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

I come from a musical family. All of my siblings learned an instrument when we were growing up, although I was the only one mad enough to have taken it up as a career. Myth also has it that my paternal grandfather (whom I never met) had a wonderful tenor voice, but he was too poor to have it trained. I was lucky in that from a very early age my parents took me along to all the concerts at our local music club. It happened to be one of the best in the country, which meant I regularly heard artists such as the Amadeus Quartet, the Beaux Arts Trio, Barenboim, du Pré, Brendel, Lupu, Menuhin, Perlman, Fischer-Dieskau, de los Angeles. The list goes on and on – I even heard Arthur Rubinstein a couple of times. How could I not want to be able to make music like these musicians?! It was subsequently one of my proudest moments when I stepped out onto that very same stage years later to do a recital myself.

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

I think that all of my teachers in turn helped to make me into the musician and person I am today – Cyril Smith, Angus Morrison, Vlado Perlemuter, Leon Fleisher. Even my very first teacher, a retired professor from the Royal Academy of Music, whom I remember as being quite strict and rather grumpy, but he ensured that I knew all the basics of harmony and counterpoint so that by the time I went to the RCM I already had almost half of Bach’s ’48’ under my belt. And I even managed to survive a few lessons from the legendary Adele Marcus (legendary for all the wrong reasons!), long enough to learn how to draw a beautiful cantabile out of the instrument. A massive inspiration for me was meeting and playing with Leonard Sorkin, the leader of the original Fine Arts Quartet in the USA. It was a formative time in my career when I was still in my early 20s, and I learned so much from working and performing with Leonard – he literally spoke from the heart through his playing, and his phrasing and articulation were so utterly natural and so ‘conversational’. I have always since tried to emulate that.

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

Combining motherhood with a performing career was definitely challenging as they are both so emotionally all-consuming. Undoubtedly though, the greatest difficulty for me was the decade I spent dealing with a seemingly endless succession of career-threatening physical problems. They were all apparently due to something my specialist told me was ‘dysautonomia’, a malfunctioning autonomic nervous system. I won’t go into the medical details here (otherwise it would be guaranteed to make my readers instantly click onto another page!), but I had to have operations on my shoulder and hand, as well as numerous cortisone injections in both arms. Thankfully that is now all several years behind me, and I am back playing again.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I remain particularly proud of the very first time I played at the Royal Festival Hall – Grieg Concerto with the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra, and recorded by the BBC. I remember walking off the stage thinking: “Yes, I can do this!”.

I was also very proud of the live radio broadcast I did with Leonard Sorkin for WFMT Chicago. As I mentioned previously, I was at the beginning of my career while he was in the twilight of his. I remember the producer being visibly moved after we played the Brahms G major, saying it had reminded him of Bush/Serkin. As far as my recordings go, maybe they are are bit like children (or students) in that you’re not supposed to admit to any favourites! But if pushed, I do harbour a particular fondness my recording of the Russian Mighty Handful, such attractive repertoire and much of it still seldom played.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That feels a bit like asking someone what they like/dislike most about their appearance, so I couldn’t possibly comment! My listeners might have their own views…

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

Obviously concerto repertoire gets discussed with orchestras/promoters – you have to fit in with their season. Solo recitals give one much more freedom of choice, and I have always loved to explore highways and byways, or to come up with some sort of theme or connecting thread in my programmes. I have always believed that you need to offer audiences something they wouldn’t normally just get listening at home.

You are performing in the London Piano Festival – tell us more about this?

I have known Charles Owen for a number of years and he has become a very dear friend. We used to live in the same neighbourhood and would meet each other for lunch or a walk in the woods and have a good old natter about life and the universe and all things music. So when he asked if I would like to take part in the two-piano gala at this year’s festival, the answer was of course a resounding yes!

Given my association with the music of Arnold Bax, it seemed obvious that we should choose something from the wealth of two-piano repertoire he wrote. We’ve picked two fabulous pieces: ‘The Poisoned Fountain’ which has a totally spooky atmosphere, and ‘Hardanger’, which is a light-hearted and infectious tribute to Grieg. I’m also playing a group of Poulenc pieces with Katya Apeshikeva which are sheer riotous fun!

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

My favourite concert hall is anywhere with a warm, supportive acoustic and a feeling of connection to the audience. Somewhere like the Wigmore Hall fits the bill perfectly, plus I have an extra fondness for the place as it was where my husband-to-be came into my life when he turned up backstage there a few years ago!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Where do I start? – it’s a long, long list! Pianists past include Rubinstein, Cortot, Lipatti, Curzon, Gilels, de Larrocha, Annie Fischer. Pianists present include Lupu, Perahia, Goode, Schiff, Kovacevich, Fleisher, Peter Frankel. And that’s just the pianists…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience has to be the super-glam concert of film music I took part in at the Royal Albert Hall. The LSO was conducted by John (Star Wars) Williams and the evening was compered by Sir Richard Attenborough. I got to perform some wonderful pieces, and Michel Legrand had even made a special arrangement for me of his music from “The Go-Between”. There was a great deal of razzmatazz about the whole concert, although I have to say it did take me by surprise when they changed the colour of the lighting each time the music changed key!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The definition of success for me is when I manage to meet my own exacting standards – it could be a single phrase, or a movement, or maybe (but rarely!) even a whole concert.

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

When I was starting out, a friend of my parents who had been a professional violinist very helpfully advised me that if I loved music I shouldn’t take it up as a career! Of course I ignored his advice but, joking aside, his provocative words did make me realise how important it is never to lose sight of why we have chosen to do music in the first place. There will inevitably be times of struggle and disenchantment which could severely test one’s love of music. Whatever happens, we must try to keep our passion for music intact whether we are performing or teaching. On a practical level, in an over-saturated market, it is vital to be creative and flexible in the way one manages ones career. If we are still going to persuade people to come and hear live music, we have to find ways to make that experience more meaningful and relevant, be it collaborating with other genres such as dance, the visual arts or theatre, or working with living composers, or simply being able to talk to your audiences in an engaging manner.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

Still playing and teaching, please.

What is your present state of mind?

If we are talking about the way the world is heading, I am very worried. But if it’s on a personal level, then I am happy and contented, being surrounded as I am by a warm, loving family and many wonderful friends. On a professional level I am feeling really excited as I have a major recital project happening next year. It is based on an idea that is very close to my heart. As it is still in the process of being organised, I can’t talk about it just yet except to say: watch this space!

Margaret performs in the London Piano Festival’s Two-Piano Marathon on Saturday 6 October. Further information and tickets


Margaret Fingerhut is regarded as one of the UK’s most distinguished and poetic pianists, renowned for her exploration of the highways and byways of the repertoire. As a concerto soloist she has appeared with the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the London Mozart Players, in major venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall and the Barbican. She is often heard on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM and many radio stations worldwide.

Her extensive and eclectic discography on the Chandos label has received worldwide critical acclaim and won many accolades. Her numerous discs reflect her long-standing fascination with exploring lesser-known repertoire, including works by Bax, Berkeley, Bloch, Dukas, Falla, Grieg, Howells, Leighton, Novák, Stanford and Suk as well as several pioneering collections of 19th century Russian and early 20th century French piano music. She was the soloist in the première recording of Elgar’s sketches for his Piano Concerto slow movement, arranged by Percy Young. Other première recordings include Edgar Bainton’s Concerto Fantasia, Bax’s Octet and works by Howells, Leighton, Lennox Berkeley and Michael Berkeley. “Margaret Fingerhut deserves our most heartfelt admiration for her championship of the byways of the British repertoire twentieth century piano repertory.” (MusicWeb International). Margaret also made the first recording of a student piece by Rachmaninoff, as well as two solo piano pieces by Sergey Taneyev.

Two of her Bax recordings – the Octet with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Ensemble and the Concertante for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra with Vernon Handley and the BBC Philharmonic – were short-listed for Gramophone awards. Her disc of solo piano music by the Polish/French composer Alexandre Tansman was awarded the accolade of “Diapason D’Or” in France and received high praise: “A triumph of piano playing” (Pianist). Her recent CD of encores, “Endless Song”, was Featured Album of the Week on Classic FM and was selected as “Editor’s Choice” in Pianist magazine as well as being awarded an “Outstanding” accolade in International Record Review.

Margaret also maintains a keen interest in working with contemporary composers and she has commissioned and performed works by Paul Spicer, James Francis Brown, Peter Copley and Tony Bridgewater, in venues such as the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room and at the Three Choirs Festival.

Margaret is a Professor of Piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire and a Visiting Tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire where she was recently awarded an Honorary Fellowship. She is a regular guest at summer schools such as Chetham’s, Jackdaws and Dartington. Her teaching at Dartington was described by The Spectator magazine as demonstrating “enormous skill and sympathy”. She has given masterclasses in the USA, Canada, China, and Japan, and she has also been on the jury for many competitions including the BBC Young Musician of the Year.

Born in London of Polish, Ukrainian and Irish ancestry, Margaret went to the Royal College of Music where she studied with Cyril Smith and Angus Morrison. She subsequently studied with Vlado Perlemuter in Paris and Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Baltimore. Margaret lives in London and East Sussex.

margaretfingerhut.co.uk

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

My first piano was my uncle’s wedding gift to my aunt. At the time he was moving houses and the piano was ‘temporarily’ housed in my home, where it stayed for another 6 years! My first piano teacher (a small ballet company’s piano accompanist) was the person who really pushed me and my parents to think that it was really possible to consider a career path in Western classical music, a very new concept in China at that time. You must remember that this was merely only five years after the end of the Cultural Revolution!

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

The support of my mother throughout my life, and how she let me pursue what I loved to do, regardless of any social or financial consideration.

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

Juggling being a ‘hands-on’ mother of two young children and pursuing a performing career!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

There are some gems which I recorded for Pianist Magazine that turned out unexpectedly well. I have now recorded a large number of CDs for the magazine and I am very proud of issue 100, both for its significance and the music in it.

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

Not really. I would say perhaps the audience play a more important part in influencing my performance on the day rather than the venue itself.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I am not what you call a loyal listener, I go through phases. However, the old masters seem to always make me stop and pay attention whenever I hear them: Guido Agosti, Shura Cherkassky, Vladimir Sofronitsky, Pablo Casals, Alfred Cortot, Benjamin Britten, Louis Kentner… the list will go on and on.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Collaborating with James Loughran and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra on Mozart’s Piano Concerto K.488. Also a small recital I gave in the Scottish border when the front leg of the old Bechstein piano suddenly broke during the final movement of Beethoven’s ‘Les Adieux’ Sonata; in happiness I hope!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Great question! Without sounding a cliché and being corny, all I want is just to play to people. My definition of success is being able to make that special bond with the audience – even if it is just to one single person on the night – in a short magic moment music can touch special places deep within.

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

To be forever inquisitive – one always finds answers if one keeps asking questions.

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

Pretty much the same as I am now, but perhaps travelling further afield to play more concerts, as the children will be more grownup. Also, dare I hope for much better gardening skills?!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Waking around with my family the day after a good concert.

What is your most treasured possession?

I am a very laid back Buddhist; I think that one of the main ideas of Buddhist teaching is to try not to hold on to many earthly possessions.

Chenyin Li performs two piano sonatas by Beethoven, Stravinsky’s Petrushka Suite and three Chinese transcriptions as part of the Bluthner Piano Series at St John’s Smith Square on 23 May. Further information and tickets here

www.bluthner.co.uk


The Chinese pianist Chenyin Li is internationally acknowledged as one of the most exciting and sought-after musicians of her generation. Her career was launched after winning the 6th Scottish International Piano Competition in Glasgow, as well as being the first prizewinner of the Campillos International Piano Competition, Dudley International Piano Competition and the European Beethoven Gold Medal. She has been described as a “gritty, fiery and athletic pianist, backed by a strong technique arsenal” (The Daily Telegraph), and “a player of remarkable subtlety” (The Scottish Herald), who “understands the original intentions of the composers as well as bringing her own individual interpretation which invests the music with a new life” (National Business Review). Read more

www.chenyinli.com

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

My mom, at the very beginning. She was a big classical music lover and an amateur singer. She told me that before she had me, she was wishing for her first child to be more musically-talented than herself. Well, I think the result became better than that, at least.

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

Many musicians and artists but especially all my (piano) teachers. All of them were so vital that I would’ve been a completely different musician without them in my life.

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

When I first came to Germany at the age of 20, when the new world was, all of sudden widely opened up for me. As a teenage girl in South Korea, I knew nothing about the classical music world in Europe. Let’s put this way, I didn’t know how to get concerts, from where or whom. My final solution was entering competitions again.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I like the two recent ones. ‘Modern Times’ featuring only the works which were written between 1910-1920, my favourite era!

The newer one, issued on my own label, is a very specifically-conceptual CD that I basically recorded for those who listen to music while doing something else – driving, cooking, reading, or drinking a cup of coffee on a hot, lazy summer day. I feel that music is ready to serve people even when people are not entirely ready to listen to it. When every bit of music you listen to – whether at restaurants, cafes, or through TV commercials – becomes more tasteful, it’ll certainly be good for you. That’s what I believe in.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I feel like I’m speaking my own language when playing Mozart. In the same sense, I feel like I’m telling my own story when playing Schumann.

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

Well, it is not the easiest process…. First of all, I want to create a special experience both for me and for the audience, anywhere, anytime. This means that certain occasions or acoustic, or atmosphere would not get totally along with my, “fixed program” because every place is too different from another. So I always tend to investigate the surrounding of that specific concert venue before I propose any program. As a result, the programs vary a lot, at each place.

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

I have none, and I wish not to have one. Every place is precious.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I would name few violinists, such as Michael Rabin, Christian Ferras. And many pianists as well of course, Alexis Weissenberg, Lili Kraus, Alicia de Larrocha, Earl Wild… My younger self was in love with many singers including Fritz Wunderlich. I was never such a big fan of orchestral music but I loved many renditions by Klaus Tennstedt and Georges Szell. But all of them as recording artists: I was born too late to catch any of these people’s concerts live.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When I am able to select repertoire on the spot, or say two weeks ahead of concerts so that I can play only what I 100,000% feel like playing. I simply can’t imagine what I would like to play in 2 years……sigh… It would not be bad either to bring my own piano to each place!

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

That we musicians are serving music, not the other way around

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

Still in this planet! The priority still is survival.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

If I could be, in a reality, as mind-blowing as I’m on stage, that’ll be perfect happiness!

What is your most treasured possession?

My siblings. Although I don’t quite possess them.

 

Yeol Eum Son performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto Nos. 21 and 8 at Cadogan Hall on Friday 20 April 2018 with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Her recording of Mozart’s radiant Piano Concerto No.21 in C major K.467, also with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and its \ounder, the late Sir Neville Marriner, which was destined to be the legendary conductor’s final recording, is released on the Onyx label on Friday 20 April 2018. More information


www.yeoleumson.com

A double Second Prize winner at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 2011 and at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2009, Yeol Eum Son’s graceful interpretations, crystalline touch and versatile, thrilling performances have caught the attention of audiences worldwide.

Praised for her widely eclectic concerti repertoire, ranging from Bach and all-Mozart to Shchedrin and Gershwin, her recent concerto highlights include appearances with the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Konzerthausorchester Berlin and Bergen Philharmonic under the baton of Dmitrij Kitajenko, a debut Paris date with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Mikko Franck, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, Seoul Philharmonic and European tour with KBS Symphony Orchestra.

(artist photo: IMG Artists)

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

I was born during Ceaușescu’s regime to a Romanian mother and a Nigerian father. Church was an important element in our family. When I was five, my mother decided to buy a piano for me and my sister so we could learn an instrument to play it in church. Romania has a strong tradition in classical music and the country’s ties with the Soviet Union gave us access to all the great Russian musicians – Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter were a common presence on Romania’s concert stages. Our pianists were studying in Moscow with Neuhaus and all the music shops sold Russian editions scores, for what would be today 5 pence a piece. Being an over-active child was one of the challenges my parents had to face on a daily basis so when time came to enroll in school, I told them I had decided to go to the specialist music school in our town as I wanted to become a pianist. It came as a big surprise for my parents as they had completely different plans for me, but they came around it eventually. The Romanian specialist music school system was designed after the same system as the Russian Gnessin Academy so we were trained from a very early age to take part in competitions and perform on stage. Being a little pianist at seven years old seemed to keep me away from trouble so my parents supported that. It soon grew into a passion and it became obvious that I was going to be a pianist.

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

There are quite a few people I can call influences. It was my first piano teacher, who not only taught me how to play the piano but taught me to love music. Even when she had retired and I was no longer working with her, she continued to guide me through my school years with her love for knowledge. She gave me her entire classical music collection, comprising of 400 LPs of legendary recordings, which we would discuss every time we met. Another great influence was Julian Lloyd Webber. He adjudicated the Delius Prize which I won in 2009 at Birmingham Conservatoire. After the prize ceremony he told me that he would call me if he needed a pianist… And he did. We started working as duo partners in 2012 and it was an incredible experience. He became my mentor and changed all my perspective on life and the world.

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

The greatest challenge has been adapting to changes. In Romania, I was trained to be a soloist and I hadn’t played much chamber music before coming to the UK. Working with Julian Lloyd Webber was a great challenge at first. Our very first performance was a BBC Radio 3 ‘s ‘In Tune’ broadcast. We met to play for the very first time the day before the broadcast. I had only played chamber music as a student. I was a bit terrified but the broadcast went well. Learning new repertoire in a record time and performing it for the first time on an important stage was also a challenge but eventually I learned that this was what every chamber pianist needs to do.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very pleased of my new CD release, ‘Ekele, Piano Music by African Composers’. It is a personal project I’ve worked on for some time and I am very happy to see it finalised. The CD explores my Nigerian heritage and features works of three composers from Nigeria, both living and recent, whose music has remained largely unknown in the West.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

There are a few works that are quite special to me, Beethoven opus 109, Saint-Saens Piano Concerto no. 2 and Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata.

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

It depends on the projects I am working on. Last season I played a lot of British music, especially John Ireland; the Romanian cellist, Răzvan Suma, and I toured UK and Romania with a British chamber music programme. This season I am including works by Nigerian composers in my solo recitals.

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

I play regularly at ‘Oltenia’ Philharmonic Hall in my hometown Craiova. The reason it is so special is because of the audience. I believe that an artist’s main purpose on stage is to connect with the audience, to become friends with them at a spiritual level, so that his/her message can go across. It’s not always easy. In Craiova, most people in the audience are friends I grew up with and my family, who are already waiting open-hearted to receive whatever I have to deliver. This is heart-warming – it’s home.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many musicians I like, not all classical musicians. My tastes change all the time and I am happy to discover new favourites every year. I grew up with Sviatoslav Richter as my idol, then I discovered pianist Arcadi Volodos and the rock band Aerosmith. Last summer I was mesmerized with Gautier Capuçon’s performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto no. 2 with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra. Gautier is now a favourite.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It was the very last concert I played with Julian, though I wasn’t aware of it. We were playing a piece by his father and it seemed that suddenly there was so much sensitivity in the music, there was a heavenly sound coming from his cello. When we finished and I looked at him, he had cried.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I always loved playing the piano and I believe that if you can make a living from performing, you’ve already won.

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

Perseverance, believing in yourself (even when others don’t), but most importantly is the love for music which can help you overcome all obstacles.

 

Rebeca Omordia’s new disc ‘Ekele, Piano Music by African Composers’ is released on 30 March on the Heritage label.


London based award winning pianist Rebeca Omordia was born in Romania to a Romanian mother and a Nigerian father. She graduated from the National Music University in Bucharest in 2006 when she was awarded full scholarships to study at Birmingham Conservatoire and later at Trinity College of Music in London.

Prize winner in international piano competitions including Beethoven Prize, Romania 2007 and Bela Bartók International Piano Competition, Hungary 2010, Rebeca Omordia was awarded the Delius Prize in 2009, which led to an extensive collaboration with the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. They toured the UK, performing in renowned venues including the Wigmore Hall and Kings Place in London, at Highgrove for the Prince’s Trust and they made several live broadcasts for BBC Radio 3.

Described by the Birmingham Post as “a pianist willing to take risks”, Rebeca has performed as a soloist with all the major Romanian orchestras, including the Romanian National Radio Orchestra; and a UK tour of the music of John Ireland described as “completely compelling, authoritative and committed”, and “outstanding in every regard”.

She is a great advocate of Nigerian classical music and has performed piano works by Nigerian composers at the 2015 Bradfield Festival, at the 2013 African and African-American Music Festival in St Louis (USA) and for the African Union’s 50th Anniversary Concert in London.

Rebeca Omordia has made a name for herself as a vibrant and exciting virtuoso who is in demand throughout the UK and abroad. She has performed with world-renowned artists including Amy Dickson, Raphael Wallfisch, Răzvan Suma and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber. Rebeca’s recording with Mark Bebbington, “The Piano Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams” reached No. 3 in the UK Classical Music Chart.

Rebeca is also a talented arranger, her arrangement of “The Seal Lullaby” by Grammy-winning composer Eric Whitacre, for cello and harp, was released on Deutsche Gramophon.

On 24th June 2016, Rebeca received the Honorary Membership Award (HonBC) from Birmingham Conservatoire.

She is currently a PhD candidate at the National Music University in Bucharest.

 

www.rebecaomordia.com

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

I was a 7 month old baby when I first came into contact with a piano. My mother, at the insistence of my grandmother, placed a 2 octave toy piano in my crib. To my parents’ surprise, I spent hours discovering its sounds, and within a few months I was playing the lullabies my mum sang to me on that little piano. I didn’t have a chance to be inspired! It was always there as a part of my nature.

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

There are, of course, negative and positive influences. They both weigh heavily on the development of a person. My piano studies began with Lyl Tiempo (aged 4 to 8) in Caracas and it was the very best beginning I could have had. She was a wonderful teacher. But most of my childhood and adolescence was marred by a negative influence. I stopped playing for almost 3 years. Then, came the positive influences in my twenties. Discovering the great, historical recordings was pivotal to how I heard and imagined music. It gave me a sense of freedom I had never before been aware of. A sense that the possibilities of music extended far beyond the written score. I also had a wonderful teacher, Hamish Milne, at the Royal Academy of Music, whom I credit for rekindling my love for music. I was in my early twenties, and too young to profit from his wisdom and artistry, but it left a mark on me. I can’t fully answer this question without mentioning Martha Argerich. Martha, upon hearing me play Schumann, Beethoven and improvise, changed my life. From one moment to the next, she took me from barely playing and seriously considering studying psychology (dedicating my life to something useful!) to beginning these last 17, hectic, challenging but rewarding years of my life and career. I owe a lot to her. She has also been a huge inspiration as an artist and human being.

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

Being a single mother to two young daughters and at the same time juggling an intense concert career– without a shadow of a doubt! I am now happily married. My friends and colleagues ask me how I survived, and I really don’t know how I managed to perform well under the constant excruciating worry and pressure. Add to that the heart-breaking situation of my country, Venezuela, and my daily work of the last 8 years as a dissident and human rights advocate, and it has been anything but easy.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Any performance when I feel I am deeply connected and when I give the most honest and committed performance I can give, is one I am most proud of. It doesn’t matter where it is or how many people are sitting in the hall. I am very proud of my last recording (which is yet to released) of my own concerto – the Latin Concerto!! I had an amazing team to work with in Carlos Miguel Prieto and the YOA Orchestra of the Americas.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That’s difficult to answer. Most people would describe me as a very big, impassioned and powerful player. I do think that is a very strong element of my musical nature, but at the same time, I am discovering the intimacy and subtleties in the way I play Mozart – which is opposite to how people have heard me perform the romantic repertoire. I am fond of extremes and contrasts, and in Mozart, I am finding a new relationship and sound to an instrument that has been most suited for me in the large and virtuosic pieces. I am a work in progress.

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

Until now, it has always been determined by what I want to play. But now, I am beginning to design programs around a common story, a personal narrative, relationships or connections between pieces. I’m becoming more interested in metaphors that connect people and works.

You’re performing with Carlos Miguel Prieto and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in March – tell us more about this?

I love Carlos Miguel. That’s the most important part of my answer! He is a dear friend, a respected colleague and someone who understands the kind of musical animal I am on the stage, and what my life is like, offstage. I am so looking forward to performing Ravel again with him (also included on our last recording) and to performing for the first time with the BSO. I can imagine it will be a wonderful combination.

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

I love the Wigmore Hall, the Teatro Colon, any hall in Italy, the Palau in Barcelona. There are many. I prefer smaller and more intimate halls. I think I play better when I am in a beautiful space, surrounded by beauty and inspired by the aesthetics of a hall.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Hmmm.. Martha Argerich, Martin Fröst, Alison Balsom, Bill Evans, Horowitz, Annie Fisher, Rachmaninov, Angela Hewitt… There are a few more. All of the people alive in this list are my friends, but I am not biased! They really are wonderful.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s hard to say. I recently performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Mirga [Gražinytė-Tyla] and the Berlin Komisch Oper Orchestra in Berlin, and as she lifted her arms to begin the concerto introduction, a couple in the audience interrupted her by singing the national anthem of Venezuela. I sat there heartbroken and stunned, fully aware of what a gesture of pain and courage that moment meant to that couple and I. I will never forget that. Playing at President Obama’s first inauguration was also incredibly meaningful. I felt it was the beginning of a deep and long awaited healing process for the US and its people, and I was very honoured and touched to be a part of it. You had to be there to understand what it felt like. Unfortunately, things have changed significantly since then, and not for the better. But there have been many moments that will forever remain etched in my memory.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The older I get, the more I understand that for me, success is inexorably linked to how I contribute to society. I am no longer only a pianist and composer, I am also someone who is trying to rescue people from Venezuela, someone who tries to be a lifeline and a voice to many, and above all, a human being who suffers the pain of those around me. For me, success is not defined by fame and fortune, or playing with a renowned conductor or orchestra, or being on someone’s “favourite” list. It is reaching out to people and knowing I’ve made a difference. We have choices, and they speak volumes of who we are. Success is making the right ethical choice.

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

Be inspired!! Live!! Love!! Give!! Enjoy! And then, take all those stories and paint them on the score, with the colours of sound. You can’t be a storyteller if you have no stories to tell.

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

In a free and democratic Venezuela. That’s my greatest wish. But sooner, I hope.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Helping someone. Knowing that my girls are well. Having a laugh with my husband. Composing. Mozart. Chocolate.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Hamburg Steinway D… and my Maltese [dog], Louie.

What is your present state of mind?

Expectation. I am now on a flight back home, and will soon be hugging my 15 year old daughter, Isabella. I haven’t seen her in two weeks and I can’t wait to get off this plane!!

Gabriela Montero performs with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Carlos Miguel Prieto on 7th (Poole), 8th (Portsmouth) and 10th (Brighton) March. Further information here


Born in Venezuela, Gabriela Montero gave her first public performance at the age of five. At age eight, she made her concerto debut in her hometown of Caracas, which led to a scholarship from the government to study privately in the USA. She continued her studies under Hamish Milne at the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating with the highest honours. She currently resides in Barcelona, with her husband and two daughters.

Read full biography here

 

(Artist photo: Shelley_Mosman)

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

I come from a large family of musicians. I am the youngest of seven and grew up in a house where both traditional and classical music could be heard from every room. The range of instruments in my family ranged from the accordion, uileann pipes, fiddle, guitar, flute, tin whistle, banjo and singing of course. My father taught me the tin whistle from when I was about three years old and then I went to the Cork School of Music at four years old. We always had a piano in our home and I still remember saying to my parents when it came to my time to choose an instrument that I would choose the piano as it might be lonely if no one played it!

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

Undoubtedly my father and mother. From an early age they always supported me and encouraged me. My father loved playing the accordion and we actually recorded together on my debut album ‘The Ivory Lady’ which was released back in 2015. My father was a primary school teacher and we all went to school with him. The school was about 20 miles away from our home in Cork city and on the way we would learn Irish tunes, sing Irish songs and in general have a great journey! My Mum always loved music and was at every concert we gave and encouraged us. They gave us all such a love for music and we made so many wonderful friends through both traditional and classical music events that it became a wonderful social outlet too. Growing up I just wanted to be part of the whole family music scene, it was fun and music was always my passion.

In later years I studied with some wonderful musicians in the Paris Conservatoire, the Birmingham Conservatoire, the Franz Liszt Academy of Music Budapest and at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. I was influenced by both wonderful teachers and fellow students.

I met my wonderful husband five years ago and it was on holiday in Vence in France that he gave me the idea to set about recording ‘The Ivory Lady’. He has a real love for Irish airs and ballads and knew how much I loved to incorporate my own arrangements of the songs I grew up with into my classical concerts and recitals. From the moment I met him Tim has been a wonderful influence on my career and encouraged me to follow my musical dreams.

If I may mention some legendary musicians that I admire today here is my list, though I could add many more:

Pat Moynihan – my father was a wonderful accordion player and singer

Murray Perahia, Annie Fischer, Zempleni Kornel, John O’Conor, Claudio Arrau, Brigitte Engerer – a list of iconic pianists that will be well-known and loved here!

Matt Molloy – celebrated flautist from The Chieftains

Placido Domingo – Tenor

Emanuelle Morris – a wonderful musician, voice coach and teacher

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

I always welcome a challenge and like to think I challenge myself every concert season. I was the first person to perform the Complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart in their entirety in Ireland in the stunning Hugh Lane Gallery in 2010. Since then I have performed several series including the piano sonatas of Haydn and Clementi and a series comprising of Schubert’s works of 1827: the Impromptus, both piano trios and Winterreise. I am incredibly excited about my next challenge: to perform the Completed Piano Sonatas of Schubert in the celebrated Triskel Arts Centre, Cork. This series will begin on February 2nd and will consist of four lunchtime recitals and a finale recital at 8pm on June 8th. There is such a beautiful piano and acoustic at the Triskel, such a wonderful artistic director Tony Sheehan and always an enthusiastic welcome from the audience. More details at: www.triskelartscentre.ie

I am also very proud to have been the first person to be awarded a Doctorate in Music Performance from The Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Dublin City University in 2009. It was a challenge and an achievement I am immensely proud of.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my first album ‘The Ivory Lady’. It brings my love for both Irish traditional music and classical music together. It showcases some of the music most close to my heart including the title piece ’The Ivory Lady’ which my brother, uileann piper Diarmaid Moynihan, composed for me over a decade ago. My father recorded the well-loved Irish air ‘Inisheer’ with me. He passed away in December 2014 and it means the world to me to have that special recording of us together. It was recorded in my brother Donncha’s recording studio in Cork, a great sound engineer, guitarist and arranger.

I am incredibly proud of a recent Clementi recording I did for RTE Lyric FM in April 2016. I recorded a recital of six piano sonatas by Clementi including two with my brother, flautist Kieran Moynihan.

I am proud to have played in so many countries and to have performed such iconic works as The Goldberg Variations, the Schumann piano concerto, the complete piano sonatas of Mozart, Haydn and Clementi and so much more. I love to perform, I love to perform in different countries, different venues and in a range of musical styles. It is what makes me who I am and I am incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful husband, family and friends who always encourage me and support me.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I strive to play all works to the highest standard and I think one never reaches perfection. But this longing for musical perfection is what enables us musicians to grow and develop throughout our musical life I think.

I particularly love the Baroque era, the Classical era and the Impressionist era and also Irish traditional music. I have also recorded some small works for films over the years and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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

Sometimes the repertoire is not my choice but the request of a particular music venue or festival. If choosing myself it is often a body of work I have ‘fallen in love’ with, a work which challenges me, my musical thought and my pianistic technique.

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

I have several favourite venues and several venues on my wish list! I am always delighted to be invited to perform in new venues and love experiencing different pianos and acoustics.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones who bring the heart of the music to all who will listen!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Every concert brings something special: it is lovely to have a great response from an audience, to have a truly uplifting performance with a colleague, to meet new musicians, to play with musicians one has know for years, to perform a work for the first time and to be proud of what one has accomplished…. The list could go on.

Some memorable concerts have been:

Performing the Complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart in the Triskel Arts Centre and the Hugh Lane Gallery.

Performing with family members in Warsaw, Budapest and on a tour of Japan. Perfoming in the Lorient Festival of Music in Brittany, France when I was only seven years old.

Performing in Moscow in the Glinka Museum of Culture to celebrate the works of Ireland’s own classical composer John Field.

Performing Gershwin Variations and the MacDowell piano concerto with the RTE Concert Orchestra in Ireland’s beautiful National Concert Hall.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To improve everyday as a musician, pianist and performer. To bring every piece of music I perform to life and to bring my love for the music to the hearts of people in the audience.

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

Your best teacher will always be your ears. Learn new repertoire, go and see and support live performances and enjoy performing with others

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

I hope my loved ones and myself are healthy and happy and I hope to be enjoying my career as a concert pianist, celtic pianist, recording artist and music arranger.

What is your most treasured possession?

My life with my wonderful husband Tim, family and friends. And I love my beautiful Kawaii grand piano too!!!


Dr. Fionnuala Moynihan completed her doctorate in Music Performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music where she studied with Dr. John O’Conor and Professor Reamonn Keary. She is the first person to be awarded a Doctorate in Music Performance from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and the Dublin City University. Fionnuala began her piano studies at the Cork School of Music where she studied with Eleanor Malone. In 2001 she received her Honours Bachelor of Music degree from the Birmingham Conservatoire where she studied with Irish pianist/composer Philip Martin. She graduated with the Graduate award for pianists and the prestigious Weingarten scholarship enabling her to commence her studies at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. From 2001-2004 Fionnuala studied with Professors Kornél Zempleni and Balazs Szokolay at the Franz Liszt Academy after which she returned to Ireland where she was awarded her Masters of Music degree from the Royal Irish Academy of Music and Dublin City University. Fionnuala also studied at the Paris Conservatoire from 1999-2000 where she studied with Madame Brigitte Engerer and at the Aspen Music Festival and School where she studied with Yoheved Kaplinsky.

Fionnuala is widely acknowledged as one of Ireland’s leading pianists. She has a particular affinity with the works of both baroque and classical composers. In February 2009 she performed Bach’s Goldberg Variations to critical acclaim in the John Field Room of the National Concert Hall, Dublin and in November 2012 was invited by the prestigious Ardee Baroque Festival to perform both the Goldberg Variations and the Aria Variata in A minor. Fionnuala performed the Complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, in a series of five recitals which ran from February to June 2010. She is the only pianist to have undertaken the formidable challenge of performing this cycle in its entirety in Ireland. In February 2014 she completed another monumental project – to jointly perform ‘The Complete Piano Sonatas of Haydn’, a series of twelve recitals over two years.

Fionnuala has been awarded many prizes both at home and abroad including a Bank of Ireland Millenium Scholarship, the prestigious Maura Teissier Bursary and the Rena Menasche Award from the Tel-Hai Piano Masterclass series held in Israel. She was awarded the John Field Prize at the 2009 AXA Dublin International Piano Competition.

Fionnuala has given solo recitals and concerto performances throughout the UK, France, Holland, Italy, Israel, U.S.A, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia, Poland, Japan and Hungary as well as in Irish venues such as the John Field Room at the National Concert Hall, Áras an Uachtarán, Hugh Lane Gallery, Cork Opera House, Bantry House, the Mansion House and the Crawford Art Gallery. Fionnuala was invited by the University of Warsaw and the Irish Embassy in Warsaw in November 2010 to give a recital of works by John Field and a lecture recital exploring the link between Chopin and Field to commemorate the bicentenary of the composer’s birth in November 2010. In September 2011 she gave a recital of his works in the Glinka Museum of Musical Culture, Moscow, Russia, a special occasion as it is the city where Field both spent a great deal of his life and is buried. Fionnuala is an active chamber musician and has recently performed with violinists Helena Wood, Mia Cooper, pianist Sara Bryans, sopranos Deirdre Moynihan, Mary O’ Sullivan, Norah King, baritone Gavin Ring, oboist Sanja Romic and Gael Winds wind quintet.

In July 2014 she gave a Summer concert tour in Japan with five of her brothers and sisters. Their fusion of both the classical and traditional genres has earned them praise both at home and internationally. Her debut CD ’The Ivory Lady’ was launched in January 2015. This CD is a classical-trad fusion CD and showcases Fionnuala’s love for both the classical and traditional music genres. Fionnuala’s third classical series ‘Clementi: The Piano Sonatas’ began on November 23rd at the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin and consisted of eight recitals over two years. She was also an artist at the 2015 prestigious ‘Great Music in Irish Houses’ Festival. By kind invitation from the Irish Embassy Fionnuala gave two concerts in Zagreb, Croatia and Ljubljana, Slovenia to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in March 2016. In April 2016 she recorded a recital of sonatas by Muzio Clementi for The Lyric Concert on RTE Lyric FM Radio. She has recently been invited to perform ‘The Complete Piano Sonatas of Mozart’ in a five-recital series in the Triskel Arts Centre Cork. This series will take place between January and May 2017 and is kindly supported by the Arts Council of Ireland.

Fionnuala currently teaches piano performance at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.