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

Nobody has forced me or suggested me to become a musician. My parents had many recordings as they were classical music lover. So I often listened to classical music since when I was a child and I liked it very much. That’s how I started to become close to and to love classical music.

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

I would say meeting with many great musicians have been the most important influences on my musical life, people like Myung-Whun Chung, Radu Lupu, Krystian Zimerman, Mikhail Pletnev, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia and many others…..I learned a lot even while having a conversation with them.

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

Maybe participating some competitions….. I wanted to play for audiences across the world and I thought winning the competition was the easiest way to reach that goal. And it was true, the Chopin Competition gave me a lot of opportunities, but I’m still against competitions. Many great musicians like Arcadi Volodos or Piotr Anderszewski didn’t win any competitions.  The competition kills the musical idea, imagination and freedom. I felt so free after I won the Chopin competition because I realized that I don’t have to do this kind of thing anymore.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Brahms Quartet in g minor from the Rubinstein competition in 2014. It was the only performance which I enjoyed during that competition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have no idea…

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

These days I simply play the pieces that I want to play. A few years ago, I wanted to show or express many sides of my musicality. But not anymore. I always feel comfortable when I play the music I love.

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

So many places where they have a good piano, good acoustic and good audience. Like Carnegie hall in New York, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin’s Philharmonie, KKL in Luzern, Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Suntory hall in Tokyo…..

Who are your favourite musicians?

Radu Lupu, Krystian Zimerman, Mikhail Pletnev, Alfred Cortot, Edwin Fischer, Arcadi Volodos, Grigory Sokolov, Carlos Kleiber, Myung Whun Chung any many others

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut recital in Korea in 2005 when I was 11. After the performance, I realized that I really loved sharing my music with the audience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Actually I still don’t know what being successful as a musician is and I don’t want to think about it. My goal is play better than yesterday and to be satisfied with my performance more often. I’m rarely happy with my performance…

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

Don’t expect the compensation after you decide to become a pianist or musician

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I love to be in a place where there no noise. I love silence. And having good food and drink with my family or friends.

 

Seong-Jin Cho’s new recording of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, Piano Sonatas K. 281, k.332 (Deutsche Grammophon, CD 0289 483 5522 8) is available now
Seong-Jin Cho was brought to the world’s attention in 2015 when he won the First Prize at the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw. This same competition launched the careers of world-class artists such as ‎Martha Argerich, ‎Maurizio Pollini, or ‎Krystian Zimerman.

In January 2016, Seong-Jin signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. The first recording was released in November 2016 featuring Chopin’s First Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda and the Four Ballades. A solo Debussy recording was then released in November 2017. Both albums won impressive critical acclaim worldwide. In 2018 he will record a Mozart program with sonatas and the D minor concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Yannick-Nézet-Seguin.

An active recitalist, he performs in many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. In the 2018/19 season, he will return to the main stage of Carnegie Hall as part of the Keyboard Virtuoso series where he had sold out in 2017. He will also return to Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in the Master Pianists series and will play recitals at the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal (Berliner Philharmonic concert series), Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Hall (Los Angeles Philharmonic recital series), Zurich’s Tonhalle-Maag, Stockholm’s Konserthuset, Munich’s Prinzregententheater, Chicago’s Mandel Hall, Lyon’s Auditorium, La Roque d’Anthéron Festival, Verbier Festival, Gstaad Menuhin Festival, Rheingau Festival among several other venues.

During the next two seasons, he will play with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, at the Barbican Centre, Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and Myung-Whun Chung at the Paris Philharmonie, Gewandhaus Orchestra with Antonio Pappano, Hong Kong Philharmonic with Jaap van Zweden, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Manfred Honeck, Finnish Radio Orchestra and Hannu Lintu, Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick-Nézet-Seguin, Orchestra della Scala with Myung-Whun Chung. He will also tour with the European Union Youth Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda in venues like Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Royal Albert Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Robin Ticciati in Germany, the WDR Sinfonieorchester and Marek Janowski in Germany and Japan, and with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Antonio Pappano in Asia.

He collaborates with conductors at the highest level such as Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yuri Temirkanov, Krzysztof Urbanski, Fabien Gabel, Marek Janowski, Vasily Petrenko, Jakub Hrusa, Leonard Slatkin or Mikhail Pletnev.

In November 2017, Seong-Jin stepped in for Lang Lang with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for concerts in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hong-Kong and Seoul. Other major orchestral appearances include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Mariinsky Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, RAI Symphony Orchestra, Hessischer Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester.

Born in 1994 in Seoul, Seong-Jin Cho started learning the piano at 6 and gave his first public recital at age 11. In 2009, he became the youngest-ever winner of Japan’s Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. In 2011, he won Third prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the age of 17. In 2012, he moved to Paris to study with Michel Béroff at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique where he graduated in 2015. He is now based in Berlin.

seongjin-cho.com

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

When I was really young my brother, who is older than me, played violin. I thought that looked like a lot of fun so I also started playing too. That is what got me interested in music to start with. In our home we had a very old upright piano, I think it cost £100. It was really terrible, almost untune-able. My brother and I would play around on it, making a terrible noise until my mum got so fed up with it that she found a local piano teacher to help tame us! I found that I enjoyed playing piano and would spend hours practising and trying out new things. My parents are not at all musical so they didn’t really know what to do with me when I began to become more and more interested in playing.

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

 I think that my first piano teacher, Claire Swainsbury, had a huge effect on me. She showed me how much fun I could have playing piano and introduced me to some beautiful pieces of music. Then later on Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a big influence along with the conductor Alexander Sladkovsky.

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

I think that in the UK Classical Music is sometimes difficult for people to understand, whereas in many other countries, Russia especially, it is more a part of everyday life. The education system in the UK doesn’t really help either. So I guess that is a pretty big challenge… for everyone involved in classical music in the UK.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

That would have to be Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 with Alexander Sladkovsky in Kazan.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I enjoy performing a wide range of work but I do have my favourites, like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Liszt. I think that if you enjoy performing a piece of music you will usually play it well. I’ve always been fond of performing the great Russian romantic composers, although I’m never sure if I play these pieces the best. But I do know that I really enjoy this kind of repertoire.

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

I always have a list of pieces that I want to perform, I choose the ones that fit with the way I am feeling at the time when I am ready to begin a new piece.

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

I love performing in Russia and of course the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory has to be my favourite. Mainly because of the acoustics but also because of the long history behind this amazing concert hall and the many legendary artists who have performed there.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I think my all time favourite would have to be Horowitz, who, when he first started performing, was paid in butter and chocolate… sounds good to me!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing with Valery Gergiev and having a ten minute rehearsal for an entire concerto which ended five minutes before going on stage. That was interesting.

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

For me success in music isn’t something that you can ever really achieve or reach. Certainly I try to improve my understanding of a piece of music, but I am not sure if I will ever succeed in doing so completely.

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

Always remember that music is an art form, not a science. It comes from the heart. So be yourself when you perform no matter what the people around you are telling you.


Born in Hackney in the UK, British pianist George Harliono was invited to make his first one hour long, solo recital at the age of nine. Since then he has performed in numerous locations both in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia, appearing at venues such as Wigmore Hall, The Royal Festival Hall, The Royal Albert Hall and Chicago Symphony Centre.

In 2013 he was invited to record Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op.2 No.1 at the Southbank Centre in London. In 2016 his performance of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 at the Great Hall of The Moscow Conservatory was broadcast live on Russian national TV and streamed live on Medici TV.

Since his concerto debut at the age of 12 he has been a regular performer with orchestras including the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, The Mariinsky Orchestra, Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra, New Millennium Orchestra of Chicago and Tyumen Philharmonic Orchestra. George also regularly performs alongside eminent artists such as Lang Lang and Denis Matsuev and has worked with many renowned conductors including Valery Gergiev, Alexander Sladkovsky, Evgeny Shestakov and Francesco Milioto

George has been awarded prizes in numerous competitions throughout the world including The Grand Piano Competition in Moscow, Royal Overseas League Music Competition in London, Gina Bachauer Piano Competition in Utah and Dinu Lipatti Piano Competition in Bucharest

Most recently he performed with The Mariinsky Orchestra in Vladivostok, Russia under the baton of Valery Gergiev and was also invited to perform a recital as part of the Scherzo Young Series in Madrid. Scherzo is the most important piano series in Madrid and has previously featured artists such as Yuja Wang and Mitsuko Uchida.

He studies with Professor Vanessa Latarche (Chair of International Keyboard Studies and Head of Keyboard, Royal College of Music in London) and travels to Switzerland to work with his mentor, renowned pianist professor Vovka Ashkenazy and also his father Vladimir Ashkenazy. He has taken masterclasses with Dmitri Bashkirov, Lang Lang and Vladimir Ovchinikov among others. George also works closely with Alexander Sladkovsky who has taken a personal interest in his development as an artist.

George began studying at The Royal College of Music for a BMUS Degree on a full four year scholarship in September of last year. He is one of the youngest students ever to be accepted onto this course.

Upcoming engagements for this year include performances with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev and Orquesta Sinfónica Provincial de Santa Fe conducted by Walter Hilgers. George will also be giving a concerto performance at the Berliner Philharmonie as well as a recital at the Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama, Japan.

georgeharliono.net

(Photo: Alexander Von Busch and Kir Simakov)

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

I did not grow up in a musical family and so started playing the piano relatively late, shortly before I turned 10 years old. I was bought a battery-operated keyboard for Christmas – soon outgrown! – and was instantly gripped. I frequently had to be torn away to do my school homework. The real catalyst for my wanting to pursue a career in music was when I attended by first BBC Prom concert. I was so captivated by the atmosphere, the music, the sound of the orchestra and the grandeur of the Royal Albert Hall!

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

My teachers have, without a shadow of doubt, been the greatest influences on my life as a musician. My first principle piano teacher during my formative years studying at the Purcell School and RCM Junior Department (2001-2007) was Emily Jeffrey, and she has had a remarkable and sustained influence on my life and music-making ever since. Ronan O’Hora, my subsequent teacher is a musician of the highest order whose teaching balances high demand on artistic integrity with a philosophical outlook that enables the individual within to find freedom. My current professor, Eliso Virsaladze, is an extraordinary person (not least because she can demonstrate any repertoire sublimely from memory at the drop of a hat, and that she can speak ten languages fluently!). Her artistry and teaching is legendary the world over, and justly so. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to work with her.

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

Maintaining the willpower to keep growing and developing all the time takes huge energy, but I suppose it gives a certain type of energy back. In real terms, I sometimes struggle with the public aspect of life as a performer – the need to be your best always, the business of “networking” and actively telling people about your work etc. It is sometimes at odds with my rather more introverted nature. Despite what people may see on the outside, or when I am on stage, I am, in principle, a private person and sensitive to my moods. Sometimes I really want to perform yet there is no concert until next week, and when there is a concert to perform, I just want to lock myself away practise late into the night by candlelight or read a wonderful book!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Certain performances stand out as more memorable and for different reasons. In 2007 I performed Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto with the RCM Junior Department Symphony Orchestra having won the concerto competition the year before. I would probably dislike many things about that performance were I to listen it now, but I remember feeling at the time that it really represented my work over six years with my first main teacher and was somehow my “graduating” performance. Last year I gave my second recital for the Chopin Society, that time on Chopin’s own Pleyel piano. I just felt a complete sense of abandonment of all physical or psychological inhibitions and felt so engaged with the beauty of the music on the piano Chopin himself had played. It was a magical experience. Also, my latest CD for Willowhayne Records is a source of pride, not least because it features the first recording of Thomas Adès’s Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face other that the composer’s own. It’s a monstrously difficult piece (he’s arranged it for two pianos in the hope of having it played more!).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Some pieces feel as though they come so much more naturally than others. I remember when I first started studying Chopin’s Barcarolle and his Andante Spianato et grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22 they felt as though I had played them before. It usually depends on my affinity with the qualities of individual pieces and sometimes this can change from day to day. Repertoire is rather like people and friends in that sense.

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

Mostly this would be wish lists, but I try to find interesting themes, or tailor programmes to suit the requirements of certain organisations. I think being flexible and open to discovery is really important.

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

I have been fortunate to have played in some really amazing halls, but the Brahms-Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna and the Philharmonie in Cologne were among the most heavenly experiences. Aesthetic beauty and superb acoustic made them particularly effortless joys. For a pianist, the instrument is every bit as important and, when I was on my ECHO Rising Stars tour, Kawai supplied me with a Shigeru Kawai concert grand (which I had chosen in Germany the year before) and a master piano artisan technician for the concerts. With every venue I could walk out on stage with absolute trust that the instrument would not only respond to my every demand but inspire me further still.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are too many! At least among the living pianists I would include (in no particular order) Martha Argerich, Richard Goode, Eliso Virsaladze, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Radu Lupu. If I were to talk singers, string players, conductors we’d be here forever! However, I could not fail to mention the likes of Arthur Rubinstein, Cortot, Arrau, Richter, Clara Haskil from the past, however…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Purely for the fun of it: when the pedal lyre fell off altogether during a Tchaikovsky Concerto and another time when the fire alarm went off during my encore after a Chopin Concerto in Germany. When I played in the same hall the following season I just had to play the same encore to finish it!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Better for other people to decide!

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

Also a difficult question to find a suitable response to, because everybody needs different advice to follow their own unique path. The most important thing may be to have the courage to keep searching for the truth in the music, whatever that may be. Keep your integrity as high as you can, but be flexible and open to discover. Never imitate anyone, least of all yourself. Read lots of books and see as many great paintings as you possibly can!

Ashley Fripp’s CD of music by J S Bach, Ades and Chopin is available now on the Willowhayne Records label.


British pianist Ashley Fripp frequently appears as solo recitalist, chamber musician and concerto soloist in many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls, having performed extensively throughout Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Recent international highlights include the Carnegie Hall (New York), Musikverein (Vienna), Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), the Philharmonie halls of Cologne, Paris, Luxembourg and Warsaw, the Bozar (Brussels), Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, the Royal Festival, Barbican and Wigmore Halls (London), the Megaron (Athens), Konserthuset (Stockholm) and the Gulbenkian Auditorium (Lisbon).

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The second evening of concerts at Chetham’s featured musicians of the next generation and an established international concert artist.

The Ronald Stevenson Memorial recital is given in honour of one of the greatest composer-pianists of modern times, and was established in 2015 with generous funds donated by the Stevenson Society. Stevenson, who died in 2015, was a visitor to the Chetham’s Summer School. He wrote highly attractive, virtuosic and engaging music inspired by the landscape, heritage and culture of Scotland where he made his home. His large and varied post-Romantic oeuvre also includes music written for children, which is sophisticated and characterful.

In this concert, students from Chetham’s School of Music performed works by Stevenson, including his Scottish Folk Song Settings for Piano and the quirky Six Pensees sur des Preludes de Chopin, Stevenson’s clever combining of Preludes by Chopin to create miniatures which are witty and imaginative. It was wonderful to see young people, one as young as 9, performing with such poise and confidence. In addition, their individual sound and range of pianistic colours and moods was impressive, and this concert was both a celebration of Stevenson’s genius and these young musicians.

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Leon McCawley’s concert was one of those occasions where the reviewer’s role is rendered largely redundant! What can I say about a performance of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K279 whose outer movements sparkled with wit and good humour, contrasting with an Andante of understated operatic drama and elegance? Or Richter’s favourite Schubert Sonata, the genial D894, performed with such taste, clarity and sensitivity that we never lost sight of the overall arc of this long sonata. So many little details – of melody, rhythm and harmony – were deftly managed to create a compelling and fluent musical narrative that was expansive yet also highly intimate. McCawley caught Schubert’s fleeting moods, his unexpected volte-faces (often signalled by “distant” harmonies or rests), with lyricism and grace.

The concert pianist cuts a romantic, almost mysterious image: alone on the stage with only a shiny black minotaur of a concert grand for company, the pianist exists in a place other than ours, elevated – both physically and metaphorically – before us. We invest special heroic qualities in the pianist, knowing that he/she must convey supreme mastery and complete oneness with the music by playing from memory. Pianists are like Himalayan adventurers, scaling the highest peaks without a safety net: Triumph or fail, they do so in the very public sphere of the concert hall.

A concert is not called a “performance” – and its participants “performers” – for nothing. Like an actor inhabiting a character created by a playwright, so the musician takes on a special role for the duration of the concert. Like actors, they also wear special clothes for the occasion, which further defines their role, and the occasion occurs in a special building, often in darkness or semi-darkness. Thus the concert becomes an experience outside the realm of daily existence – for audience and performer.

Every physical act you do when you’re on stage is part of the drama of the performance. Playing a concert is theater. It’s one of the reasons I think we should have a different costume for playing a concert, as opposed to listening to a concert. It doesn’t have to be tails, but I think we need to emphasize that this is something that’s not of the everyday.

– Stephen Hough, concert pianist (from an interview with Pacific Standard

Milton Court, London after a concert by America pianist Jeremy Denk
The mystique of the performance begins as the house lights dim, the unspoken signal to the audience to fall silent. A palpable sense of expectancy permeates the concert hall, and the shared adventure of the performance begins as soon as the pianist crosses the stage. The applause, the audience’s way of greeting the performer, and, in return, a bow, the performer’s way of acknowledging the audience. There is no enmity: for the next few hours we are, to quote British pianist Stephen Hough, “all friends”, sharing in the experience, our many differences forgotten for the duration of the concert.

The moments before the performance begins resembles nothing else. One has a sense of the awesome formality of the occasion, the responsibility, the knowledge that, once begun, a performance cannot be withdrawn. Silent, poised at the piano, at that moment the pianist has complete control over our reactions:

I sit down, and I don’t move a muscle. I create a sense of emptiness within myself, and in my head I count up to thirty, very slowly. This causes panic in the audience: ‘What’s happening? Is he ill?’. Then and only then I play the G [of Liszt’s Sonata]. In this way, the note sounds totally unexpected, but in an intentional way. Clearly, there’s a sort of theatricality about this, but the theatrical element seems to me very important in music. It’s essential if you want to create a feeling of unexpectedness….

The unexpected, the unforeseen – it’s this that creates an impression

– Sviatoslav Richter (from Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations by Bruno Monsaingeon)

The best performers (and I don’t necessarily mean the most famous or technically assured) are the ones who take us into their confidence, creating an unspoken mutual connection through music. They weave stories for us, create magic, transport us to another place and allow us to forget ourselves and the tedious minutiae of our daily lives.

The pianist’s mystique and the ritual of the concert create a unique connection in time and place between the performer, the music and the audience.

Today, when presenting classical music seems to be all about “accessibility”, the mystique of performance can be lost in the desire to “connect” with the audience “extra-musically”, so to speak, by talking to the audience, for example, to break down barriers. It’s great to enjoy classical music in a more relaxed setting; it’s interesting when the performers introduce the programme, discuss their particular connection to the music, or why they selected it. This can work especially well in smaller venues where the audience and performer are in close proximity. But talking to the audience pre-concert in a big hall is problematic without proper amplification, and the big venues almost naturally lend themselves to a more formal, mystical concert experience. And I think audiences like performers to actively create a sense of mystique – because we know we are mere mortals in the face of such superhuman ability.

The most startling thing can be meeting a concert pianist “off duty”, so to speak. Years ago, long before I started writing this blog, I interviewed a concert pianist at his fairly modest home in leafy suburbia. I have always been fascinated by pianists (still am, as this blog testifies!) and I had an overly romantic image of the “concert pianist” (this was some years before I took up the piano again and learnt how to be a performer myself, which gave me an understanding of what goes on on stage during a concert and the curious psychology of performance). The mystique was dispelled the moment the pianist answered in the door. I remember he was was wearing navy socks of the type one can buy in M&S, and his piano room was not some Lisztian salon, as I had imagined it might be, all crimson swags and a bust of the composer for inspiration, or an ascetic monkish cell, but a tidy “office” equipped with the tools of his trade – a grand piano and a career’s worth of scores neatly lining one wall. The virtuoso at home. This person had kids, and a friendly cat, a mortgage to pay and a car to service: in truth, he was disappointingly ordinary. I had imagined something, someone, more esoteric, and his very ordinariness was a shock – he regarded the fine art of creating beautiful music for others to enjoy as nothing more than something he did day to day, nine to five, just like any other job. In fact, most of the musicians I have met via this blog and my Meet the Artist series, and of course after concerts, are normal people – and they “normalise” the incredibly artistic and highly intellectual thing that they do on stage in order to function day to day and get their work (practising) done. Because for them, music is their job. But of course what marks them out is their ability to transform the normal into the beautiful, the transcendent, the magical……and if we want to preserve that mystique, maybe it is better we don’t meet our pianistic heroes and heroines.

…the further a performance must travel to reach the origin of the music, the more the artist demonstrates the measure of both his conscience and his genius

Mark Mitchell, Virtuosi!

“The loneliness doesn’t worry me……I spend most of my life alone, even backstage…….I’m there completely alone. I like the time alone….”

Stephen Hough, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs

The pianist’s life is, by necessity, lonely. One of the main reasons pianists spend so much time alone is that we must practise more than other musicians because we have many more notes and symbols to decode, learn and upkeep. This prolonged solitary process may eventually result in a public performance, at which we exchange the loneliness of the practise room for the solitude of the concert platform.

Most of us do not choose the piano because we are loners – such decisions are usually based on our emotions, motor skills or the aural appeal of the instrument. For me, as a child – and an only child – the piano was a companion and a portal to a world of exploration, fantasy and storytelling. It remains a place to retreat to and time spent with the instrument and its literature can be therapeutic, rebalancing and uplifting. For many of us, being alone is the time when the sense of being at one with the instrument is strongest.

In addition, there is time alone spent listening to recordings – one’s own (for self-evaluation) and by others (for inspiration and ideas on interpretative possibilities, or purely for relaxation) – and time simply recovering from practising and refocusing in readiness for the next session. Many pianists tend to be loners – the career almost demands it and self-reliance is something one learns early on, as a musician – but that does not necessarily make pianists lonely or unsociable.

To me it’s always about connection – connecting with parts of myself, with the thoughts and feelings of the composer, and ultimately sharing with an audience. It’s travelling through time and space to experience other eras and cultures…..I can’t think of anything that makes me feel less lonely!

Stephen Marquiss, pianist & composer

 

The life of the concert soloist is a strange calling, yet many concert pianists accept the loneliness as part of the package, together with the other accessories of the trade. The concert pianist experiences a particular kind of solitude (as noted by Stephen Hough in the quote at the beginning of this article). The solitude of travelling alone – the monotony of airport lounges, the Sisyphean accumulation of airmiles, nights spent alone in faceless hotels. Dining alone, sleeping alone, breakfast alone, rising early to practise alone. And there is the concert itself: waiting backstage, alone, in the green room, and then the moment when you cross the stage, entirely alone….. The pianist Martha Argerich has described the “immense” space around the piano that has always made her feel alone on stage. But it is this aloneness, this separation, which the solo pianist exploits for the purpose of captivating and seducing the audience, drawing them into his or her own private world for the duration of the performance.

I suppose being an introvert in a ‘public performance’ profession has been my greatest challenge. It isn’t straightforward, of course – I seem to have a deep need to communicate music to an audience and get their reaction, and I love to be appreciated, but there are many other aspects of being ‘on show’ that don’t come naturally. I’m very interested in people, but I’m quite a private person and need lots of time to myself.

Susan Tomes, pianist and writer

The traditional positioning of the piano on stage, so that the pianist sits side on to the audience, heightens this sense of separation and aloneness. In a concert, the pianist must navigate a path between private, subjective feelings and public expression in a curious display of both isolation and exhibitionism. The power of performer, and performance, is this separateness from the mass of audience. Some performers may exploit this to create a sense of “us and them”, while others are adept at creating an intensity or intimacy of sound and gesture during which the audience may feel as if they have a private window onto the pianist’s unique world, in that moment.

emanuel-superjumbo

Up there on the stage, one can feel more alone than anyone would ever care to be, yet it can make one better than one thinks possible because one’s ego is constantly being tested when one plays. To meet a Beethoven sonata head on, for example, it stops being about you – how fast you can play, how technically accomplished you are. Instead it is about getting beyond oneself, becoming ego-less, humble in the face of this great music, developing a sense of one-ness with the composer…..

After the performance, when the greeting of the audience and CD signing is over, the pianist may happily retreat to his or her solitary practise room or studio. Many of us long for this special solitude and actively relish the time spent practising alone.

The internet and social media has, for many of us, been a huge support in relieving feelings of loneliness and separation. Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms enable us to connect with pianists and other musicians around the world, allowing us to preserve our solitude, while also engaging meaningfully with others when required.

An earlier version of this article appeared on the Pianodao blog

 

(Picture: Emmanuel Ax in recital at Carnegie Hall, photo by The New York Times)