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

I didn’t have any intention to do it early on. I was training as a ballet dancer, with the hopes of pursuing that professionally, but had also been studying the piano since I was very small, and composition at the local university since I was 14. So, when injuries and illness put an end to ballet, just after I started full-time training, I enrolled in a music degree, as I couldn’t face going back to complete high school. The wonderful professor who’d been teaching me composition was also head of conducting. He saw those two disciplines as complimentary threads, and knew I had a strong interest in harmony and analysis and had conducted a little at school, so encouraged me to add it to my degree. It just grew from there.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

I am enormously, and endlessly, inspired by my husband, Jon Hargreaves – a contemporary music specialist, and my co-Artistic Director at Nevis Ensemble. Every project he creates is rigorously and creatively thought-out, and his ability to open up complex music to players of every experience level is second to none.

My grandmother Louise Carroll was a very important formative influence. She was a superb pianist as a young woman, but had to turn down a scholarship to study in London due to a pregnancy. She married my grandfather and channelled her musical energies into teaching and motherhood instead. I started harmony, piano and composition with her when I was about 4 years old, and fell asleep on many nights to the sound of her playing Medtner, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Nielsen. Any sense of musical style that I can claim to have comes from what I absorbed as I dropped off to sleep, I’m sure. The grounding she gave me in harmony is the foundation of everything that I do.

Lastly, when I first arrived in the UK, I worked for two years as the librarian at the Philharmonia. Happy, exhausting years. I learnt so much from watching and talking to Esa-Pekka, Maazel, Dohnanyi etc, but also through my discussions with the players, many of whom are now amongst my dearest friends. They were generous, insightful and caring teachers.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

At the moment, the greatest challenge is the anxiety. It can be crippling, and some orchestras really enjoy making the conductor suffer! I do better work when I’m with ensembles that are healthy and happy in spirit, and don’t project so much negativity onto the podium, because I can be very sensitive to it. But even with the friendliest band, the first rehearsal can be terrifying. Imposter syndrome is widespread in the music world, especially among conductors I think, and we all cope with it differently.

On the flip side, when you find that wonderful working rhythm with a group, to the point you can throw ideas at each other in the performance, and play together in quite an improvisatory way, it is pure gold. That interaction and level of communal creative responsibility is a beautiful thing. Also, actually meeting audience members, going to chat with people and have a cuppa after the concert is great – a powerful reminder of who we do it all for, but also how significant connectedness is to the arts. Doing perfect music “at” people and then leaving without any personal connection is far less satisfying to me than making whatever adjustments and measures are necessary to actually involve people, and find out why music is significant to them. Live music is a far more potent social lubricant than alcohol, and it is the doing of it, the sharing of it as an experience, wherein lies the magic.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

This is a tricky one… Of course, there is an ideal scenario that we’re all taught to speak of in hushed tones, in which we have weeks or even months to prepare a major score, and craft an analysis; enough rehearsal time to forge a gripping realisation of it; and divinely-inspired technique with which to communicate it. Utter b*ll*cks, really. A 19th-century fantasy. In reality, for 99% of working conductors, especially those of us in the early stages of our careers, we are tearing through scores with barely enough time to process them on even a basic level; spending much of our time working (happily!) with young people and non-professionals who require a totally different, and far from ideal, physical gesture to help them through; and when we are with a good professional band playing repertoire with a capital R, a significant portion of the rehearsal period involves allowing the orchestra to play you THEIR version of the piece. Hear the knowledge and experience of the piece that they bring to the room, listen to the sound they enjoy making, work out who in the room is central to their playing style, assess the relationship between the string principals, and work out whether the principal bass and timpanist listen to each other (hot tip: if not, the best conducting technique in the world can’t save you or them.) You can then add your contribution to the pot, and hopefully it will be a valuable one, but at the end of the day, this is their performance, their hard work and their energy being channelled.

As I was writing this, I thought “maybe it’s different for the elite conductors at the top of the food chain”? After all, the higher a conductor rises in the industry, the more specialised and narrow their repertoire tends to become, and the more easily they can turn down extra gigs, so of course they will know it in far greater depth. But also, I’ve watched many a 5-star maestro sight-read one of the pieces in the first rehearsal. By the second play, the really brilliant ones will have something helpful to say at every point of the piece. They think on their feet and ascertain immediately how to be of use. That is true virtuosity, in a weird kind of way!

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

Well, perhaps this is answered already above. But for a more pithy soundbite, I’d say our role is to be useful, in whatever way is needed in that specific situation. That might be helping the orchestra understand the piece, if it’s unfamiliar repertoire; but often it’s a far more practical role of knowing how to put out the fires when needed, and keeping the orchestra’s nose pointing in the right direction. With a really good orchestra, the most helpful thing you can do is get the jet off the ground, then let the engine (the players!) fly. 99% of the time, they really don’t need you – or, at least, your contribution is no better than anything they can do themselves, so do your best to keep it minimal and worthwhile. I always feel sad when really young conductors get thrown straight into the A-list orchestras, because they never really learn the skills required for those earlier scenarios – nor do they get to experience the genuine satisfaction of performing when you really are needed. The big bands will play brilliantly regardless of your posturing on the podium; but you can do serious damage in other situations, if you’ve not really learnt how to roll your sleeves up, listen deeply and rehearse effectively.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

The operas by Schreker and Korngold are at the top of my dream-list. Highly impractical. Utterly lush.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

We regularly take Nevis Ensemble to the Nan MacKay Memorial Hall – a lovely little community centre in South Glasgow with a full-time programme of activities and resources for anyone in the community in need of company; the elderly, people with social issues, recent newcomers from the refugee community come together to grow veggies, play mah-jong and do craft and exercise classes. There’s barely enough room for the orchestra to set up, and I need to stand on a coffee table in order for the brass and winds to see me. The audience sit around us with bowls of crisps, and there’s always a spread of food afterwards that would make your gran proud. But the energy in the room is like a carnival, and we always meet some really interesting people there. It’s impossible to go there and not come out beaming and full of hope for humanity.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My favourite musicians are the incredible amateur music-makers who are the backbone of musical life in this country. Composers…? Well, Schreker and Korngold are high on the list, obviously! I have pretty broad tastes, but some lurid late Romanticism, just on the brink of early Modernism, will always set me purring.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not needing to do it – I don’t mean financially, but… spiritually. If my right arm fell off tomorrow and I had to change careers, I’d be quite excited about getting to choose something new and fresh. I take that as an indication that my relationship to my work is quite healthy. The day that balance shifts too far in the other direction is the day I should retire.

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

1. Perfection should not be the end we’re after; it’s far more satisfying to an audience to witness curious, brave musicians who are on a journey with a piece than virtuosity with no value beyond itself. You’ll also grow into a performer (and human) of greater depth and flexibility by challenging yourself in that way. So, don’t sweat the small stuff in a performance; your job is to invite the orchestra and audience into your process, not show them how clever you are.

2. Every single aspect of your life as a musician is a construct. Question it all!

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

Somewhere with mountains nearby, and a work-life balance that allows me to adopt a dog!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Waking up in a remote, wild part of the world, and peering out of the tent to find Jon brewing a cup of earl grey tea on the billy. Bliss, though I’m not sure he’d agree.

What is your most treasured possession?

I love my Xbox for evenings when I don’t need to study, and we have a beloved collection of tea mugs, all of which have a personal story behind them. So, basically, anything in the house, the function of which intersects with my slippers and the sofa…

What is your present state of mind?

Two things:

1. Exhausted. It’s been a long season and I only get 2 weeks off before it all starts again.

2. Content! I’m having a ball touring the Scottish Highlands and Islands with Scottish Chamber Orchestra this week. They’re lovely people and superb colleagues.


New Zealand-born Holly Mathieson is an award-winning conductor, regularly working with opera houses, ballet companies and orchestras in Europe, Australasia and North America. She frequently records for BBC Radio, and her first major commercial recording with Decca will be released in July 2019. Her work has seen her travel to nearly every continent on the planet, and perform for audiences spanning from the British Royal Family and Europe’s political elites, to Scotland’s homeless and refugee communities. She is the founder and artistic director of Rata Music Collective, and Co-Artistic Director of the Nevis Ensemble with Jon Hargreaves.

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

To be honest, I was forced into the family trade as a musician!  Both of my parents are classical musicians and music teachers, and I started on the piano at age 3, violin at 6, and cello at 7.  Playing music and performing was a mandatory activity but it wasn’t until I was 18 and moved to Los Angeles to go to university (studying Classical Cello Performance) at USC when I started really pursuing ways to make my own music and just work as a cellist in order to pay the bills.  I did a lot of work as a session musician and hired gun, and it helped me learn and familiarize myself with all genres of music, but my main love and obsession has always been Industrial Metal.  I’m lucky that my ‘day job’ of being a session musician has a lot of crossover with my own music.

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

Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, System of a Down and Jaqueline du Pré – she was amazing!

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

At the beginning of my career when I had just moved to Los Angeles, I had exactly $0 to my name and didn’t own an instrument (the cello and bow I used were on loan to me while I was in university by a foundation).  It was extremely difficult to get by as I had no outside financial help.  I remember putting up ads daily on musician classifieds online and playing with any band or artist that was wiling to pay $50 for a rehearsal and show, and I played in every club on Sunset Strip.  I taught music students for $20 a hour, and played cello at endless weddings, funerals, Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs etc.  Even though I had a full scholarship for tuition to USC, it didn’t cover living expenses,  additional school expenses like books, etc., so I amassed a good amount of student loans and credit card debt for the 2½ years I was attending.   After 2½ years of school, I left since I wasn’t able to balance performing/working and going to school full time, and I decided to go 100% into music.   It wasn’t until after 7 years of grinding away as a session musician, living in a garage with no kitchen, heat or air  conditioning to be able to make payments on the 1880 Gand & Bernardel Cello I purchased using an instrument loan and 3 credit card advances, multiple failed metal band projects, and using what little money I made to buy music equipment so I could record and self-release my own music, that I was finally offered a position as a soloist with Cirque du Soleil on Electric Cello.

I toured with the Michael Jackson ‘THE IMMORTAL’ World Tour for two years from 2011-2013, and during those years I only had 2 suitcases of belongings and saved religiously, spending only $20 a week. I started taking online courses in investing and began purchasing stocks and investing in Peer-to-Peer lending.  I was able to build a financial foundation for myself because of that opportunity!  I also brought along my studio equipment on the road to continue doing recording sessions for composer and producer clients, and also composed/released 3 of my own albums during that period.  I think being able to figure out how to survive financially has been a major struggle, as well as identifying a clear image of what my own music is, since I love and have delved into so many different genres of music.  During my years in university, I did perform as a classical soloist with smaller orchestras, and also enjoyed my work in the studios recording for soundtracks, as well as my own metal projects on which I worked.  Looking back now, all 10 of my albums have been wildly different in style and approach, but I do feel like they are all genuinely me as I explored different parts of my musical self through the years through these recordings and compositions.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud? 

My very first music video, ‘Queen Bee’ which was from my album THE JOURNEY is something I’m very proud of!  That music video led to me being offered the position with Cirque du Soleil, and also working with Hans Zimmer after he saw it on YouTube.  I was in the early stages of exploring my own version of Industrial Metal Cello – inspired heavily by the band Rammstein and Marilyn Manson – and used  something a bit obvious as the base (the Flight of the Bumble Bee) but felt like that artistically and stylistically the video is truly *me* at my essence.  I was very lucky to work with an amazing team for that video!  To finance it, I spent every penny I had  as I told myself it would be my last “hurrah” at trying to pursue Industrial Metal.  It took a bit of a different turn as I suddenly was approached by composers here in Los Angeles to record my “metal style” cello on their soundtracks after the video was released.  I feel like 9 years later, it’s worked out perfectly and having the opportunity to perform at WACKEN recently, the biggest metal festival in the world, with two amazing bands SABATON and Beyond the Black, was truly a dream come true.  There are many paths leading to the final destination and I love the path that I have been on, which I never would have guessed!  Having my first adventure into New Age Music nominated for a GRAMMY was a huge surprise

The entire album was recorded in one day, completely improvised with myself and Peter Kater the pianist, never having played together in order to capture the purest form of improvisation and musical meeting.  I’ve played with rappers, country artists, DJs, and musically it has helped me expand so much!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Passionate Romantic-era classical pieces, soundtrack music that is very open to interpretation and Industrial Metal!

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

I am open to anything and everything, and a lot of my musical activity is recording for various soundtrack projects, so the film, tv show, or video game determines the repertoire!  I’ve backed away somewhat from performing classical music with orchestras as I’m trying to focus now more heavily on my own original music projects and compositions.

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

So far, my favorite has been at Wacken Open Air! 125,000 people, amazing wonderful energy, lots of fire and screaming!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The very first time I performed in an arena in Montreal at the premiere of Michael Jackson ‘The Immortal” World Tour – I was so incredibly nervous!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

  1. Being able to make the music you love.
  2. Having financial security so that you are in the mind space and energy to not worry about concerns related to poverty- having been in it, I can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to be musically inspired and focused when you don’t know how you will pay for your next meal!

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

I am very passionate about entrepreneurship and learning about every aspect of the business side of music as much as possible to educate yourself.  So much knowledge is available to us, for free online, with technology growing and changing at such a fast pace, and so many alternative routes for musicians and creatives to monetize their work.  I have a lot of videos discussing finances, investments, etc., on my YouTube channel if anyone would like to check it out in addition to music videos, concert videos, tutorials, product reviews, and other random things.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My fiancé Rambo and I with our two Fur Babies (our two dogs, Bagel and Pizza) up in the mountains in a cabin with a snow storm outside, fireplace roaring, a Large pepperoni and pineapple pan pizza from Domino’s, coffee, furry Blankets, a big bed and Netlflix on a huge TV!

Tina Guo’s single ‘The Circle of Life’ from The Lion King is available now. More information


Internationally acclaimed, GRAMMY Award-nominated and BRIT Female Artist of the Year-nominated musician Tina Guo has established an international career as a virtuoso acoustic/electric cellist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and entrepreneur. Known for her unique genre-crossing style, she is one of the most recorded Solo Cellists of all time and can be heard on hundreds of Blockbuster Film, Television, and Game Soundtracks.  In 2018, Tina signed as an official brand partner with Bentley Motors, composing, performing, and producing the launch music for the luxury hybrid vehicle, Bentayga Hybrid.  In 2019, Tina partnered with the Ritz-Carlton to create a soundtrack to the endless possibilities and unforgettable moments experienced at The Ritz-Carlton. Tina will visit four destinations — New Orleans, Dove Mountain, Toronto and Maui — and compose original scores inspired by these dynamic locations.

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

When I was growing up, there was always music playing in the house, and my parents started me on the recorder at 4, the piano at 5, and then the cello at 6. I was very lucky to start with a fantastic cello teacher (Marina Logie) who is a family friend and lives very close by. She really instilled a love and curiosity for music in me, and also set me up very well technically. When I began with my current teacher, Leonid Gorokhov, at 11, this feeling was encouraged even more, and I think that I have them both to thank for my career in music!

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

Apart from my two teachers, the pianist Alison Rhind (who coached me for several years) was incredibly important in my musical development. I am lucky to have worked with some amazing musicians who have very much influenced my playing and my development as a person, including Petr Limonov, Tom Poster, Huw Watkins, and Krzysztof Chorzelski.

Winning the BBC Young Musician Competition definitely shaped the trajectory of my career, and left me with a really special relationship with the BBC.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am really proud of the CD ‘1948’ I recorded with Petr Limonov, as we took every effort to approach the project with great care and love for the music. I also am proud that I had the courage to wait until I felt I was ready to record my first CD, which isn’t always easy with the pressures of the music industry!

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

So far I am really enjoying exploring lots of different venues, but I think that the Wigmore Hall could come to have a special place in my heart. The acoustic is stunning, and its history of having hosted such incredible performers makes it very exciting to perform there!

Who are your favourite musicians?

That’s a very hard question, as I find inspiration in so many people’s playing (and there are so many insanely talented people around at the moment!). I’m a huge fan of the ‘old-style’ musicians including Heifetz, Szeryng, Shafran, Piatigorsky, Fritz Wunderlich and many more.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think that the final of the BBC Young Musician will always be up there with the most memorable performances for me, as it was the first time I had played with such a good orchestra and conductor, in such an amazing hall.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, it is to find, and stay true to, my own voice. Success is to never stop learning; complacency would be failure for me. I also think that being able to collaborate with people who inspire me is a form of success!

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

In 10 years I would like to have 10 years of exciting new experiences behind me, with lots of travel and playing in many different situations with different people. At that point I might consider getting a teaching position somewhere, but It’s too far ahead to know how my desires will change in the process!

What is your most treasured possession?

Definitely my cello. I am so so lucky to have been given a beautiful Ruggeri cello by some private benefactors. It makes (almost) every practice session a joy

 


Winner of the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, Laura van der Heijden has been making a name for herself as a very special emerging talent, captivating audiences and critics alike with her imaginative interpretations and probing musicianship.

Laura van der Heijden’s critically acclaimed debut album ‘1948’ (Champs Hill Records, 2018), with pianist Petr Limonov, focuses on music for cello and piano from the Soviet era, and has received BBC Music Magazine’s Newcomer of the Year award.

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

Music has always been a part of my life to the point that I could not envision a career outside of music. During my undergraduate study, I found myself more drawn to musicology than performance. However, it wasn’t until my PhD that I realised the power in forging a career that bridges both.

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

My parents encouraged me to pursue music. My professors at university opened up so many possibilities for what that path could look like. I found wonderful support during my study abroad year at McGill University. That is where I first learnt about the composer Florence Price. Studying the history of this incredible woman of African descent then opened up the career path I’m on now.

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

As I’ve begun to grow more into my identity as a pianist-scholar, one of the biggest challenges has been embracing public performance. Musicology has always felt much safer and a little more anonymous—the perfect match for my introvert self! But public performance has pushed me to embrace more open and vulnerable ways of communicating my passion.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my Four Women recording. The album focuses on four composers from the first half of the twentieth century: Florence Price, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Ethel Bilsland and Margaret Bonds. The album title alludes to Nina Simone’s 1966 song of the same name. I have always been so moved by Simone’s aspiration to become a classical pianist and wanted to bring her influence into the recording. Four Women is very autobiographical and represents my first real venture into communicating my passion with openness and vulnerability.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Florence Price’s Fantasie Negre and Vítězslava Kaprálová’s Dubnova Preludia (April Preludes), Op. 13.

As someone who champions music by women composers, how do you make your repertoire choices?

My repertoire choices are often inspired by the kind of research I’m doing. For example, my research on Florence Price and her Chicago community has led me to programme works by Chicagoan African-American women composers, past and present. Other times, my choices are inspired by collaborations. Working with violinist Er-Gene Kahng has broadened my repertoire to encompass more duo and chamber material by Price and her peers. I am also excited to be in the midst of preparing Doreen Carwithen’s Concerto for Piano and Strings as part of a collaboration with the Singapore-based organization Music For People.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Earlier this year, I gave a recital at the Chicago Cultural Center. The programme was called Of Folk, Faith & Fellowship: Exploring Chicago’s African-American Women Composers. I performed Florence Price and Margaret Bonds alongside Regina Harris Baiocchi and Dolores White. Baoicchi and White are contemporary composers and it was such an honour to have them attend the concert. What’s more is that the Chicago Cultural Center used to be a library and Price and Bonds would regularly visit. The whole performance was so immersed in the wonderful history that it sought to present. It was an unforgettable experience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Defining success became much easier once I formed a mission statement for my work as a musician. I recognized that my mission would evolve alongside my own creative growth. But as it stands, my mission is to challenge systems of oppression and amplify historically silenced voices. My success is defined by every opportunity I have to perform or record the music of marginalized composers, particularly as these moments are often grounded in even greater historical or cultural significance. And so, my definition of success stems from my ability to fulfil my mission.

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

To not be afraid to shape your path in your own image. Championing music by women composers has been empowering for me. And so, to aspiring musicians, I encourage you to embrace and involve your fullest self along your journey.

What is your present state of mind?

A mix of hopeful, excited, determined and eager.


Samantha Ege is a British scholar, pianist and educator. Her PhD (University of York) centres on the African-American composer Florence Price. As a concert pianist, Ege’s focus on women composers has led to performances in Singapore, Australia, the UK and the US Ege has also championed Florence Price’s repertoire alongside violinist Er-Gene Kahng with duo recitals in Singapore, Hong Kong and the US.

Ege released her debut album in May 2018 with Wave Theory Records, entitled Four Women: Music for solo piano by Florence Price, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Ethel Bilsland and Margaret Bonds. The album featured the world première recording of Bilsland’s The Birthday Party, which led to Ege preparing an edition of the suite, now published by Faber Music. Four Women has been described as “an impressive collection…performed with virtuosic assurance.” Ege has also been commended “for her goal to bring the music of these composers to greater public awareness.”

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

My childhood dream was to become an astronaut. The infinite, remote worlds, the unknown, mysteries, everything that has to do with indeterminate intrigued my imagination. Than, playing and discovering the nature of sound itself, the same infinity unfolded in music…..

This child’s desire to become an astronaut was also a yearning for contact, the desire to meet a different Other. That longing has evolved into a deep encounter while performing, while being at one with the music that reaches out to the others and creates the moment of grace, the ultimate, most intimate yet transpersonal union.

Having heard for the first time the Allegretto of Beethoven’s 7th I shivered. The tragic and grandeur of human expression left an indelible mark forever. My childhood fascination with Beethoven’s personality made of him einen fernen Geliebten (a “distant beloved”) and his oeuvre has become that place of encounter; love, belonging, togetherness and utopia.

My first instrument was my voice. In my early childhood I often sang the solo part in children’s choirs.

Than one day, standing in front of the shopwindow with my mother in Belgrade, I was mesmerised by the blissful black August Foerster upright piano – it looked exactly as my toy piano yet huge and gleaming. Mom bought it and I raved about that jewel that had a marvellous singing tone. No one ever forced me to practice. I stayed the long hours wrapped up in playing my huge toy. Later in my adolescent years, mom used to say ”do not play so much, go out and meet the boys….

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

Singing voice, the astonding beauty of voices and songs …songs my (grand)mother taught me……

In my music education the most impressive encounter was with Tatjana Nikolaeva. It was the deftness of her touch, that ineffable legato that I was trying to reproduce by listening to her and her recordings on Melodiya. It was Nikolaeva’s otherworldly Bach that influenced me the most. That’s how my piano epiphany commenced.

I always wanted the piano to sing in a velvet tone as if the hammers do not really touch the strings. Later I read that Debussy expressed the same about the art of touch.

Rudolf Kehrer, whom I met in Weimar, was a fascinating personality who inspired me a lot. When I settled in Paris I was lucky to work with amazing Eugen Indjic who has incredible gift for teaching; one feels confident and masters the instrument like an absolute wizard!

However – I hope it does not sound pretentious – what formed me as musician was discovering and understanding the language of music by myself alone.

The one thing that really matters is to have a personalised sound.

Now in the time of revival of the music of my grandfather, Czech-born composer and conductor Jan Urban ( 1875-1952) who passed away before I was born, everyone considers that he and his music influenced me the most in the bosom of family. It was not so. The story is less idylic, rather heavy. As my parents divorced when I was three years old, I was separated from my father and the paternal Urban side was covered by silence.

But the silence is inhabited.

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

Paradoxically – to avoid “career”….

Schnabel said ”Safety last.” Taking a risk on the podium has been the most challenging issue for me. The intensity of human expression dwells in intuition, to play at the very edge of control to deliver the music most spontaneusly, directly, to be totally wrapped up in the very moment of the execution. I recall Thomas Bernhard citating Glenn Gould ”you enter the music or you don’t.” The price to pay might be less perfection.

Further, I refused to participate the competitions. I dare say that competitiveness is not the way of dealing with music. Deciding not to compet has probably cost me a wider popularity.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my recordings of the complete piano legacy of the Czech composer Jan Vaclav Hugo Vorišek – three CDss on Grand Piano record label.

One perfomance at the Orlando Festival in the Netherlands is very dear to me. I shared the stage with the great Menahem Pressler who put me at ease with his wise remarks and divine lightness.

Invitation to perform in the jubilee year of the renowned American Philip Lorenz International Keybord Series was an honour. The series presents exclusievly the world’s greatest pianists, such as Emanuel Ax, Garrick Ohlssohn, Trifonov, etc.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Difficult question. There are two forces in human nature – Apollonian and Dionysian.

I feel at home with sonatas of Beethoven. Through him I can structure, form, build and forge. The affirmative experience of enlightenment prevails the tragic and reaches the Apollonian shor . Through his music one conquers the state of pain and humiliation and reaches dignity – a cathartic experience.

The other part of me dwells in the sensuality of Debussy’s works. Seeking for deepest sensors to catch the immediate, the instantaneous is in essence an erotic experience….. The hands are touching the nude nerve of the instrument.

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

This question reveals for me an other issue related to it.

I feel the larger music works of my repertoire as if they were human beings. Most of them I have known and lived with for a long time. There is an alive interaction between me and an oeuvre in the subconcious. That’s why the choice of programme is very spontaneous and comes from the bottom of soul. Giving the programme sp far in advance, as it has to be in today’s concert planning, is very frustrating.

Whenever possible I choose to perform the gems of lesser known and undeservedly neglected composers.

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

No – yet I dream about Viennese Musikverein for its Boesendorfer and its acoustics.

Who are your favourite musicians?

To mention a few – Alfred Cortot, Tatiana Nikolaeva, Alexander Jocheles, Arthur Schnabel, Claudio Arrau, Radu Lupu, Carlos Kleiber, Gregor Piatigorsky, Georg Prêtre, also Jacques Brel, Léo Ferré, Leonard Cohen….

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A long time ago, a concert in the Jeanine Rose series in Paris with Argerich and Hirschorn…..

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I am a sort of ‘anti diva’. Music making is about touching souls. In that ability lies the success.

I feel succesful when I open my music studio and I recognize in me that ebullient child that was in love with that black Foerster piano and the feeling of gratitude fills my heart. If I finish may days with such a feelings, I will consider I’ve had an amazingly successful life.

Of course the recognition is very important but the glory is infirm……….

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

Highly idealistic – to be free from the dictats of entrenched values or prevailing musical tastes. To be free from competitivness and the industry of competitions. Sharing, loyalty, solidarity, mutual support, imagination and truth – everything that musicians aspire to give to and create in the world should be cultivated more between musicians themselves.


Biljana Urban comes from a family with a rich musical tradition. Her Czech-born grandfather, Jan Urban (1875–1952), was a composer and conductor. Biljana Urban received her Ph.D. in Music (Piano Performance) summa cum laude from the Academy of Music in Zagreb. In her native country she received the most prestigious awards. She also studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris – Alfred Cortot and settled in Paris in 1985. Her musicianship has been strongly influenced by Elisso Virsaladze, Tatiana Nikolayeva, and Eugene Indjic. Since 1991 she has been based in Amsterdam and has Dutch nationality. Urban has performed in the most renowned international concert halls, including the Fresno Concert Hall, California, for the Philip Lorentz Memorial concert series. She has taken part in international music festivals, including the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, the Festival of Flanders and the Orlando Festival in The Netherlands. As a chamber musician she has performed with soloists of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Monnaie Orchestra, Brussels, and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Her recitals and recordings have been broadcast by BBC Radio 3, Radio France Musique, Radio 4 in The Netherlands, Radio Klara in Belgium, by radio and television companies in Croatia and Slovenia, and by Valley Public Radio in the United States. Urban is a commited teacher, having her own piano school in Amsterdam and giving masterclasses and lectures world wide. In Paris she has taught at the École Supérieure César Franck and the Conservatoire de Neuilly. In 2012 she was artist-in-residence at California State University in Fresno. In 2010 Biljana Urban released an acclaimed recording on Naxos [9.70120] of the piano works of her grandfather Jan Urban. Her first album of Voríšek’s Complete Works for Piano, released on Grand Piano, was recognised as one of the best albums of the year by Culture Catch.