One of the most charismatic talents on the contemporary scene

Mail on Sunday

The Naked Pianist is the third album by entrepreneurial and charismatic pianist Emmanuel Vass, building on the success of his last album, Sonic Waves, which reached #1 in the UK classical charts through crowdfunding, and extensive national media coverage, including ClassicFM, BBC Radio 3, and the Mail on Sunday. You may have already seen Emmanuel stripping on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent and in his orange Speedos on Channel 4’s show, First Dates Hotel, both of which were broadcast in May/June 2020.

The Naked Pianist draws its inspiration and name from Emmanuel’s YouTube channel, which strips music bare to demystify classical music, and attract new audiences. As such, the disc seamlessly blends popular classics by Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin, whilst also demonstrating Vass’s flare, passion and virtuoso musicianship in the playing of works by Rachmaninov and Bach, and his original compositions.

The Naked Pianist is released on 19 June on Emmanuel Vass’s own record label.



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The Naked Pianist is released


He really can play Beethoven

John Suchet, ClassicFM

The new classic

Attitude magazine

Very beautiful

Suzy Klein, BBC Radio 3

Extraordinary talent, curiosity, musical discovery, and very keenly developed entrepreneurial skills

Tony Woodcock, Huffington Post

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

My second singing teacher at Salo Music College. I was 14 or 15. Not particularly sure if I liked music as hobby. Parents were pushing.  Opera was in no way on my list of things I liked.

Then came this lovely teacher. Matti Pelo. He understood, had a good sense of psychology, was a good teacher. I started making progress with him.

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

My two teachers. In the beginning Liisa Linko-Malmio at Sibelius Academy, and since 1984, Vera Rozsa in London.

Later my first agent Diana Mulgan, a wise lady and a perfect manager for this young singer. At the start she concentrated on mostly turning down crazy offers that would have definitely ruined me.

Later still, some conductors and some stage directors who taught me so much.

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

“My own own worst enemy”, meaning mostly struggling with myself – confidence and not believing in myself. I have been lucky to have had a lot of support from people around me.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My 3 favourites will probably always be:
German Arias with Sir Colin Davis with Dresdner Staatskapelle
Four Last Songs (live rec) with Claudio Abbado
My 40th Birthday Recording with Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Finnish Radio Orchestra.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Slavic repertoire feels my stuff, Janáček particularly. Wagner feels right and gives me sheer pleasure to sing it. Also Richard Strauss.
Finnish repertoire remains my speciality: Sibelius, Madetoja, Kuula. Saariaho.

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

It depends on what is offered to me. Singer needs to work; I need to sing. So I choose from what I am offered. Opera houses of course know my repertoire. So it works smoothly. For example, switching to new roles is possible when the organizers are kept informed about changes I’m making.  My management does that.

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

Oh, there are so many. Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Gulbenkian, Royal Albert Hall, Palais Garnier, Rudolfinum, Tampere-talo. Love my ”home hall” in Naples, Florida; Artis—Naples.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

So many. All concerts with Claudio Abbado. Jiří Bělohlávek.
Maybe my 40th Birthday concert at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. The concerts in my native Finland feel always special. The audience there knows me, has followed my career the longest.

Impossible question!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When I feel I connect with my audience. When I find the ”zone” and the audience comes along. Time stops.

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

Home. Lots.
Giving master classes occasionally. Maybe giving private lessons. Coaching young singers.
Maybe still singing the Countess of Pique Dame.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Every day is different. But one thing is above all else: health.

Keeping loving people. Giving love. I feel I have plenty. Gratitude.

What is your most treasured possession?

My health.

What is your present state of mind?

All over the place. (Post divorce state. Temporary, I hope.) Work is my blessing.

In demand by every major opera house and festival, the lyric beauty of Karita Mattila’s voice and her innate sense of theatre set her apart as one of the most sought-after dramatic sopranos in the world today.

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(artist photo: Harrison Parrott)


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

We always had a piano at home. I come from a musical family. My mum, my grandma, my great-grandma were piano teachers and my first inspiration to take up the piano was just the sheer presence of the piano at home. I was five at the time and it seemed to me very obvious that the piano was there so that I could play it. The irrefutable logic of a five-year-old. I pestered my mum until she gave me lessons; she didn’t want to because she thought we had too many pianists in the family, but I was stubborn as a five-year-old can be and eventually after about 2 weeks she gave in.

The decision to pursue a career in music wasn’t quite a decision. There wasn’t a single moment where I stopped and said “I will be a pianist”. I gave my first concert at the age of seven and then by the age of 9 I was performing regularly. Because there was no break or consideration of pursuing another career, it just very naturally progressed from being something I did as a kid to being something I do with lots of love and passion as an adult.

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

The most important influences are both musical and non-musical. Musically I could name the pianists, Emil Gilels, Arthur Rubenstein, Grigory Sokolov, but also many others, Daniel Barenboim, especially in Beethoven, Martha Argerich in many things and of course not only pianists, conductors such as Furtwangler and Gergiev, John Elliot Gardner. Singers such as Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and of course influences can be non-musical: in a way every experience you have, every book you read, every movie you watch, every place you visit, every encounter you have, every moment you spend with friends or family, they leave a mark on you and direct you indirectly and therefore leave their mark on your playing.

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

There is an ongoing challenge which is to play in a way that does justice to the music and with some composers and with some pieces it is easier and more natural, while with others it requires a lot of very hard work and a lot of thought and time, sometimes months and even years from the point where you start learning a piece to a point where you feel that your interpretation is interesting, engaging and truthful to the spirit of the music. And this is something which is ongoing because even pieces that you thought that you played well in the past, you cannot rely on that past experience as a gauge for the next performance of the piece also being fine. So, basically it’s having the hand on the pulse everyday. I often record myself and listen back, because there’s often a gap between the way you perceive your performance while you’re playing: while you’re very much involved in the detail, hearing it from the outside with maybe a little more objectivity allows you to hear the whole structure and musical line, and judge whether it works or not. And this is something which happens almost everyday.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’d say for the recordings the War Sonatas, no 6,7 & 8 by Sergei Prokofiev, which I released on Orchid Classics in 2012. More recently, a CD I released with Naxos and with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Vasily Petrenko of the 2 piano concerti by Shostakovich, with an arrangement which I made of his own 8th String Quartet. As for performances I can think of various occasions which I thought at the time were good performances, but I often find that listening to the same recording a few years later, because you have changed in that time, you already feel a little more distanced from your previous work and you feel that if you were to do it today you would do it, not necessarily better, but differently. So I think most of the recordings would be a faithful document of how you felt about the piece at the time. Also, the CD I recorded of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-tableaux Op. 39 and his Musical Moments Op.16, also from Naxos. So I’d say I’m very proud of these three CD’s.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a very close affinity to Russian repertoire – Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, but also Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky. So most of the Russian composers I am deeply in love with and I am also very strongly connected to their world, Russia being my home country and also being my native tongue. Russian literature, Russian poetry are also very close to me. I don’t know if any of these explain the fact that I have such a strong connection to Russian music, but when I play Russian music I feel very much at home and I never grow tired of it. I also have a strong connection to German composers, in particular Brahms, Beethoven, Schumann and the being quite omnivorous, I also wouldn’t want to be without Ravel, Gershwin, Bartok or Liszt. But Russian and German composers in a way form the core of my repertoire and almost every recital programme will contain works from at least one of these groups. I find in general works that have a very strong story-telling element appeal immensely, music that you can almost imagine has a story behind it, even if there is no story handed to us from the composer. But also music that you then as a performer can transform into a narrative on stage. And these kind of works occur throughout the entire musical repertoire, it’s not just confined to Russian, German or French music.

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

When it comes to recital repertoire. I’m mostly free to choose my own works and then it’s a combination of works which I want to explore personally, works that I want to record and am planning to record, maybe in a year’s time, and I want to start playing them in concert a long time before the recording to gain this unique experience which live performance can give you and which you cannot simulate, no matter how much you practice at home. This probably involves some Russian or German repertoire. When it comes to concerto repertoire then the choice is usually in the hands of the orchestra. Normally the orchestra will ask the soloist to come and perform a concerto which is in the programme, and when it comes to chamber music then it is a collaborative choice between all of us who are involved in that concert.

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

I can think of several exceptional halls – the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, probably three of the absolute top venues. The reason for all three is the glorious way the sound soars when you’re in the halls, it’s effortless and it’s an absolute marvel to experience. Another favourite concert venue, for a very different reason, is the Royal Albert Hall, because of the Proms. Playing at the Proms for a 5500 audience with the first row of the prommers being maybe 20cm from you, the electricity in the hall, the silence of a crowd of that size listening and the reaction in the end, it’s a uniquely memorable experience.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians I mentioned earlier, but to recap – Emil Gilels, Arthur Rubenstein, Grigory Sokolov, in all 3 cases because of the deep humanity of their playing. Their touch, their sound – unique to each one of them but all together extremely musical, with every note capable of showing shading or nuance in a really awe-inspiring way. And through the very deep understanding a personal rendition of basically everything they’ve played. To that group I would add David Oistrakh. the Russian violinist. for the very same reasons. and conductors Furtwangler. again for his very deep humanity. and Valery Gergiev for sheer excitement and colour of his interpretations. Sir John Eliot Gardiner, whose recordings of Bach in particular I grew up on and keep listening to almost every day. Dietrich Fischer-Diskau – again someone whose recordings I grew up on and who strongly influenced my approach to lieder, which I accompanied quite a bit, and to phrasing in general and to this connection between text and music in the art song.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing at the Proms – last time I played the first piano concerto by Liszt and that was highly memorable, the silence of the full Royal Albert Hall listening and then the eruption of shouts and applause at the end. You’re thrilled afterwards for days – it’s a rush that stays with you for a very long time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

There can be several kinds of success – one kind is on any particular evening to be able to perform well. To be able to play in such a way that hopefully makes the audience forget their troubles for a few hours and be transported to wherever the music would like to take them to. On the other hand, in a way which you feel does justice to the music you’re playing, that catches a little glimpse of this truth behind the notes, that the note is just a gateway and which is in this very subjective realm of interpretation. Of course,  long-term the definition of success for a musician I’d say is again on two level. One is a career level which is measured in concerts, recordings, performances, prizes, if applicable, awards. But on another hand, it is maybe the legacy which you leave behind you, whether especially for those artists who were recording artists who have the legacy of recording – whether in 50 or 100 years later your recordings still sound truthful and still relevant and have value for those who listen to them at that time.

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

Apart from technical advice which is something every musician works on on a daily basis, I’d say the most important thing is (at least in my opinion) truthfulness to the core of the music. That is that every decision of interpretation that you make is not so much a preconception you have or an idea, but something which you feel comes from the music itself. It can come from the text (the notes), it can come from this space behind the notes, just thinking of the notes as a gateway to a pocket universe which composers fixed in place for us in order to gain access to that little – or great – world. This world, if the notes are completely objective, and every performance would have these notes in that order, but this world behind the notes which is the emotional and storytelling content of the performance, it is highly subjective and that is why interpretations differ so much from one another. Exploring those worlds and exploring them with unending respect and love to the composer and to that particular world which you are exploring, these for me are crucial things for every musician and I cannot think of any great musician to whom I would not feel this in their interpretation, this love and utter respect for the music which they are exploring, and this need and drive and desire to delve deeper and deeper into this world behind the notes.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I have two ideas of perfect happiness. One, as a musician, my idea of perfect happiness is that moment at a concert where you feel that everything is just flowing through you. It doesn’t happen every time, it’s rare in a way, but when it happens, the feeling when everything comes together and you feel that you’re almost possessed by the flow of music, being almost a conduit to it, while being able at the same time to shape this flow a little bit and direct it, these moments as a musician are utter happiness. My perfect happiness as a human being is to spend any amount of time with my family. It’s probably the most precious time I have in my life and there really can’t be too much or enough of it.

(Artist photo: Sasha Gusov)

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.


There has been a lively response to this article in The Guardian and I was happy to add my name to a list of signatories on an open letter in response written by pianist and musicologist Ian Pace (who is still collecting names – as I write, I understand Sir Simon Rattle has asked to be added to the list).

I share the author of The Guardian article’s concerns about the provision – or lack thereof – of music education in the UK, particularly in the state sector, and I, along with many music teacher colleagues, are fearful that with cuts in funding, music education (along with art and drama) will become the exclusive preserve of the private sector.

Observing the gradual dismantling of music teaching in our state schools from my, admittedly privileged, position as a private piano teacher working in one of the most affluent suburbs of SW London, I’ve come to appreciate that my own introduction to and study of music in the state education system in the 1970s and 80s was truly exceptional – both in terms of provision and quality of teaching – and a lot of what I learnt then, specifically at O and A-level, remains useful in my day-to-day teaching activities. I was indeed very fortunate.

What has really upset many of us about The Guardian article is the author’s assertion that musical notation – the dots, lines and signs on the printed or handwritten page of a musical score – is “a cryptic, tricky language (…) that can only be read by a small number of people“. She infers that the ability to read music is elitist because notation is unintelligible except to those who are privately educated.

In fact, the ability to read music is no more elitist than the ability to read English or Spanish or comprehend simple HTML coding. All skills which can be taught, and taught well, so that students learn and absorb them. Music is a language, with its own grammar and punctuation marks, which can be and is taught in a way not dissimilar to the teaching of, say, French or Latin.

I can’t remember when I first learnt to read music. I must have been around 5 or 6, as that is when I first started piano lessons, and at that time (early 1970s) I was probably taught in a very traditional way (I did music theory homework every week alongside my piano practise). But the method clearly worked as by the time I reached Grade 5 at the age of about 10, I was sufficiently confident in my music reading to start exploring beyond the confines of the piano grade syllabus. I was also a proficient and voracious sight-reader (a skill which I have fortunately retained, but one which must be practised regularly). Being able to read well unlocked an amazing door into a world of adventure and exploration – just as being able to read and understand English well did too (well, hello Chaucer!). As my pianistic skills advanced, so did my reading and pretty soon great thickets of notes or music written across three staves (such as in Debussy’s Preludes – pieces I played regularly as a teenager) became something with which I could engage and enjoy.

The young people, and adults, whom I teach and have taught will all say that one of the primary motivations for learning the piano is also learning to read music. One of my students really put his finger on it recently when he said “I want to be able to read music well enough so that I can open a book of music and play anything I want to” (observe his piano teacher whooping inwardly for joy – because this is my aim too!). This student could appreciate that the ability to read music offers the possibility for independent learning and exploration.

Learning to read music really isn’t that difficult: musical notation certainly has fewer quirks and anomalies than the English language and its “rules” and “grammar” are largely unchanging, which makes it a language which is pretty universal, in my humble opinion. For example, last year, I worked with an orchestra made up of musicians from the former Yugoslavia. My Croatian language skills don’t extend much further than “Zdravo” (Hello, how are you?) or “Doviđenja” (Goodbye), picked up on an exchange trip to Zagreb in my O-level year, but I and the other musicians all had the same score (Bach’s Double Concerto) on the music desks and we were able to “converse” through that: the notes on the pages became our common language. This may sound rather romantic, but musical notation also allows us to transcribe – or translate, if you will – music from other cultures, thus giving us the opportunity to experience this music within a more familiar set of symbols and parameters.

Bachlut1As my experience with the No Borders Orchestra illustrates, notation is not pure “theory” – it’s practical. Those dots, squiggles and numbers on the page are the directions to us, the musicians, which enable us to translate the composer’s intentions into sounds. Notation is also an important tool in understanding the structure, architecture and narrative of the music. It means we can look at original scores by composers like Bach or Mozart and understand them. The ability to read music enables us to play together in orchestras and bands, sing in choirs, read a jazz lead sheet – and the end result is……music. It’s not elitist; it’s simply the way music works – and it’s an efficient system understood by many, used across genres from rock and pop to jazz and classical music.


notation is a beautiful thing in its own right, a way of communicating ideas based on a common understanding and not something just for the privileged (I use myself as the example here, being from a working class, south London background with a very incomplete education)

– Marc Yeats, composer

In teaching notation, I think we need to dispel “the myth of difficult” – that is, if we tell children or indeed adults that something is difficult before they begin, the difficulty is inculcated in them from the outset and the task seems that much more onerous/impossible. Many people can’t read music because they don’t believe they can, that it is simply too difficult for them to grasp: they have been peddled the idea that it is “difficult” by peers, parents, teachers and such a negative, defeatist attitude convinces them that they won’t be able to do it. But good, intelligent, and positive teaching can turn learning to read music into a valuable and practical tool which gives access to a common language, develops fully rounded musicians, and sets us on a wonderful voyage of discovery.

Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist) is fundraising for the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM), a  unique charity set up to help musicians and other performers to stay healthy.


BAPAM holds free clinics where musicians (including music teachers) can obtain a free consultation with a clinician who has an expertise in problems affecting performers. These might include, among other conditions, playing-related injuries and pain, tension, hypermobility, voice problems, performance anxiety and stress.

BAPAM’s clinicians are from a wide range of backgrounds. They include general practitioners, physiotherapists, osteopaths, psychologists, rheumatologists and orthopaedists. These practitioners have a special interest in musicians’ health and well-being and many are musicians themselves with a deep understanding of the physical and emotional demands of the musician’s life.

Frances and other musician friends and colleagues have benefitted from consultations with BAPAM’s specialist practitioners, including physiotherapists and hand specialists, in addition to attending workshops and study days on musicians’ health and well-being.

Please make a donation to enable BAPAM to continue its important work.

Thank you in advance for your support