Violinist Chloë Hanslip is Principal Artist at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music. Here she shares her musical insights and inspirations, and reminds us that being a musician is not just about practicing……


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I grew up in a very musical household – my mother had been a ballet teacher, my sister was a pianist studying at RAM when I was born, and my Grandmother, who lived with us, was a piano teacher so music was everywhere! As I grew older my teachers obviously had a huge influence on my playing, as did having the opportunity to play for, and work with, incredible musicians such as Mariss Jansons and Ida Haendel.

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

Although there have been some challenges and the change from being perceived as a prodigy to being accepted as a whole musician is notoriously complicated, I think that I have been quite lucky. I have also always tried to focus on the positives and to grow, use and learn from any of the less pleasant aspects!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

Well, I am my own harshest critic (I think most musicians are!) and I’m always finding things that I would like to do differently…. that being said, the Beethoven cycle that Danny Driver and I performed and recorded a few years ago is something that I am so happy to have been able to do.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

When I was younger my heart was with Romantic music and I loved playing hugely virtuosic works. I still really enjoy performing those works but have been glad to expand my horizons over the years to include everything from Baroque to Contemporary! I love having the opportunity to bounce from one genre to the next in quick succession and think each one helps to inform the others, so hopefully it is a never ending circle of all works getting better each time I perform them.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I go hiking and walking in nature and the mountains as much as possible! Also, now that I have a one year old, the reminder to look at things with fresh eyes definitely also inspires.

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

For works with orchestras it’s largely based on what I’m invited to perform! For recitals Danny and I will discuss what works we haven’t done that we would like to add to our repertoire and then we choose contrasting pieces to land on programmes that have interest and flow to them.

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

My favourite concert venue is whichever one I’m performing in at that moment! Seriously though, there is something very special about Wigmore Hall.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

There are so many wonderful initiatives out there that I’m not sure I can add to them, but I think exposure to and demystifying the classical music world is key. 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’ve been so lucky to have many wonderful experiences, but performing at the Proms for the first time is definitely up there at the top!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Oh gosh, without wanting to sound self-aggrandising, if I can give just one person joy with my playing then that’s success to me.

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

Stay true to yourself! And don’t just practice – go for walks, to museums, to shops….and listen to everything. There has to be balance, and life informs the way we approach music as much as music informs the way we approach life.

Chloë Hanslip performs at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival Music, with Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra and conductor Tom Hammond, and in recital with pianist Danny Driver. She will also be giving masterclasses at Queenswood School, Hatfield, as part of the Festival. Full details here


Chloë Hanslip (b. 1987) has already established herself as an artist of distinction on the international stage. Prodigiously talented, she made her BBC Proms debut at fourteen and her US concerto debut at fifteen and has performed at major venues in the UK (Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall), Europe (Vienna Musikverein, Hamburg Laeiszhalle, Paris Louvre and Salle Gaveau, St Petersburg Hermitage) as well as Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Arts Space in Tokyo and the Seoul Arts Centre.

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Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM) takes place from Thursday 4th to Friday 10th of June. Postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, HFoM 2021 is particularly special as for many people it will be the first time they have enjoyed live music in over a year.

Now in its fifth edition, Hertfordshire Festival of Music has grown rapidly from a small weekend event to a major summer celebration of classical music, based in and around the attractive historic county town of Hertford.

An established part of the summer classical music calendar, under the direction and vision of co-Artistic Directors conductor Tom Hammond and composer James Francis Brown, HFoM is now one of the UK’s major music festivals, featuring international artists and ensembles alongside innovative outreach and educational projects. This
year’s Festival showcases a diverse range of artists and music.

HFoM is delighted to present prodigiously talented violinist Chloë Hanslip as this year’s Principal Artist. Praised for her “warmth and clarity” and “simply spellbinding” playing, Chloë Hanslip (b. 1987) has already established herself as an artist of distinction on the international stage.  During this year’s Festival, Chloë will perform as a soloist with the Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra in music by Pärt and Sibelius. She will also give two recitals with pianist Danny Driver and masterclasses at Queenswood School in partnership with Future Talent.

Judith Weir, CBE, is this year’s Featured Living Composer. Appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 2014, Weir’s richly communicative music is “consistently imaginative” and “genuinely ravishing” (Tom Service, The Guardian). Festival audiences will be able to enjoy performances of Judith’s music as well as gain insights into her creative life in an “in conversation” event with HFoM Artistic Directors Tom Hammond and James Francis Brown.

HFoM 2020 featured Artists/Ensembles:

  • Violinist Chloë Hanslip (“…wholly infectious conviction, spontaneity and panache… superbly accomplished performances…” Gramophone)
  • Pianist Danny Driver (“….a delight to hear performances as radiant as these” Seen & Heard International)
  • Albion Quartet (“The playing, by the excellent Albion, is masterly in its vividness, freedom and sensitivity” Sunday Times)
  • Matthew Sharp, cello/voice (“extraordinary cellist, virile baritone and compelling actor” Daily Telegraph)
  • Fontanella Recorder Consort (“Such beautiful playing, fabulous ensemble…what’s not to like?” Frome Concerts Group)
  • Pianist Florian Mitrea (“a mixture of phenomenal technique and ravishing musical intelligence” Cambridge Independent)
  • Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra, conducted by Tom Hammond
    ZRI (“unique and endlessly captivating…combining the raucous energy of an impromptu pub session with the style and sophistication of the concert hall” – Cambridge Music Festival)
  • Tom Hammond, conductor (“A serious contender for most promising maestro of his generation.” Musical Opinion

The Festival opens with two concerts by Albion Quartet which celebrate Hertfordshire’s ‘Haydn Connection’ (read more here) as well as showcasing music by Judith Weir, CBE.

In addition to more traditional concert settings, ZRI will play an informal “brewhouse session” at McMullen’s Brewery in Hertford, and there will also be an opportunity to watch a full concert orchestra at work in a “relaxed rehearsal” with the HFoM Festival Orchestra. 

From talks and guided walks to storytelling events for children with “virtuoso of the arts”, cellist and actor Matthew Sharp, a celebration of the Friends’ Meeting House in Hertford (the oldest still in use) and a festival finale including two of Beethoven’s best-loved sonatas for violin and piano, Hertfordshire Festival of Music brings together some of the finest international musicians in a varied range of creative and imaginative programmes. It promises to be a delicious, generous feast for music lovers who have been bereft of live music over the past year. 


Hertford is just over twenty miles from central London, easy to get to by rail and road but nestled in the beautiful countryside of the Lea Valley. Concerts generally take place within a ten minute stroll of the town’s centre, which boasts excellent restaurants, many independent shops and accommodation.

Since its launch in 2016, the Festival has presented concerts that have inspired extraordinary audience responses to artists such as Tasmin Little OBE, Dame Emma Kirkby, Stephen Hough CBE, Steven Isserlis CBE, the Carducci Quartet, the Galliard Ensemble and The Prince Consort. HFoM is fortunate to receive major support from Arts Council England and a number of charitable trusts and foundations, county, district and town councils, while a growing Friends Scheme allows individuals to play an important role in supporting the Festival and furthering its scope and potential.

The Festival offers affordable ticket prices, multi-event discounts, some free events, and a ticket scheme for under 18s and those in full-time education. The organisers have gone to every length to ensure that all venues are COVID-secure for the safety, comfort and enjoyment of audiences, performers and Festival staff.

HFoM exists to celebrate and nurture exceptional music-making, featuring some of the world’s finest performers. The Festival also supports professional and young musicians from Hertfordshire, presents fascinating music by living composers and devises major, innovative projects for education and participation.

Partner organisations: Queenswood School, Hertfordshire Music Service, Mudlarks Garden Café, Benslow Music Trust, Future Talent

Funders and supporters: Longmores Solicitors, Queenswood School, Handelsbanken, Harpenden Music Foundation, East Herts District Council, Hertford Town Council and Herts County Council, McMullen Brewing and Pubs.

HFoM is grateful to Arts Council England for its generous support of the Festival for 2021 and 2022.

Website: www.hertsmusicfest.org.uk
Twitter: @HertMusicFest
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Hertsmusicfest/
Registered Charity Number 1175716

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Guest post by Jacky Colliss Harvey

If you had been standing in Buckingham Street (now York Buildings) off the westerly end of the Strand in London, on the evening of the 19th April 1687, looking out over the river and what had been the gardens of old York House, and with the York Watergate in front of you, you would have been privileged to overhear one of the finest voices in Europe coming from Number 12. The voice belonged to the castrato Siface (Giovanni Francesco Grossi) a man who according to the chronicler John Evelyn “disdained to show his talent to any but princes”; the house where he was performing belonged to Evelyn’s friend Mr Samuel Pepys, late Secretary to the Admiralty, one-time MP, and, from 1684 to 1686, President of the Royal Society. And of course creator, from 1660 to 1669, of the most famous diary in English history. It says all you need to know of Pepys’s reputation as a music-lover that here was Siface performing in his drawing room.

Samuel-Pepys

One of the great joys of researching Walking Pepys’s London were the insights it produced into the man himself, the chance to explore what you might call his inner geography. Alone with his Diary, Pepys was a man of strong passions, by no means all of them as admirable as his devotion to music, and of much ambition. He could be shamelessly calculating in his pursuit of women, professional and social advancement, and wealth; but when he speaks in his Diary of music and the effect it had on him, it is with the artless adoration of the truly besotted. “That which did please me beyond any thing in the whole world was the wind-musique when the angel comes down,” begins one of his most famous descriptions of how music could possess him, after witnessing a performance of Decker and Massinger’s The Virgin Martyr: “so sweet that it ravished me, and indeed, in a word, did wrap up my soul so that it made me really sick, just as I have formerly been when in love with my wife; that neither then, nor all the evening going home, and at home, I was able to think of any thing, but remained all night transported…” I imagine every music-lover can recognise themselves in that experience. Then in the very next sentence Pepys the romantic is elbowed out the way by the bull-headed man of business, the ruler of his roost: the experience “makes me resolve to practice wind-musique, and to make my wife do the like.”

And when Pepys resolved to master a thing, he did exactly that. One of the secrets of his professional success was that he couldn’t see a system without wanting to better it. When teaching himself to play his recorder (purchased from Drumbleby the instrument-maker in the Strand), he notes how the getting of its fingering “is necessary for a man that would understand musique… though it be a ridiculous and troublesome way, and I know I shall be able hereafter to show the world a simpler”. October 1667 saw him investigating the workings of a ‘trump-marin’ (or tromba marina, a stringed instrument despite its name) of “one Monsieur Prin… it is most admirable and at first was a mystery to me that I should hear a whole concert of chords together at the end of a pause, but he showed me that it was only when the last notes were 5ths or 3rds, one to another, and then their sounds like an Echo did last so as they seemed to sound all together…. I was mightily pleased with it, and he did take great pains to shew me all he could do on it.”

As you might intuit from this, Pepys loved a new toy (he could go into ecstasies over a slide-rule); his library, now in Magdalene College, Cambridge, contains, alongside his 3,000 books and the manuscript Diary itself, an extraordinary relic of 17th-century ingenuity in the form of an ‘Arca Musarithmica’, a sort of wooden proto-computer, its movable slats as dry and fragile now as autumn leaves. By manipulating these, its inventor, Athanasius Kircher, had assured the world that “anyone, even the ἀμουσος [unmusical] may, through various applications of compositional instruments compose melodies according to a desired style.” Pepys was hardly unmusical (as his fortune increased he would eventually also own a flute, lute, viol, flageolet, lyra or bass viol, spinet, theorbo, violin and virginals), but he paid out 35 shillings, or about £200 today, simply for the accompanying book of instructions, making a trip to Duck Lane in Smithfield – now Little Britain; then one of London’s bookselling centres – to do so.

Pepys lived and wrote at a time of exceptional change and innovation in the arts, and was something of a conservative at heart; by no means all such novelties as the Arca Musarithmica met with his approval. He was, for example, initially scathing of the guitar, as opposed to the lute or viol. Visiting the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on the 8th May 1663, the day after it had opened, Pepys noted how its innovative orchestra pit meant that “the musique being below, and most of it sounding under the very stage, there is no hearing of the bases at all, nor very well of the trebles, which sure must be mended.” Nicholas Lanier, the first man ever to hold the title ‘Master of the King’s Musick’ was a friend, as you might expect, as were a number of other notable musicians of the day, and Pepys was well aware of the friction between the older style of English music and the newer French style, favoured by the newly restored King Charles II. (The same kind of genteel battle was going on between the English fashion for dining, with all the dishes on the table at once, and the more Continental practise of one course succeeding another. Pepys’s wife Elizabeth was French – one wonders which system triumphed when they dined at home?) The Diary records how a night out in August 1661, at a tavern next to the Savoy, had ended very badly when the virtuoso Humphrey Madge took exception to the views of one Monsieur d’Esquier “discoursing of musique … so much against the English and in praise of the French that made him mad,” and Madge had left in a huff.

But by 1661 English music had a lot of ground to make up. The cultural black hole of the Protectorate stood between Pepys’s childhood and his manhood. He had been born in 1631, in in the shadow of the old St Pauls and right next door to St Bride’s church, so the music of the Anglican liturgy might have run through his youth. But when Pepys was 9, in 1642, church music in London ceased to be, by order of Parliament. Public music-making such as Morris dancing was also forbidden, and London’s theatres were dark – a state of affairs with which we are more familiar now than we might ever have supposed possible before 2020. So the music Pepys grew up with was either domestic (his father, John, a tailor, owned a pair of virginals), or it would have been the traditional melodies of London’s streets: the whistled songs of tradesmen going about their business, the cries of the street-sellers plying their wares door to door, joined perhaps by the ranting of the gloriously named ‘PraiseGod Barebones’, a Parliamentarian militant, yelling his disapproval of everything from his spot close by the Pepyses’ own front door.

We might intuit that Samuel retained his fondness for these songs and this music of the everyday from the fact that he had over 1700 ballads and ditties in that carefully curated library, many of them purchased from the publisher John Playford, a Fleet Street neighbour. Music was how he began his days, practising popular songs in his study before he went to work – “Up betimes and to my vyall [viol] and song book a pretty while,” is how he starts a typical day in April 1663. We can imagine him singing as he was rowed up and down the Thames on his business for the Navy Board; or trying out harmonies under his breath as he bustled back and forth across London, much as a writer will take a promising passage for a walk, working it back and forth, and if Pepys had a passion to rival his love of music, it was words. ‘Musique’ was how many of his days concluded, too, with a supper-time impromptu in a tavern, or in fine weather with friends ‘on the leads’, that is on the rooftop of his house in Seething Lane. “So home Sir William and I,” begins his account of one of the first such merry evenings in June 1661, with his patron Sir William Penn, “it being very hot weather I took my flageolette and played upon the leads in the garden….. and there we staid talking and singing, and drinking great drafts of claret, and eating botargo [a sort of 17th-century taramasalata] and bread and butter till 12 at night, it being moonshine; and so to bed, very near fuddled.” Music, a warm night, moonlight, food, friends and wine – what could be better than that?

The companionship that music brings was another reason for Pepys, that most clubbable of men, to treasure it. “Most excellent company with Mr. Hill and discourse of musique,” he writes in September 1665, as the entire country boiled and bubbled with plague and the war with the Dutch threatened to bankrupt the City. (The same Mr Thomas Hill, a London merchant, would later introduce Pepys to the musician Cesare Morelli, who would become an essential member of his household in the 1670s). It was the mark of a gentleman to be able to discourse upon music; it was the mark of a gentleman’s wife to be able to play and hold a tune, and at his behest Pepys’s wife, Elizabeth, put in many hours’ practise at her keyboard or with her singing-master. She sounds to have been a far more confident dancer than her husband (Pepys was consequently ferociously jealous of her dancing-master, even though he himself had hired the man), but you get the strong impression from the Diary that Elizabeth’s feel for music, and its role in her life, was much below her husband’s.

Pepys loved to sing, and loved to listen to a fine voice singing; his admiration for the actress Mrs Knepp, which frequently raised Elizabeth’s jealousy in turn, was as much about Knepp’s fine singing voice as it was about her feistiness and her person. “Here the best company for musique I ever was in, in my life,” he writes in December 1665, “and wish I could live and die in it, both for musique and the face of Mrs. Pierce, and my wife and Knipp [sic], who is pretty enough; but the most excellent, mad-humoured thing, and sings the noblest that ever I heard in my life.” To hear Knepp sing his own composition (laboured over for months), a setting of ‘Beauty Retire’ from William Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes – perhaps the first English opera – was one of the highlights of their relationship.

There were not many times when Pepys could claim innocence in his dealings with other women, as he was fully aware, but when Elizabeth upbraided him for the hours he spent with Mary Mercer, Elizabeth’s own paid companion, “teaching her to sing and could never take the pains with her [i.e., with Elizabeth herself]”, he could for once answer quite truthfully, “It is because that the girl do take musique mighty readily, and she do not, and musique is the thing of the world that I love most.” For Samuel Pepys, ‘Musique’ as a mistress, trumped them all.

walking-pepyss-london-web-copy-768x1176-1Jacky Colliss Harvey’s Walking Pepys’s London is published by Haus Publishing (£12.99, Hardback)


There is a very useful virtual exhibition, to be found here, with illustrates Pepys’s Arca Musarithmica and includes a brief excerpt from ‘Beauty Retire’

And for a deeper dive, this excellent documentary, from Radio 4, first broadcast in 2017


Jacky Colliss Harvey is a writer and editor. She has eight_col_jacky_colliss_harveyworked in museum publishing for the past 20 years and is a commentator and reviewer who speaks in both the UK and abroad on the arts and their relation to popular culture. She is the author of the bestseller RED: A History of the Redhead and most recently The Animal’s Companion.

She is a reviewer for ArtMuseLondon, a sister site to The Cross-Eyed pianist

Find Jacky on Twitter @JCollissHarvey

Image credit:

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666. Pepys is holding ‘Beauty Retire’, in his setting, as he looks at us.

NPG 211 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

For me, my earliest memories of listening to various great works for the first time was the biggest catalyst for me wanting to learn the piano. There was never really an exact point in which I decided this would be my career, but I guess I always pretty much had a one-track mind in wanting music to be my life. Partly a reason for this is that I don’t think I was good at anything else! My first piano teacher Dorothy she, who recently just passed away, was certainly an extremely instrumental figure in my life. She was the one who taught me everything from the beginning. All of my teachers each played a very important role in my development, from my professors in my early teenage years, A. Ramon Rivera and Alexander Korsantia, to the teachers that really molded my development from the age of 15 onwards up until today: Robert McDonald, Dang Thai Son, and Jonathan Biss. Aesthetically, I would say that the pianists whose musical language and careers have inspired me the most are Radu Lupu, Grigory Sokolov, and Mitsuko Uchida.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I listen to a lot of recordings of various works frequently. Whether it be a Bach Cantata, Schubert Lieder, or Mozart Piano Concerto, etc. I always want to have music in my ears, and somewhat subconsciously and consciously get deeper into the musical and emotional worlds of these great composers. Further, when I’m listening to a great piece of music whilst enjoying a beautiful part of nature, this inspires me the most.

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

This process varies all the time, but I would say first and foremost I would choose pieces I really want to play. The burning desire must be there for me to have to play this work at this time. Then, the decisions come where a programme must make sense musically, and also I have to imagine how it would work and sound to an audience. I don’t like programmes that are random, and are more of a showcase of all the different types of pieces a musician can play. I much prefer a programme that has cohesion and relation in its aesthetic, and the musical worlds of certain composers. This would apply mostly to the music within one half of a recital programme. After an intermission it can either be completely different, or continue on a common thread.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There really have been so many very memorable concert experiences, and in a way, all of them have been, because of how unique each experience is, and you never know what will happen on stage. However, one that has stood out very much so far was my BBC Proms debut. This was a concert that I had prepared a lot of time for, and there was nothing quite like that experience of walking out on stage to this ocean of people at the Albert Hall. I really did feel this unique and electric energy, and general warmth coming from the public that day.

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

I would hope that I can continue to have the chance to play music for people in all corners of the globe. I think despite all its unique challenges, and immense stress, our profession as a performing musician is a very lucky one. What an opportunity it is to be able to travel the world, see so many different countries and cultures, whilst doing what you love. Music is a very active and living thing. So much of this music left to us by these transcendent geniuses is so unbelievably great. However, without it being brought to life and played, it’s simply notes on a page. I just feel very lucky to be able to have a part in this wonderful process of bringing these works to more people.


Eric Lu won First Prize at The Leeds International Piano Competition in 2018, the first American to win the prestigious prize since Murray Perahia. He made his BBC Proms debut the following summer, and is currently a member of the BBC New Generation Artist scheme. Eric is a recipient of the 2021 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and is an exclusive Warner Classics recording artist.

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Guest post by Adrian Ainsworth

It’s not often I take up my pen in literal anger, writing to purge myself somehow of an irritation that has been eating away at me for a day or two now. I speak – as you have no doubt guessed – of the latest BBC Proms recruitment ad, seeking candidates for roles in ‘Live Events and Communications’.

“Here’s a short video,” the BBC Proms Twitter account chirped, “to give you a taster of what it’s like working at the Proms.”

With a cute ‘technical-glitch’ shimmy, we’re immediately introduced to a freshly-minted young BBC publicist. Against a percussive, rhythmic soundtrack, she says: “One thing about the Proms that people don’t know is that it’s not all just about classical music like Mozart and Beethoven.” Cue frantic burst of definitely-not-classical music. She continues, over montages of Proms passim: “The Proms showcases so many different music genres and styles from House, Ibiza music, to Sci Fi film music, to breakdancing music. So there really is something for everyone, and you don’t necessarily have to have a background in classical music to work at the Proms.”

Then we switch to a colleague, whose ‘stand-out moment’ when working for the Proms was dressing up as an astronaut and jumping about on stage during a performance by the band Public Service Broadcasting.

Perhaps anxious to avoid the tone becoming any more ‘space cadet’, the video returns to our first correspondent, who says that “Working at the BBC Proms helped me to build up so many skills. This allowed me to get another job at the BBC working in publicity for TV programmes instead.”

We finish with the Spaceman warmly recalling the various teams within the overall Proms department feeling like a large, happy community, with further images from concerts in which, thankfully, some classical musicians are included.

It may be a feature of lockdown, and the slightly dislocated mental state it can produce, that the oddest and most unexpected things can really push your buttons. THIS really pushed my buttons. I checked to see if it was 1 April. On a second viewing, I felt like gnawing my own arm off, and by a blinking, disbelieving third, I wanted to cry. I assure you, my flippancy is disguising – perhaps not very well – a deep-seated hatred of this advert and the thinking that went into it.

When the ad first appeared, some people reacted with distaste, sadness or horror – similar responses to mine, in other words. Others played its impact down, more or less saying that it’s only aimed at getting a certain type of dynamic, can-do employee through the door and that the ‘audience’, in this case, is not the audience. And yet – it’s out there for all of us to see, isn’t it, as circulated by the BBC Proms team? They endorse this ‘message’.

And what a message. Taking it from the top, what have we got?

  • Luckily, the whole thing isn’t just classical music ‘like’ Mozart and Beethoven. Boooo-ring!
  • The Proms offer a wide range of musical genres, but I don’t know what any of them are. I thought they had quite broad, well-known names like jazz and soul, but someone handed me a piece of paper with ‘Ibiza music’ and ‘breakdancing music’ on it.
  • For those of you who aren’t really interested in the music aspect at all, there’s the jumping astronaut element.
  • After all, you’ll only be using the skills you learn at the Proms to get another job doing what you really want to do.

Forgive me: it turns out I am still angry.

This ad was put together by people who are, unaccountably, embarrassed by classical music – to the point where they feel the need to sideline it, to apologise for its irksome presence. They couldn’t be bothered to give their poor participants some kind of script or direction to sound at least vaguely interested – let alone well-versed – in music of any shape or form. Why bother, I suppose, if they’re only going to hang around for a minimum length of time before moving on?

The Proms is the world’s ‘largest’ classical music festival. I believe this claim is undisputed. Normally, I’d be the first to say size doesn’t matter, quality over quantity, and so on. But I think the sheer scale of the Proms says something positive. It would be pointless, unseemly and of course, wrong to say we have all the ‘best’ venues, singers, players, and so on: this is the arts, not sport. But the ambition shown simply to mount the Proms year in, year out – notwithstanding the virus wrecking the 2020 season – sends a signal about how much we care about classical music. Under the BBC’s stewardship, some 80 concerts take place each year, which reach well beyond the capital: every minute of Proms music goes out on BBC Radio 3, and a handsome amount makes it to TV on BBC4. Programming is deliberately wide, and at its inventive heights it seasons the classical music line-up (which, let’s get this straight, is the absolute backbone of the repertoire) with forays into other genres which complement the whole. The diversity can be itself diverse: macro – full concerts foregrounding musicians from all corners of the globe – or micro – lining up premieres from living composers alongside the old ‘warhorse’ pieces to ensure new music is heard. And as everyone involved knows, there’s still a lot more the festival can do, and a lot further it can go.

I try to get across in all my writing (and occasional speaking) that classical music is approachable and accessible as long as you treat it as such; as vital, vibrant and valid as any other style of music. As a result, the Proms recruitment ad felt like a kick in the teeth. It could have placed classical music proudly alongside the genres it inspires, supports, complements and interacts with… and accordingly, win over some applicants who would want to work in a classical music environment and stay there.

Instead, everything good the Proms sets out to achieve, this unthinking dumbshow throws into reverse. I hope they accidentally recruit some excellent communicators.

(This article first appeared on the ArtMuseLondon site)


Adrian Ainsworth is, by day, a copywriter specialising in plain language communications about finance and benefits. However, he spends the rest of the time consuming as much music, live or recorded, as possible – then writing about it, often on Specs, his slightly erratic ‘cultural diary’ containing thought pieces, performance and exhibition write-ups, playlists, and even a spot of light photography. He has a particular interest in art song and opera… and a general interest in everything else. He is a regular guest writer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist and a reviewer for its sister site ArtMuseLondon.

Twitter @Adrian_Specs

Pianist Peter Jablonski first appeared in the Meet the Artist series on this site back in 2016. In this updated interview, he reflects on his musical influences and inspirations, his new release for Ondine, and what the experience of lockdown has taught him, as a musician. 

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My first musical experiences were with jazz music, and I started learning jazz percussion at a young age. But piano came into my life very soon after, and it became obvious that it should be my main instrument when I started studying at the Malmö Music Academy, where I studied both percussion and piano performance. Everything in life can have an influence on a musician, big or small, and I count among those my performances at the Village Vanguard in New York when I was nine; meeting and playing to Miles Davis, playing with Buddy Rich and Thad Jones; playing to Claudio Abbado; working with Vladimir Ashkenazy; my first teacher in Malmö, Michał Wesołowski, who was so adept at describing music in colours, scents, feelings, and images; travelling the world as much as I have; reading Bertrand Russel, Pessoa, Oscar Wilde, Sabahattin Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Stefan Zweig, Dostoyevsky; learning my first Chopin mazurka; the realisation every time I play a concert that my profession is unique—one creates in a moment in time something that people can never hold in their hands, but something that they hopefully can carry in their memory for days, months, maybe years; my partner’s infuriating knowledge of obscure composers she continues to throw at me, and whose music often serves as a sad reminder of how unfairly many of them are forgotten. There are so many things that an artist can list as having been influential—it is the beauty of not only being an artist, but being a human.

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

Overcoming an injury just before Covid-19 struck and wreaked global havoc. I was diagnosed with a condition called frozen shoulder, which took many months to heal, only to then migrate to the other shoulder. In a way, I can say that I experienced Covid-like restrictions imposed on my work two years before Covid appeared, and with it, a shock of suddenly not being able to practice, play, and even travel, and wondering if it would ever get better.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

It is very difficult to listen to yourself, and many musicians would probably agree that it is often painful to hear one’s old recordings. These are just snapshots of those moments in time, and one has a tendency to always find room for improvement. But if I do look back, I would have to name my performances of the first piano concerto by Shostakovich, with Ashkenazy and the RPO and my recording of the Scriabin piano concerto with Ashkenazy and the DSOB.  Tchaikovsky 2 with Dutoit and the Philharmonia isn’t too bad either, considering I had to learn the piece especially for the recording!  Grieg’s Ballade and lyric pieces on Exton released in 2012 have been very dear to me, as I feel very close to Grieg’s intimate side in a Nordic kind of way.

I am also in a very different stage of my career now, where I am much less dictated to in the choices of my repertoire, and can really explore the long-neglected corners and all sorts of repertoire that I simply didn’t have time for until now. My collaboration with Ondine began last year, with the recording of Scriabin’s complete mazurkas, and continues with the upcoming release of piano works by Stanchinsky. These two composers are connected by their historical period, the city they lived in, and the professors they studied with. They knew each other, and were shaped by many of the same events that unfolded in the political and cultural life of Russia. I am absolutely delighted that in collaboration with Ondine, whose work I hugely admire, I have found a perfect mix of freedom to discover for myself the composers and works I long dreamt of knowing, and an impeccable quality control when it comes to all sorts of details and technicalities that I simply couldn’t think of myself.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

This question can be answered differently depending on when it is asked. When I was a 17-year old pianist with a new Decca contract, I capitalised on my rigorous training in percussion and found particular enjoyment in performances of muscular, rhythmical, acrobatic works such as Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky piano concerti (I recorded all three for Decca), of performing and recording works by Gershwin and Ravel, and spending much of my time with Russian romantics and American 20th-century composers. But I am 50% Polish, so Polish composers always loomed large in my life, from Chopin to living Polish composers, and I am so glad I got to work on Lutosławski’s piano concerto with the composer himself, whose encouragement and guidance meant a lot. It was also an honour to have a concerto written for me by Wocjiech Kilar; to premiere works by Zygmunt Krause, Romuald Twardowski, and of course to always have in my repertoire works by Szymanowski, Maciejewski, and many others.   Now I am very intrigued by the works by Grażyna Bacewicz, which I hope also to record for Ondine. So, I guess, to answer this question in another way: I like to think that I give my heart and soul to make sure every composer whose music I perform will get my best.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Life is my inspiration. To wake up every day and to see outside my window how nature changes its colours and patterns in the most minute yet steady way is to be constantly inspired. No matter what, the spirit of nature continues its march towards each season, serving as a reminder to us humans, that we too should continue our pursuits with the same steadfastness, and always have time to stop and notice something wonderful and wondrous. You might say that being close to nature reminds me to try and bring this wonder to every concert.

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

It varies greatly. A season might be dedicated to celebrating a particular composer, or one might happen to want to explore particular repertoire in a given year. Right now, for me, my choices are, of course, influenced by what recording I might be working on. For example, I can already say that 2022/23 season will be heavily focused on the music by Grażyna Bacewicz, which I am due to record for Ondine and which I will perform.

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

It is almost impossible to pick one, there have been so many. Suntory Hall in Tokyo has been a special place for me for many years—it is a large venue, and yet there is an intimacy one feels on stage during a recital that almost defies explanation.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

An eternal question! There are many elements to this answer: diverse programming, daring choices, fresh ideas that show people that there is a huge amount of interesting, worthy music out there that is still waiting to be heard. Hopefully, I will show this with my forthcoming release of piano works by Alexey Stanchinsky. But audiences do not grow just because we want them to—it starts in early childhood, at home, at school. Every child must have an opportunity to learn an instrument, to be exposed to great musical works just as they have to learn maths or learn how to read and write. Music should be embedded in education from the beginning—so many studies and experiments show the healing power of music, the effect it has on brain development, and on concentration, which is particularly suffering in our post-modern, social-media saturated, digital age.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Again, an almost impossible question but certainly one of the most unusual was my first performance in Seoul, South Korea. It would have been around 1995 and I was due to perform Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody with Myung-Whun Chung conducting the Philharmonia.

There was a public holiday in Korea that day so the orchestra bus was heavily delayed on its way to the concert venue. The concert was relayed live on Korean TV and the orchestra was not there at the time of the start, so I was asked if I could play something while we waited for the orchestra. I was still wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but it came to pass that Mo. Chung (who is a great pianist) and I had to take turns in giving an impromptu recital live on TV while the orchestra made its way through the Seoul traffic! Every time I play in Korea someone always comes up to me and reminds me of that day.

Of course I have to mention also the one when the cannon for the 1812 Overture (which was the next item in the programme) accidentally went off during a particularly peaceful moment in the slow movement of Tchaikovsky 1 in my debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be in a place that allows you to create at the piano, to be in the moment, for every performance to be an artistic experience and experiment, not just another concert. To be happy with the fact that the process of becoming an artist, a musician, a human being is ongoing and that there is no arrival point, only the journey full of ups and downs, possibilities, gains and losses, and most of all, continuous learning.

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

Learn how to know yourself, commit to a life-long process of discovering your artistic personality, be adventurous in life and in work, and most of all, do not to give up when things don’t work out straight away, and to keep a positive outlook even in the darkest of times. Remember the ancient Eastern proverb—‘Even after the darkest winter, spring will always follow’.

What has lockdown taught you as a musician?

To appreciate the space it has created around me, to appreciate the slower pace of life, and to find beauty in the smallest everyday things. To take a walk and to marvel at the beauty of nature, and of its indifference to us, humans, in a good way. It is obvious that without us, nature would do quite well, but we without nature—well, that’s a different story. The space, the quiet, the slowing down all help to restart the creative process, to recharge, and to find new energy for new projects.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Here in Sweden, still discovering new repertoire, as well as playing what I will forever love of Chopin, Beethoven, and so many others, and remaining open to what life brings.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Does it exist? To me, perfect happiness is perfect for a limited time only: if there is no strife, no challenges, no adversity of some kind, life has the danger of becoming boring. But waking up on a sunny morning and having a cup of coffee outside, listening to a spring song of a bird and being in that moment viscerally comes pretty close!

What is your most treasured possession?

My music scores.

What is your present state of mind?

Calm.

Peter Jablonski’s album of piano works by Alexey Stanchinsky (1888–1914), one of the most talented Russian composers of the early 20th Century, is released on 5 March on the Ondine label. Stanchinsky was not only a talent but a genuine innovator who,  despite his early death, had a profound influence on the generation of composers to follow.

The album will be released one year after lockdown began.  During these difficult and uncertain months, many people may have experienced poor mental health at times, just as Stanchinsky did during his lifetime.  In honour of Stanchinsky’s memory, Peter Jablonski has partnered with Samaritans and will make a personal donation to assist their work.   The official message from Samaritans is: When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org.


Peter Jablonski is an internationally acclaimed Swedish pianist.  Discovered by Claudio Abbado and Vladimir Ashkenazy and signed by Decca at the age of 17, he went on to perform, collaborate and record with over 150 of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, including the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Mariinsky, La Scala Philharmonic, Tonhalle Zurich, Orchestre Nationale de France, NHK Tokyo, DSO Berlin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras and worked with such acclaimed conductors as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Valery Gergiev, Kurt Sanderling, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Riccardo Chailly, Daniele Gatti, and Myung-Whun Chung, to name a few.  He has performed and recorded the complete piano concertos by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Bartók and all of the piano sonatas by Prokofiev.  During his three-decade-long career, he worked closely with composers Witold Lutosławski and Arvo Pärt.  Jablonski’s extensive discography includes several award-winning recordings.

Peter Jablonski’s website