transmitted so many pearls of wisdom but I was too young to fully appreciate when I studied with her and now refer back to constantly today.

Lev Naumov was just a brilliant mind and musician and I was immensely fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate regularly in his classes.

John Lill has also been influential but I would say that however, it was the years I spent alongside Ruggiero Ricci that has had the most impact with my approach to music making today. He was heralded as a prodigy as a youth, a virtuoso as an adult violinist (a term he disliked) and the first violinist to have recorded all the Paganini Caprices. He was so modest and lived through so many experiences. I would often accompany his students in masterclasses and I learnt so much from watching him teach and from when we played together. There was something so natural and straightforward in his music making. It’s something I have tried to transmit in my own performances. It was also these years spent with Ricci that opened many doors for me, notably by meeting other musicians, some very well known, others less, as well as non-musicians but music lovers who have all had an influence into my approach to performing and life today on and off the concert circuit.

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

Juggling between raising two small children and keeping up with the rhythm of giving concerts have been challenging but extremely rewarding. Before my children, my focus before and during performances would hinge entirely around the concert, but today, now with my children, I am somewhere in the back of mind, thinking, “I hope they had a good day at school, I hope they have eaten well, I hope they are sleeping well”. The usual worries all parents have!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Always wanting to improve on the last performance/recording is a common trait in performers and I share this!

Of course there have been certain performances that have been more satisfying than others, not only in terms of my particular performance, but also when the audience is so reactive and appreciative, it is a very special moment. I really appreciate also when sometimes members of the public write to me following a performance to let me know how much they enjoyed that particular concert or how much they enjoyed the last album.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

In giving an interpretation to any one work, I really try to show what might be new to discover in the piece. In this sense, I think I convey Beethoven quite well. The French composers also seem to suit me; maybe it’s being married to someone French!

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

What’s great about mixing chamber, duo and solo repertoire in a season is that there is an abundance of choice! It’s common these days to link a theme to a programme so that gives me a certain guideline. Otherwise for concerto dates, it’s quite often what the promoter has in mind for the season alongside the choice from the conductor so I need to be quite flexible for these dates.

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

Of the more well known venues, like many other performers, I would have to say the Wigmore Hall. Its reputation precedes it and the hall doesn’t disappoint. That said, there is a venue in France called Prieuré Sainte-Marie du Vilar that has to be included. It is a restored Romanian Orthodox Church, lost in the middle of the Pyrénées Orientales, and each year the monks and nuns organise a music festival for the community. The rawness of the venue and being surrounded by the stones impregnated with history gives a very unique atmosphere.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I gave a series of concerts in Greece and one of the venues was in Patras. What was most striking about the make-up of this audience was that it was treated as a family outing. The children were all placed in the front rows, some not abiding by the ‘silence code’ of a concert, but it didn’t matter. At the end of each work, they applauded enthusiastically and seemed to enjoy the concert as much as the adults. It reminded me of my first impressions of attending performances and I hope I was able to communicate something to them with the Mozart concerto that I performed at the time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you feel you have found your voice and you have the opportunities to express this.

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

Never be afraid to be wrong and learn from everyone. Watch and watch and listen and listen again. There is so much archive available on the internet today. It’s important, I think, to be open to all interpretations and techniques of playing before creating and defining your own.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Two answers to this question. It would be either to find the time between concerts and practice for a good dance session with my husband and children because we always end up by collapsing in laughter. Otherwise it would be to take time out from playing to be by the sea with the family and catch up reading and a good glass of wine to hand.


Min-Jung Kym’s debut recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto is available now. Further information

Min-Jung Kym is establishing herself as an artist bringing fresh quality and musicianship to her performances. Since her London solo concert debut at the age of just 12, she has performed at the Barbican Centre, Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, UNESCO in Paris, the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea and many, many other venues.

www.minjungkym.com


(artist photo: Arno MiseEnavant)

FFGuy for F&AGuest interview by Michael Johnson

François-Frédéric Guy was just finishing his 20th performance at the piano festival of La Roque d’Anthéron in the south of France. The 2200-seat outdoor amphitheatre was almost full as Guy displayed his love of Beethoven – playing two of his greatest sonatas, No. 16 and No. 26 (“Les Adieux”). After the interval, Guy took his place at the Steinway grand again and shook up the audience with the stormy opening bars of the Hammerklavier sonata. It was like a thunderclap, as Beethoven intended. The audience sat up straight and listened in stunned silence. Monsieur Guy joined me and a colleague after his concert for a question-and-answer session about his playing, the role of the piano in his life, and his future as a conductor of Beethoven symphonies.

Question: Can you describe your technique for creating such a stormy opening for Hammerklavier? The audience was thrilled.

Answer: I try to achieve several things at once with those opening bars – signaling immediately the dimension of the complete work, its conquering majesty, and the vital energy that begins to build from those enormous, outsized chords. I try to give it weight and pace, as Beethoven wanted. It is as if Beethoven was saying, “Let’s go conquer the universe!”

Q. And your surprising low-key encore? What were you thinking?

A. I enjoy the idea behind this little piece which is probably the best-known and simplest work of Beethoven. I chose it to come immediately after the most dense and complex of Beethoven’s work, one that is relatively little known to the general public. But “Elise” is also Beethoven and can, as you say, touch people to the point of tears.

Q. What does music mean to you, as a career pianist. Since we have known each other – nearly 25 years – you have dedicated yourself entirely to music.

A. Music fills my life, my existence. Even when I am not at the instrument, even when I am speaking of other things…. Through music, one can express things that words cannot.

Q. I see you are busy – 50 concerts and recitals per year.

A. Yes, now it’s closer to 60, apportioned among concertos, chamber music and solo recitals. I try to maintain a balance of about one-third for each format.

Q. Your new career seems to be taking off – now you are an orchestral conductor …

A. Yes, I am doing some conducting. I started by conducting from the keyboard, the so-called “play and conduct” format. Seven or eight years ago I started doing the Beethoven piano concertos that way, and it’s becoming more a part of my life. Now I have booked about ten play-and-conduct engagements in which I add a performance on the podium, conducting the full orchestra.

Q. Alone on the podium? What drove you to undertake this new challenge?

A. Actually it’s an old dream dating back to adolescence. I started conducting from the keyboard, and gravitated to the podium. My conducting has been well-received so I am continuing. For the moment, I conduct only Beethoven.

Q. Only the symphonies?

A. Yes, I have already done the Fourth and Fifth at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and will conduct the Seventh in October at the Opéra de Limoges, with its very good orchestra that I have worked with frequently. I enjoy it very much, and will conduct Beethoven’s “Fidélio” there in 2022.

Q. Will you do what Rudolf Buchbiner did in Aix recently, all five piano concertos in one day?

A. Yes, I am scheduled to do just that in January, again at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. We will start at 7 p.m. with Nos. 1 and 3, then a break, returning for Nos. 2 and 4, and finally at 10 p.m. the Fifth.

Q. This sounds like a major exploit!

A. That’s not at all why I am doing it. I merely want to take the public on a journey with me to better understand the evolution of these concertos. I find this idea very exciting and I think the public will as well. In addition, these concertos are all works of genius and so individual – each one has its own character. They do not encroach on each other. It’s like a great crossing of seas on an ocean liner. I will be taking the public with me.

Q. I was also thinking of it as a physical marathon.

A. Yes, both musically and intellectually. It’s even more true in a play-and-conduct format because I have to control what’s going on around the piano. We must remember, though, that in Beethoven’s time all concertos were performed like this. There were no conductors. Same goes for Mozart.

Q. So you are putting yourself in Beethoven’s and Mozart’s shoes, so to speak?

A. Well yes, somewhat, a bit. It’s a return to the concertos as they were intended. The piano is not king – it’s there for a dialogue with the instrumentalists, like a big family.

Q. Do you like the feeling of disappearing into the orchestra when you play-and-conduct?

A. Yes indeed. The pianist turns his or her back on the audience and is encircled by the other players. So there is a sort of fraternity – no rivalry – but it’s not easy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, there is a kind of unity, and that’s what is so interesting.

Q. You have said that keyboard conducting gives you a new understanding of the music. What do you mean? Does it really change your perspective?

A. Absolutely. When you play traditionally with a conductor, one must be familiar with the orchestral parts while concentrating essentially on the piano part – that’s our role. But when the pianist and the conductor are the same person, it becomes clear how completely the piano is integrated into Beethoven’s concept, and Mozart too, and then later Brahms and Schumann.

Q. How did you go about studying for your role as a conductor?

A. Well I am largely self-taught, an autodidact. But I have been counseled by some eminent conductors, notably Philippe Jordan, conductor of the Bastille Opera and soon to direct the Vienna Staatsoper, when he leaves the Bastille next year. He is a fabulous conductor, an extraordinary talent. He has helped me tremendously. And another one is Pascal Rophé, conductor of the Orchestre des Pays de Loire – Nantes and Angers. He has been a big help with the Beethoven symphonies. But I am essentially self-taught and I have no ambitions to become a full-time conductor.

Q. Ah no? That was my question – isn’t there a temptation to leave the piano behind? Solti, Bernstein and many others abandoned the piano to conduct.

A. No, no, that’s not my plan. Conducting is an extension of my interests in music. For example, I have played practically all of Beethoven’s piano music, all his chamber music, all his important piano works. And it seemed natural to try conducting. I could not imagine NOT conducting one of the symphonies. So I had to learn how to do it.

Q. Contemporary music in one of your big interests. You have collaborated with the composer Tristan Murail, I believe, and others?

A. Yes, I am currently on a concerto Tristan Murail is composing for me. What matters for me is new ideas in composition that still retain traditional structures. I want innovation, ideas that change the piano and the orchestra. Sounds we have never heard before. That’s what interests me with Tristan Murail.

Q. Are you spending your life focused solely on the piano to the exclusion of all other activities? Some pianists wear blinkers.

A. I am not wrapped up in a bubble. Nothing stops me from following important events, such as Korea, or the relations between the two Koreas.

Q. You are in touch with people outside the world of music?

A. Yes, I am very involved in astronomy, for example. I study mushrooms!

Q. Mushrooms?

A. Yes. The other day I found ten kilos of cepes on my property in the Dordogne. I have always had a passion for mushrooms of all types.

Q. John Cage was also a mushroom enthusiast. He wrote books about them. He even created the New York Mycological Society for the study of mushrooms.

A. I am a specialist too. I know all the names of different species in Latin.

Q. Tell us about your tenth Beethoven cycle planned for Tokyo. What does it consist of?

A. What it means is that I will play all of the 32 Beethoven sonatas from memory over a ten-day period, about three weekends, for the tenth time. Almost twelve hours of music.

Q. Do you have a loyal fan base in Japan?

A. Yes, yes. I usually play in a very beautiful hall in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. Two years ago I played there with the Dresden orchestra conducted by Michael Sanderling. And last year I played all the Beethoven violin and piano sonatas there.

Q. If you give 60 recitals and concerts a year, as you said at the start of this interview, can you still find time to develop new repertoire?

A. Yes, I try to master one or two important works every year. I recently accepted to learn and play a concerto by Enescu. I always try to put aside time for new works.

Q. But at your age, don’t you find you learn more slowly?

A. Yes, I am 50 years old. But I have many things I want to do in music. I am not stopping.

 

Artist portrait by Michael Johnson


Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. He worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his writing career. He is the author of five books and divides his time between Boston and Bordeaux. He is a regular contributor to The Cross-Eyed Pianist

 

(This article first appeared on the Facts & Arts site. Illustrations by the author.)

 

 

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

I must say, I don’t know… My parents, although not musicians, are very musical. My father composed some songs for my mother to sing with his guitar accompaniment. There was always much music in the house, mostly classical and what in Russia is called ‘bard song’.

There also was an upright piano and I well remember I was fascinated, enchanted by the sound of major third.

But in the end it all might be even simpler and a bit embarrassing. I was about 6 years old and I went to a symphonic concert to hear a violinist playing. She was wearing a purple velvet dress, a rather unbelievable hue of purple. I thought I’d never seen a colour more sumptuous…and I decided I wanted to play violin. That’s how my path in music started – I am afraid, because of a velvet dress!

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

I am easily influenced in the sense that I am easily fascinated, easily enthused about things. In a way, this can be a disruptive quality sometimes – one needs, perhaps, some distance with the subject to get to the core of it. Inevitably, the list of musicians who left their imprint on my playing is long and eclectic.

My first great musical idol was Sviatoslav Richter. Of course, I heard his recordings very early on, but I “discovered” him in my teens. I then first understood what a word “musician” means, or should mean. A few years later I was struck by Theodor Currentzis who came to my home town in 2004 to start Musica Aeterna. I never knew before how hard one can work and how far one can go in carving ideas and reaching one’s vision. Yet later on I subsequently worshipped Mikhail Pletnev, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, then Maria João Pires with whom I studied, and Graham Johnson. During my years at the Moscow Conservatory I was very much under the spell of one of my mentors, Pavel Nersessian, a formidable personality and a very unique musician. Lately, however, I feel more and more that I am influenced, inspired or fuelled by things outside music, be it painting, photography, dance or fashion.

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

The challenge which perhaps is quite specific for the time we live in is to pace oneself and allow the music enough space and time to grow naturally. It is extremely important, but it takes quite some effort to avoid temptations and sometimes work hard against the flow.

Yet a greater challenge is to always try and see – artistically – things as they are, not what you expect them to be. It’s hard work overcoming your own knowledge and experience. It is a paradoxical but, I believe, a necessary task for any artist at some point.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Perhaps, the Louis Couperin disc was altogether the most ambitious and challenging recording project to date. In Russian we say: “To push a camel through an eye of a needle”. That’s what it was.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The ones that I am deeply in love with at the given moment.

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

The repertoire choices are painful…. I have big appetite for repertoire, but a pianist has to set the priorities clear early enough as Alfred Brendel once said to me. You learn to live with the thought that you won’t be able to play everything you want, in a lifetime.

Usually, there emerges a certain theme, or a composer, or a piece which attracts me. I then start searching for a concept that would be strong enough to construct a program around it. It is curious that at a certain point there is always an element of surprise, a moment of spontaneity when you suddenly see the possibilities that you didn’t expect at all at first. It’s important not to miss that moment.

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

Perhaps I enjoy the most playing at places that are not regular concert venues. When they sound good, of course.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My most favourite musicians are those that are fearless, selfless and inquisitive.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 years old I went to a music festival in Casalmaggiore. At one point with few friends we went on a day trip to Venice. As we were walking past La Fenice a friend from St Petersburg noticed that Grigory Sokolov was playing that very night. We went in and bought last tickets. I had not a slightest idea who he was. He went on stage and the instant before he started playing I knew I was about to hear something I’d never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is like food: the quantity and quality of it shapes you in a certain way over the time, whether you want it or not. Have too little or too much of it – and you will die, metaphorically speaking of course.

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

Funnily, my deep conviction is that no idea or concept of true artistic importance can be imparted or transferred. The real things are those that you grow yourself in your own garden, without anyone overseeing. In that sense art is the land of absolute sole responsibility. There is nothing that cannot be challenged, but in fact there is nothing that has to be challenged at all – quite simply, there really is nothing that is impossible, unless you’ve decided so.

Pavel Kolesnikov performs Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Britten Shostakovich Festival Orchestra who reach the UK next week for their inaugural UK tour from 17 to 25 September in Birmingham (17th September), Leeds (19th), Manchester (21st) and Cadogan Hall, London (25th September).

Pavel makes his debut at The Tetbury Music Festival on 5 October 2019. The festival runs between 28 September and 6 October – please visit www.tetburymusicfestival.org for more information and tickets


Since becoming Prize Laureate of the Honens Prize for Piano in 2012, Pavel Kolesnikov has performed around the world.  Significant recital and festival appearances include Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Berlin’s Konzerthaus, the Louvre (Paris), Vancouver Recital Society, La Jolla Music Society, Spoleto Festival USA, Canada’s Ottawa ChamberFest and Banff Summer Festival, Plush Music Festival, and the BBC Proms.  Recent and upcoming orchestral appearances include London Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, Russia’s National Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Pavel is also a member of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists for 2014 to 2016 and RCM Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow for 2015 to 2016.

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(artist photo: Eva Vermandel)

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

My parents introduced me to several activities when I was very young; there was ballet and sports (I reached competition level in swimming). Music was already present in the house – my father was a surrealistic painter and always worked while listening to music in his studio. But it wasn’t until we visited a friend who owned a piano that the idea cthat I could start taking lessons came about.

Later on, growing up, I started making a selection, making my own choices. First, I decided to stop ballet in order to learn the violin. I was already leaning more towards music. But soon I realized that the piano was closer to my heart and my abilities, and at age 12 I told my parents I wanted to pursue music seriously.

Since then, and despite the many ‘detours’ and experiences I had – undergoing an academic course and taking a two-and-a-half-year break from music in my mid twenties –  an inner calling has always led me back to the piano and that motivated me to pursue a career in music. Intuitively, I understood that this professional path would satisfy the needs of my body, mind and soul at the same time. It is a balance of intellectual and manual work. Indeed, I perceive “art” in its full meaning, crystallized by the Ancient Greeks in the word τέχνη (technè), which gave our modern word “technique”, but, depending of the context, could signify both craft-like knowledge, skill and “art” – that is to say, the capacity to express emotions. Another ancient concept that I find particularly interesting to describe a musical career comes from Dionysius from Halicarnassus that talks about introducing “diversity into homogeneity”. What we do is every day the same,  it is never the same. The possibility to reinvent oneself daily and the freedom that it implies in music is something that I very soon understood I couldn’t live without.

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

I have always been in search of a mentor, and wasn’t fortunate enough to find one during my studies. Until recently I have been looking for someone to fit the role, and fate made me meet Jorge Luis Prats, who inspired me for years as a musician, and the polished the artist I wanted to be.

On a personal level, my father’s paintings, work ethic and dedication to art and beauty have been a huge influence in my approach to music. My mother’s sensibility and at the same time practicality helps me to look at the bigger picture whenever I tend to get stuck in small things and details, since I am an eternal perfectionist.

On a larger level, I want to stress that the other art forms have always been an influence on my musical life, and they help to nourish it. Amongst them, poetry – I write poetry myself in Italian, French and English – and dance, everything that has to do with the body’s movement, as for me music is movement, flow.

Nature too, as much as it inspired composers, is something I have to feel close to in order to create.

In the end, I was blessed by my father’s surrealistic philosophy and imagination, by the way he taught me to look at everything that surrounds me with a new and personal perspective, as a potential inspiration, to make it my own. And to take time. To be an observer and a listener. This are crucial components for me in order to be a good musician.

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

Having access to a piano. Having access to a good piano. Nothing is more frustrating than when you want to play or have to practice and you can’t.

Evolving in a very conventional and constrained world – especially in today’s music education system – when you are different and your approach is unconventional. So a real challenge was and is to make my path and my vision accepted and not to be judged for not having done or doing things that are “expected”. Being a free spirit in a way is a challenge in the “business”.

Accepting where you are, being patient in achieving your fullest potential and enjoying the process!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I can honestly say that I am never satisfied with a performance or recording. The ones that I am most proud would have to be the ones that involve the highest degree of challenge as this is a factor that helps me push my limits. As an example, a recent and improvised recording of 3 contemporary pieces by French composer Jean-Luc Gillet, during an artistic residency with him, done on an old 1984 Steinway that had a very uneven keyboard and piercing sound in the higher register and that hadn’t been played for 15 years. But at the same time that piano had a wonderful soul and sound signature. When I manage to reach new levels of interpretation on challenging instruments, that’s when I am most satisfied.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It tends to change, as it is deeply connected with one’s maturity and knowledge of certain pieces. But in general, the repertoire that explores the sound possibilities of the piano. I have more a sonic approach to the piano than a technical one. That’s why the virtuoso repertoire doesn’t speak to me as much. I can’t really speak of particular composers or eras, rather a way of writing music. When I see a score, I know instantly if it is music that I will play well. And this goes from Rameau, Scarlatti and Bach, through Brahms, Rachmaninov to contemporary music. Piano is an instrument-orchestra, and I like to play the composers that best keep that in mind.

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

My father always used to tell me that he had more ideas than he would ever have time during his life to paint them all. And he kept lists of all of them so he didn’t forget them and could come back to them later when he has the time or inspiration to accomplish them.

I feel the same about the pieces I want to perform. So I keep a list of composers and pieces that I discover year after year. And by looking at the list, I start creating connections. Sometimes it is between composers and then I would do some meticulous research to find the right pieces to put together. Sometimes, it is precisely while researching on a certain piece that I create connections with others I know or I read about those connections in the literature I am reading.

I particularly like to put unknown or forgotten pieces in my repertoire, and I love to collaborate with contemporary composers and premiere their works.

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

If I had the ideal concert venue, I know I wouldn’t feel the same in it twice. Acoustics are a very subtle matter. They can significantly change between a rehearsal when the hall is empty and the actual performance, where the filling of the hall with members of the audience can sometimes drastically modify your perceptions. For me it is also a matter of having or creating the right energy. Some venues have better “energies” than others, but the audience’s energy is equally important, no matter where you perform. In the end, because these are all factors that you can’t control, I’d like to think that the best concert venue has to be in the musician’s mind, in a process that is close to what Glenn Gould described in the way that you have to recreate a “good piano” conditions in your mind when you have to play on a not so good instrument.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who are passionate and have a “signature sound”. But in order to keep an interpretative authenticity, I don’t listen to classical pianists too much. I am fascinated by some conductors – Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel…

Outside the classical world, amongst the ones that I keep going back to and that have emerged as inspirational figures, I would like to mention: Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, jazz pianist, Estrella Morente, flamenco singer, Hayley Marie, lead vocalist of Australian indie rock band “The Jezabels”, the rock band “Dream Theater”, Lisa Gerrard, Rodrigo Costa Felix, fado singer, and many others…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One where I came out of my body and was able to watch myself perform from the outside, as if I was a spectator.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not just as a musician, but as an artist, the greatest success is when you make the audience feel something, when you surprise them, touch them, and maybe, through your art, make them discover something about themselves; when they walk out of the concert hall and they are a new person; when your art has an impact on someone’s life and is able to bring hope.

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

Humbleness. To be aware that everything has already been created, and the only approach possible to art is by being true to yourself and authentic.

And to not be afraid to question yourself and not always find the answers. And to take time. Even time off, if needed. Sometimes taking a break will make you evolve much faster afterwards.

Of course, as in all classical disciplines, an almost sacred devotion to music is necessary in order to do it justice (from work ethic and rigour, to the life sacrifices that a musical career involves, to achieving a mind, body and spirit balance…)

And to be smart. You are who you are without all the expectation and pressure or the perspective of what people think of you. Taking all that aside and really homing in on who you are and embellishing it with your craft is the way to go.

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

I live in the moment, and try to be as “present” as possible. I live from day to day and can’t see myself a week from now, let alone 10 years in the future!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be at peace with oneself. Live life to its fullest without having any regrets.

What is your most treasured possession?

My parents’ handwritten notes.

What is your present state of mind?

I am constantly in a meditative state of mind, with a flow of different thoughts in it.

 

 

Ida Pellicioli’s website

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

I actually never dreamed of becoming a classical musician, and I feel very privileged to have had such a natural and in many ways unexpected career path. The piano choice was purely practical – it was an instrument that was offered to us by a friend so I could start lessons. Of course, now I can say that I was very lucky because I love my instrument for the endless colours and possibilities it offers, for the many sounds – big and small – and the vast repertoire.

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

Influence on my musical life and career can be linked directly to the influence on my life, and that has been mainly by my parents, who have instilled morals, discipline, and enjoyment upon my life. I gather inspiration from everything that surrounds me, the experiences I have, and those I encounter both on and off stage.

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

I cannot, with certainty, separate challenges from successes, as these are inextricably linked in my mind. On the one hand, I do not come from a musical family, but I have learned everything from scratch. When I persevere through the most challenging segments of my calendar, they make me stronger, and enable me to know what I am capable of and what I wish (not) to do.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I hope to be proud of every performance, and especially of every recording. The way I judge past performances includes elements such as the piano, the hall, and the audience, and these are intertwined with the memories I kept of that particular week – a very large cauldron. I have especially fond memories of some performances, such as the first time I performed in Warsaw, where all my grandparents heard me perform in a concert environment for the first time ever, or my BBC Proms debut in sweltering London summer weather.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I would not programme works I do not think myself capable of performing, and I hope to add something unique with my interpretation.

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

As a pianist I am in the position of having seemingly endless repertoire to choose from. I have certain pieces on the horizon that I would like to perform, and when there’s the opportunity to do so, I will add them to my repertoire. Recordings dictate the choices of repertoire somewhat, in that I need to prepare it beforehand and perform it after. Large multi-concert tours likewise; these decisions are mutual, made years in advance.

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

I’m terrible at picking favourites (favourite colour, country, person, city, etc.) and this extends to all walks of life. I enjoy the variety of concert halls, and believe it is a skill to adjust appropriately to each environment, from the ultra-accurate 21st-century “high-definition” halls, to some beautiful 19th-century acoustically warm ones, to the Italian opera houses which make you feel suffocated (acoustically, of course), not to mention everything in between. Every hall presents a challenge – and an opportunity – and overcoming the challenges while exploiting the opportunities is part of what makes a performance successful.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have too many to name – from those I’ve worked with and admire, to those I am friends with, to others who may inspire me in performance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I flew to a remote community in Saskatchewan, Canada; an outreach concert from my performance with the Saskatoon Symphony. In La Ronge, most people had never heard a piano before – it was also sent for the recital. The concert was packed, the excitement was palpable, and the genuine appreciation was unlike anything I’ve felt before or since. Falling snow, children in “Sunday’s best” sitting on the floor of the school gymnasium in complete silence. A concert I will gather strength from for years to come.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is deeply individual, and I consider myself very fortunate to be where I am today.

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

Make sure you stay true to yourself, practice only just enough, and learn about other things beyond music.

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

Walking on planet Earth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Enjoying the small things that make life magical.

What is your most treasured possession?

My memories.

What is your present state of mind?

Always the same – happy.


Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki has won acclaim for his extraordinary interpretive maturity, distinctive sound, and poetic sensibility. The New York Times has called him “a pianist who makes every note count”. Lisiecki’s insightful interpretations, refined technique, and natural affinity for art give him a musical voice that belies his age.

Jan Lisiecki was born to Polish parents in Canada in 1995. He began piano lessons at the age of five and made his concerto debut four years later, while always rebuffing the label of “child prodigy”. His approach to music is a refreshing combination of dedication, skill, enthusiasm and a realistic perspective on the career of a musician.

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(Artist photo: JL Holger-Hage)