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

I had this little toy keyboard-glock thing when I was little and, apparently, I would relentlessly play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on repeat on it…using only fingers 4 and 5. My parents weren’t musicians but suspected it would be sensible to find a teacher for me before I got into any strange habits!

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

My parents were incredibly supportive for which I will be eternally grateful. We also had a wide variety of musical genres playing in our home. I also had a primary school music teacher who encouraged me to be broad from the very start. He let me start an ensemble of children blowing across pen lids and he gave us a slot in a concert!

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

Self-doubt is my biggest enemy. I received some pretty damning assessments of my pianism and musicianship from some teachers along the way advising me to search for a career elsewhere and those comments still haunt me, regardless of any success I may enjoy. On a lighter note, as I like to keep myself varied and versatile, the constant “hat changing” from role to role takes a fair amount of concentration. There’s a reason people choose to specialise and I am endeavouring to match each person’s standard in each of their home territories! But I wouldn’t change it!!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a particular love for Debussy and French music. My very first piano teacher taught me that if I couldn’t get the sound I wanted out of a piano, that was down to me and I had to keep searching. This led to an endless thirst for finding sounds. I love contemporary music for the same reason. I also enjoy playing music which pulls on the breadth of styles I am familiar with.

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

I often don’t! I am often asked to play particular programmes based around certain themes. I recently performed a programme of works written for me for piano and various micro-computers!

Do you have a favourite concert venue and why?

I do love the Wigmore Hall. As well as the beautiful acoustic, there is something about its dimensions, the stage, the lighting, which makes you feel both near enough and far enough away from the audience while having a wonderful connection with any fellow performers on stage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love a good explosion like Martha Argerich. And Mitsuko Uchida just oozes generosity and sincerity.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Unfortunately, the one which springs to mind is where I had a wardrobe malfunction! I started my Scarlatti Sonata and one strap slipped down my shoulder, then the other… I could feel the audience holding their breath…for all the wrong reasons!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Finding the perfect connection between you, the composer and the audience (and the space and the piano) and balancing what needs to be communicated between all of these.

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

That you can only offer what you have to offer. Feed yourself in every way possible, work as hard as possible, and always give everything you can. You must not expect any less of yourself…but you also cannot expect any more.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

In 10 years time, I would like to have a life full of a whole range of musical things, some of which I don’t want to be able to guess! I’d also like to have redressed my work-life balance…!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is the above and having person/people to share that with. Moments of absolute creative activity interspersed with thoughtless silliness and some complete stillness.

What is your present state of mind?

My present state of mind is currently noisy! I find it difficult to switch off; finding internal silence is a constant endeavour.


As a multi-genre chamber musician, orchestral pianist and music director, Yshani has performed at venues including Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Barbican Theatre and various West End Theatres. She has performed at events including the Oxford Lieder Festival, Kammer Klang and Live at the London Palladium and with such varied artists as City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mahogany Opera and Nina Conti.

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

My career in music has been an organic process of embracing a variety of opportunities that have unfolded as a result of my training as a multi-instrumentalist/ composer and following my intuition. The turning point in pursuing my musical career in particular happened during my years studying composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where I met a wide range of musicians and had several professional opportunities that opened the door to a continuous flow of experiences to date.

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

My Mum (who decided I should start piano lessons at 4 years old), Sweet Honey In The Rock, David Smith (my principal piano teacher), Sue Sutherly & David Kennedy (my cello teachers), Stevie Wonder, Trinity Laban, Bach, Courtney Pine, Nitin Sawhney and Anoushka Shankar.

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

Moments of my own self-imposed limited thinking.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My debut album Road Runner

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Roxanne

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

Every show is unique. I consider the venue, audience, music I have in my repertoire, whether it’s a solo or band show and then shape the performance accordingly.

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

King’s Place, London. It’s a beautiful venue in my hometown with great sound, two versatile rooms that are able to accommodate the range of my musical styles and the capacity is just right for me (intimate but big enough). I’ve had so many incredible pivotal performances there across my career and memories to last a lifetime.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing my song ‘Ain’t I A Woman?’ at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NYC, becoming the only non-American to win an entire season of Amateur Night Live.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A stream of exciting musical opportunities that facilitate artistic growth and truly enjoying the music you’re creating and sharing.

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

  • Hearing your own inner voice, following your intuition as an artist.
  • Creative discipline – having a practice to enable development and excellence.
  • Recording your output so you can reflect and move forward with confidence.

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

In 10 years time, I see myself engaging in a portfolio of amazing creative experiences including:

  • Creating an extraordinary multi-disciplinary live show and touring the world with
    my band, dancers and crew.
  • Composing music for theatre, dance and film.
  • Running a record label that supports release of music by other artists as well as
    my own.
  • Curating several music festivals worldwide.
  • Collaborating with some of my musical heroes including Sting, Anita Baker,
    Erykah Badu, Bjork and Take Six.
  • Composing for and performing with several orchestras including the London
    Symphony Orchestra, Chineke!, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Metropole Orkest

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Internal and external peace and fulfilment in all aspects of life in the present moment.

What is your most treasured possession?

Reuben, my cello.

What is your present state of mind?

Calm.


Singer, songwriter, cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson is a rare exception to the rule that classical and alternative r&b music cannot successfully coexist.

Graduating with a first from both Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and the Manhattan School of Music, Ayanna was a participant in the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme and become an Emerging Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank Centre. She was a featured artist with Courtney Pine’s Afropeans: Jazz Warriors and became the only non-American to win Amateur Night Live at the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem, NYC.

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

Mstislav Rostropovich

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

Rostropovich and, later, my husband Julian Lloyd Webber, who taught me a lot through his deep knowledge of music and repertoire.

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

Practising!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Vivaldi Concertos for 2 Cellos with my husband and the European Union Chamber Orchestra (Naxos). Apart from the well known existing concerto for 2 cellos, we arranged five other Vivaldi concertos for two instruments. I think they all work very well on two cellos. We also included an arrangement of a Piazzolla Milonga which is a beautiful piece.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Possibly the Bach solo suites

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

Depends on the venue/concert promoter and what we agree

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

The beautiful new Bradshaw Hall at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – I played the Vivaldi Concerto for 2 cellos with Jian Wang, conducted by Julian.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For all the wrong reasons it would have to be Julian’s final performance as a cellist in Malvern on May 2nd 2014. It was a brilliant concert but with a very sad atmosphere.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To please my audience

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

Enthusiasm, a questing nature and a constant love for the music.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Bergonzi cello


Jiaxin Lloyd Webber graduated from Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1997. She was already giving performances with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra but left China for further studies in New Zealand where she received her Master Degree at Auckland University in 2001.

While in New Zealand Jiaxin was principal cello of the Auckland Chamber Orchestra, a founder member of the Aroha String Quartet and played regularly with both the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. With the Auckland Symphony Orchestra she performed cello concertos by Dvorak, Elgar and Lalo.

Now resident in the UK, Jiaxin is married to the world renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and has performed with Julian for BBC Radio 3, Classic FM, CNN Global TV, and BBC TV. They have recorded for Universal Classics and Naxos. Their recordings have been chosen as Record of the Month by both Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine and as CD of the Week by both Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. Their 2013 recording, ‘A Tale of Two Cellos’ was the Number One UK classical album for many weeks and is one of the Naxos label’s bestselling recordings of all time. Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber have played sell-out tours with such orchestra as the English Chamber Orchestra and the European Union Chamber Orchestra and have made many nationwide TV and Radio appearances on such high profile programmes as BBC Breakfast, The Andrew Marr Show and Radio 4 Midweek.

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

I began singing in school and church choirs – while I’m not particularly religious, my first church choir director encouraged me to take private lessons in musicianship and voice from her (an organist) and her husband (a baritone). I was inspired by my sister (a cellist) to go to conservatory for my music degree and pursue the career, and parents were (and still are) 100% supportive of my artistic goals.

I was inspired to specialize in contemporary vocal music by two groups of people – (1) my college classmates in the composition department, who exposed me to new music and encouraged me to use my creativity in creating unique sounds, and (2) a whole lot of singers who are true entrepreneurs; something that blew things wide open for me was seeing singers use their voices in their own artistic ways and creating opportunities for themselves, as opposed to conforming to the traditional operatic career. My voice has never been traditional, so seeing artists who think creatively like I do was a game changer.

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

Again, composers are my greatest influence. Composers remind me to remain curious and to create sounds that are fresh and genuinely inspired. Collaborating with composers is one of the most fun things about my job, and performing/listening to new works has brought me nothing but exhilaration and rejuvenation.

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

One of my greatest challenges was regaining my confidence. I lost my confidence, and almost lost my voice, in college, and after college I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with my singing, let alone how to obtain joy from singing. I knew I loved contemporary music, but taking the step to curating my first show was hard. I had to create the smallest bud of confidence for myself, and I think I did that my just focusing on my love for the music I wanted to sing, and I had to abandon the need for validation from others. I achieved this, but it took a lot of self-reflection, some therapy, and a huge leap of faith.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Several, but one that comes to mind is a collaboration that was in the jazz / avant-garde scene. La Operación, a work for solo soprano, two saxophones, two double basses and two drumsets, was written this year by bassist Nick Dunston, and the work is an abstract interpretation of a historical phenomenon involving colorism in Puerto Rico, eugenics, medical malpractice, second-wave feminism, and American colonialism. The piece is a structured improvisation consisting of tone rows, construction sounds, and a massive pile of extended techniques. I loved singing and improvising in this work, and it opened up a new vault of sounds which I now use in my repertoire.

Within the “new classical scene”, a couple of performances that come to mind are the chamber music experiences I’ve been a part of, particularly with Wavefield Ensemble and Ekmeles Ensemble. The repertoire from each of these collaborations (including works by Kaija Saariaho, Bernhard Lang, Lewis Nielson, Victoria Cheah and Nathan Davis) was very challenging, but both groups were incredible to work with and we made some pretty incredible music. I grew immensely as an artist working with each group.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

One of my staple works is Georges Aperghis’ 14 Recitations for solo voice. I learned this work a couple of years ago, and the work is rarely performed in its entirety. I’ve performed the full work several times already, and each time I feel that I get better and better. The work fits me like a glove, and I just love singing it.

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

I have a bucket list of works that I want to learn and perform. But when I go through my season, I try to strike a balance between learning new works and rehashing old ones so that I don’t over extend myself.

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

Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, NY. The music that comes out of this place is stellar. From the Resonant Bodies festival, to avant-garde improvisers, to interdisciplinary artists… This place is just filled with crazy amazing music-making.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Like, everyone. But here are a few: Claire Chase, Sarah Maria Sun, Barbara Hannigan, St. Vincent, and Janelle Monet.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I recently gave a TEDx Talk and Performance (called “Your Voice Is A Fingerprint”) about contemporary vocal music in Waltham, MA. That was pretty amazing.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Honestly, being happy with how music balances your life. It’s different for everyone, which is super important to be aware of, and finding that balance can lift a huge weight of your shoulders. Plus, it makes for better music-making because you’re making music for yourself above others.

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

See above. I’m a huge proponent of music being a personal journey and a self-chosen journey. Whether that choice is traditional, entrepreneurial, or even a hobby, choosing how music is a part of your life (and not dictated by society or mentors or whoever) is an important part of being an honest, creative and liberated artist.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have a keepsake box in which I collect notes and such from performances. I also keep negative notes that people have sent to me or taped on my apartment door when I practice. Everything, good and bad, intelligent and ridiculous, reminds me to lock into my confidence, remain curious, and to keep going.


Colombian-American soprano Stephanie Lamprea is an architect of new sounds and expressions as a performer, recitalist, curator and improviser, specializing in contemporary classical repertoire. Trained as an operatic coloratura, Stephanie uses her voice as a mechanism of avant-garde performance art, creating “maniacal shifts of vocal production and character… like an icepick through the skull” (composer Jason Eckardt). Her work has been described as “mercurial” by I Care If You Listen, and she “sings so expressively and slowly with ever louder and higher-pitched voice, that the inclined listener [has] shivers down their back and tension flows into the last row.” (Halberstadt.de) She received a 2019 Emerging Artist Award from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, and she was awarded 2nd prize in the international John Cage Awards, sponsored by the John Cage Orgel Stiftung in Halberstadt, Germany. Her curatorial work received a 2018 grant from the Puffin Foundation. Stephanie was a featured TEDx Speaker in TEDxWaltham: Going Places.

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

I loved to sing as a child and wanted to imitate my voice through an instrument: the clarinet was an obvious choice.

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

Every note that I played and that brought me closer towards what I felt and heard inside.

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

Performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on a brand new bassett clarinet at the BBC Proms. The instrument was designed for me and ready only three weeks before the performance.

The ARD competition in Munich in 2012 was also quite a challenge!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

My latest recording: Belle époque with the Orchestre National de Lille under Alexandre Bloch (Pentatone).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

As I love Mozart (Quintet, Concerto, Trio) and French music (Debussy, Poulenc, Widor, ..) most; I guess those are the pieces people like to hear most from me.

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

Intuïtion and a sense of challenge and creativity.

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

My favourite halls are the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the Tonhalle Zürich. Both halls have a magical acoustic.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I do not have a favourite musicians, but I love many: Martha Argerich, Liisa Batiashvili, Truls Mörk, Hagen Quartet, Belcea Quartet, Francesco Piemontesi, Tabea Zimmerman, François Leleux…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A performance of Brahms Clarinet Quintet in a small church in Belgium. There was a special atmosphere that evening. It felt almost like a healing experience, both for me and the audience. Many listeners started to cry during the slow movement.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Serving the music, reaching perfection and leaving ego at the doorstep.

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

Practice hard, stay yourself, ask yourself why you make music and embrace challenges with a smile.

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

Even closer to my clarinet

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having the impression that life flows by itself.

Belle Époque – music for clarinet from Brahms, Debussy, Pierné, Trojahn and Widor
(Pentatone SA-CD PTC 5186808) is available now.


Belgian clarinettist Annelien Van Wauwe, former BBC New Generation Artist and winner of the renowned Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award 2018, is known for her expressive, intensive, lyrical and honest performances. She is considered to be one of the most fascinating and original clarinettists of her generation.

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

It was mainly the incredible Dizzy Gillespie who taught me how fantastic the trumpet can be! 

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

Definitely Dizzy, but also many other musicians – Queen,  also Trevor Pinnock, and many violin virtuosos who helped me understand song-like communication through an instrument 

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

The lack of Classical repertoire for the solo trumpet… and finding adequate time to mindfully practice and the courage to perform in front of audiences and at the front of symphony orchestras. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I was so proud of creating GABRIEL at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013. It was everything I adore about music: the greatest material one can imagine in the music of Purcell and Handel, the delightful opportunity to work for an extended period with the English Concert,  also to work for the first tine with very fine actors and explore a different kind of attitude and camaraderie on stage than anything I’d experienced before. Happily we’re restarting it as a concert performance at Saffron Hall and the Barbican later this month. 

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That’s not really for me to say! But I think over the years and over many many performances I finally know what I’m doing – or ideally would like to be doing with the two mainstays of the repertoire: Haydn’s and Hummel’s trumpet concertos. They are less of a display of short term technique and more of a vehicle of expression of who you are as a person through the instrument. 

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

It’s pretty organic – it’s a mixture of conversations that rapidly take off (or don’t, and go on a slow burn!) and long standing relationships with beloved orchestras and conductors. Inspiration taken from all over the place too which is where the next album starts. 

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

I’m quite keen on all the main UK venues as I have such a long history with them, and they bring back fond memories each time I visit, but I do love magical settings such as the Hollywood Bowl and Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The last night of the Proms will always be a big personal highlight 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being totally inside the music and living each moment in the present, with nothing hampering what you want to say – technique, distractions, doubts, random sticky valves etc. ! 

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

Keep listening to live music and going to concerts to remind you why this is such a brilliant, powerful, relevant, important, beautiful thing in a human’s life and why you should keep on searching for those memorable, spine tingling occurrences. 

Alison Balsom performs in Gabriel at London’s Barbican Hall on 21 October as part of her Artist-in-Residence series. Further information

Her new album Royal Fireworks is released worldwide on 8 November on Warner Classics


Alison Balsom has performed with some of the greatest conductors and orchestras of our time including Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel, Sir Roger Norrington, l’Orchestre de Paris, San Francisco and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York and London Philharmonic orchestras, and has appeared as soloist at the Last Night of the BBC Proms. She regularly collaborates with some of the world’s leading chamber ensembles including the Academy of Ancient Music, Il Pomo d’Oro, The English Concert and most recently The Balsom Ensemble (a handpicked group of leading Baroque soloists). Alison is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including Gramophone Artist of the Year, the Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Award, three Echo Klassik Awards and three Classic BRIT awards (two of which as Female Artist of the Year).

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