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

I was born into a family of musicians: a pianist mother and a composer father. As a little child, I watched my mom practicing and grew competitive – as a three-year-old I would jump at the piano the moment she left it and wouldn’t let her back, pretending it was my time to ‘practice’. Seeing my father composing and listening to a lot of symphonic music at home with him shaped my musical demands, tastes, and desires. And attending concerts, opera and ballet performances, my mother’s recitals and rehearsals truly imprinted in my mind an idea of what life was supposed to be. Being immersed in all sorts of musical practice early on was the biggest influence. And thus I started to show my personal understanding and views in music quite early as well.

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

I was homeschooled until age 10, and the programme that my mother chose for me was completely her creation. As a three-year-old, I got a hold of the typewriter as a source of learning how to put letters together and create words, sentences and then stories. Later, I learned grammar and spelling through copying countless poems by the greatest Russian poets by hand into my journals. I looked through museum catalogues and albums of different artists in the same fashion kids use their cartoons and picture books. I constantly tried to create my own continuations of stories from that artworks, drawing and painting Perseus and Andromede after Rubens, and many other idols I acquired. At 6, I was given an unrestricted access to the turntable and the entire collection of LPs and soon after discovered that I always cry over Furtwängler’s interpretation of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, but the same piece conducted by Bruno Walter left me cold and unengaged. Simultaneously, my father taught me to read music in all clefs and transpositions and that opened for me the world of orchestral scores which I could sightread without any trouble. I was exposed to serious literature early on, reading the Divine Comedy at 7, thinking it is an awesome fairytale and drawing illustrations to what I read. That same year I destroyed an LP with Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony, simply from overplaying it, and the immense passion of that music definitely created a craving for emotional intensity in musical performance that I continued to feel throughout my life.

Such exposure to an array of arts was definitely one of the best things that happened to me, thanks to my mother’s wisdom, and all of that continues to influence me in everything I do. Besides playing piano, I compose, transcribe, write poetry both in Russian and English, draw and paint, and create original projects in which all the arts interconnect.

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

It is hard to answer briefly or in any summarizing way.

I have had many obstacles on my way, which could have completely broken me and definitely delayed the development of my professional career. But they taught me to overcome anything and to always keep in mind where I am going and why.

I was born in Izhevsk, a provincial city which is a capital of the Republic of Udmurtia within Russia. When I was 9 and passing required exams to enter the Central Music School in Moscow, the first time I entered the examinations, I was given an A in piano and F in ear training with a remark that I have no musical hearing ( I have perfect pitch). It was suggested I enter a paid study programme (as opposed to a free programme). The school’s hidden assumption was that my home town would sponsor my studies.

The following year, I entered again, was given an A in ear training and F in piano performance with a remark that I have “no technical abilities and will never become a pianist”. My mother lost her pregnancy upon hearing this news and that is how I never got a brother.

At this point, the chair of composition of Moscow Conservatory, Albert Leman, being disgusted about the situation, went to the Ministry of Culture and opened a composition department at the Central Music School of which I became the first student.

A mere three years later, the same person who claimed I had no abilities as a pianist, after listening to 13-year-old me performing Liszt’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ fantasy at a winter exam, exclaimed at his impressed colleagues “what are you surprised about? It was always clear she has limitless technical abilities”.

In the 9th grade, I was thrown out of school for “excessive touring without the consent of administration”. Luckily, I was put back by Ministry of Culture and the school’s dean at the time lost his job.

As a freshman at Moscow Conservatory I soon started playing with best orchestras in the country. At the same time my mother got hit by a car on the street and I had to take care of her after her major trauma.

But my professor, who performed with same orchestras, would call those orchestras and ask them to stop inviting me to play. It was always a major fight when I told her that I had a new engagement. I wasn’t allowed to prepare for competitions. The only one she forced me to apply for was the Chopin competition in Warsaw. It was 9 months of hard work, and three days before I was to fly out to the preliminary round, she asked me “why did you decide to go there? All the jury members this year are my enemies, they won’t let you in no matter how you play, just because you are my student!..” I did not go.

In my third year, she threw me out of her class for accepting a last-minute request to stand in to perform Prokofiev’s Second Concerto with the State Symphony Orchestra of Russia (now Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra), and arranged for me to be kicked out of the Conservatory, having badmouthed me in such a fashion sggesting that I got my engagements through intimate relationships with conductors.

She made sure I was never be able to reinstate my student status at the conservatory. After several unsuccessful attempts to come back (other conservatory professors to whom I tried to transfer, were all scared of ruining their faculty relationships), I ended up completing my studies at Saint-Petersburg conservatory, thanks to maestro Mark Gorenstein who immensely helped me to find my way there.

However, in Saint-Petersburg I was presented with new surprises. I finished the conservatory in 2009 as the best piano graduate of the year, a status that has given me an opportunity to debut at the Saint-Petersburg Philharmonic Society with an orchestra. The performance was a big success, but just 8 weeks later I was given an “F” at each of the entrance exams to the post-graduate program, preventing me from entering.

I was lucky to develop amazing relationships with orchestras and concert presenters in Moscow, which allowed me to build a substantial concerto repertoire (by the end of my conservatory years I have performed over 45 different concerti). But the moment I was thrown out of the Moscow conservatory, I became an outcast and many people turned their backs to me. One of the few people that did not care about any of that was Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra’s music director Mark Gorenstein, who continued our regular collaboration.

But in 2011, maestro Gorenstein got fired from Svetlanov Symphony himself in politically-tailored circumstances and the backlash from that event hit me as well as one of his favorites – more doors got closed before me.

So in 2012 I moved to the US to enter the DMA programme at the invitation of Santiago Rodriguez and to start over in terms of building a career.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am proud of my YouTube project ‘Midnight Pieces’ that I started in 2017, recording works that I pick for their beauty and emotional depth. I tailor them according to an inner pattern: 1 obscure piece, 1 famous piece, 1 Russian piece, 1 transcription of mine. The goal is to produce 53 works by 53 composers, and I have recorded 30 so far. I have discovered a great deal of rarely-played pieces that are to-die-for in their stunning beauty, and I keep discovering more as I develop a habit of digging into different composers’ outputs.

Playlist of Midnight Pieces here:

Another recording that I like is the live performance of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 1, also available on my channel.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I think I have special connection to counterpoint and so playing Bach or any other polyphonic music feels very natural and fulfilling. With Bach, I always somehow memorize his music immediately. It feels like I know what will be going on right away, so it is definitely a special connection.

I’ve bonded with Liszt’s music very deeply, having approached it with orchestral thinking and I feel I am good at bringing many colours to it and maintaining multi-layered textures distinguished from each other.

I’ve been told many times that I am a very good Beethoven player. It is a bold thing to claim, but at the same time Beethoven attracts me immensely. There were periods of my life where I did not get to play much of his music and I felt robbed. In recent years, I’ve done much more and always felt I was doing the right thing. Right now I am totally in love with his Eroica Variations. It is such an underplayed set and I am trying to play it as much as I can so people can experience its magic.

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

I am highly driven by inspiration and I have a huge appetite. 99 percent of the time I play what I want to play and I combine pieces together to match or contrast each other in spirit. Another passion is complete cycles, where you are getting yourself into an imaginary journey through a composer’s life or period of life through the performance of everything written in a particular genre. For instance, this was the main attraction for me when I decided to perform complete 24 Liszt études as a recital program. Indeed, I also am driven by the idea of always posing a challenge for myself, so it was a perfect choice.

In recent years, I have also been writing piano transcriptions that have become a regular part of my programming. Two of them take a whole recital’s half each – Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata and Richard Strauss’ tone poem ‘Ein Heldenleben’. For the latter I put together a programme called ‘Heroes’, playing Beethoven’s Eroica Variations and Wagner-Liszt’s Tannhäuser overture as a first half.

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

In 2016, I discovered this unbelievable space, Earl and Darielle Linehan concert hall on campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. My astonishment was so intense that I decided to start summer music festival there. It was an extremely crazy idea since I have never lived nor studied in Baltimore and creating a music series from scratch was akin to operating blindfolded. But it was all worth it – the hall is incredible in its acoustic characteristics, has amazing pianos and very powerful recording capabilities. Every note you play resonates perfectly and can be heard from any seat no matter how soft it is. Each performance in this hall is a true joy, and I am very proud that this summer I was able to pull of the third season of my series, called Festival Baltimore.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It is impossible to pick one. Concert experiences become memorable due to either the overall circumstances or the personal feeling of artistic achievement.

I will never forget my performance at a teenage prison witnessing inmates getting unbelievably moved by a Schubert sonata and the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. Or the first time I played the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier without an intermission and how on stage this 2 hour 25 minute recital felt as just half an hour long. Or my debut with an orchestra at Carnegie hall’s Stern Audithorium – this intense feeling of checking off an imaginary milestone. Or the times when I performed my music or my transcriptions for the first time.

Or any of my recitals I play for kids at schools, where I perform the most difficult and intense repertoire for them and they stop moving and get completely absorbed by the music.

Each concert experience is unique and special on its own and there are definitely no ‘regular’ ones.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

There are definitely two types of success to be considered – creative, personal success and social, public success. To me, success is first of all the ability to fully embody my vision, drive and ideas in a musical piece, combined with the ability to deeply reach my audience.

To me, music is a spiritual process. There is something very sacred in how each musical piece unfolds akin a new life, and it releases a lot of feelings in people, when you are able to truly release yours in the real time of live performance. When playing something really demanding – and potentially extremely impactful – it could be easy to get swept away with your focus on technical excellence, ‘craft’, while staying closed emotionally. When you are reaching every note with your inner self, the audience perceives music on a completely different, transcendent level. The biggest success is to be consistent in your openness while maintaining your focus and thus connecting with people on this very deep level. It may sound strange, but when I see people who can’t stop crying after the performance is over, I feel I opened just the right door and it feels like my mission is accomplished.

Indeed, social success is very important and desired as well; it opens doors of amazing venues with instruments that can convey any of your sound color demands, and brings you together with like-minded musicians, but without the first one it would not make any sense.

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

Never be satisfied with meeting the requirements. If you are happy with what is required, you’re dead as an artist. You have to be always in a process of jumping over your own head, doing more than you think you can do. And you have to be constantly curious. If you want to be a musician, you need to really know music and arts in general. Half of what you do in music is practice and another half – sightreading, listening, discovering, reading, exploring. And not just music for your instrument – everything.

I will give you one example. I was 19 and preparing for my first performance of the Brahms D minor concerto. In heavily tradition-oriented Russian music institutions it is hard to voice your own vision and not being scolded in “this is not Brahms” or “this is not Chopin” manner. So I felt I have to substantiate my personal ideas in this music, even though they all were based on literal and uninfluenced reading of the Brahms’ text. Most of what I had to ‘prove’ was tempi and shaping of the form.

And to support my vision with facts, I researched all Brahms’ music to find links and matching elements. The final movement of the 1st piano concerto has the tempo marking ‘Allegro non troppo’. I found all the “Allegros non troppos” throughout Brahms’ output and at certain moment discovered a piece for choir and orchestra, ‘Gesang der Parzen”, op.89, which shared not only the tempo marking but the key and time signature with the concerto’s final movement. It was a blessing, it helped me immensely.

Of course, I also found all works in D minor, all works sharing same time signatures and tempo markings with other movements of the concerto. I discovered an insane amount of vocal and choral music which most of the pianists unfortunately do not get exposed to.

By the end of my research work I truly felt that I know Brahms as a composer.

I continue conducting researches like this throughout my life and it always brings incredible discoveries and reassurance for ideas that came intuitively.

Another aspect – be supportive and be genuine in it. Support your colleagues, learn from them, help them out instead of being jealous or trying to be better than them. Be better than yourself, and you will see how much more productive it is. And the love and support that you would give to others will always come back to you, directly or indirectly.

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

It has been always so difficult to me to think in these categories. Probably, because I have much more ideas and wishes than I have time to fulfill them, so setting exact goals feels somewhat limiting. Instead of 10 years’ goal, I have a list of ideas and projects that I am crossing out as I accomplish them.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

There are different aspects of happiness that I recognize for myself.

Perfect happiness is to be true to yourself. As and artist and as a human being. Life challenges us and makes this hard to achieve at times. But once you get to the point where you are true to yourself in absolutely everything you do, you are free and your soul and spirit are free and that brings peaceful happiness.

There is also happiness that can be achieved through overcoming yourself. I am really happy when I can jump over my own head and reach new a level. It could be a level of understanding, a level of performance, a level of strength, a level of ability, a level of openness – anything that makes you a better human being, the better version of yourself.

What are your current projects?

Recently, I finished two projects related to the music of Modest Mussorgsky to honor his 180-year anniversary. One is the transcription of the complete Mussorgsky’s cycle ‘Songs and Dances of Death’. I wrote a transcription of the ‘Serenade’ from it two years ago and always meant to continue with the rest of them.

The second one is the series of my own artwork for ‘Pictures at an exhibition’. Both are being premiered this week at the Rockefeller University’s Tri-I noon recital series.

It is incredible to deeply connect to Mussorgsky’s music. It is so psychedelic in a sense, it is dark and almost sacred, and provides an infinite variety of ways to interpret it. I am glad I waited so long before getting my hands on it, not playing in my teen years when there was a brief “fashion” to perform the Pictures.

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Baba Yaga by Asiya Korepanova

Asiya was born in Izhevsk, Russia, to a musical family. She began to learn piano when she was 4 years old from her mother, her first piano teacher. She was taught to read music in orchestral clefs by her father, an exemplary composer, at the age of 6, and started composing her own music. At 9, she made her orchestral debut, playing Mozart’s Concerto No.8 with her own cadenza, and performed her first philharmonic recital.

Her love for new music has come effortlessly as a result of her early bond with composition. She was invited to premiere 3 piano concertos by Vladislav Kazenin and Shamil Timerbulatov, with the Svetlanov Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Petersburg Capella Symphony Orchestra, the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra.

Additionally, she has presented the premiere performance of various works by Matthew Evan Taylor, Michael Daugherty, Thomas Sleeper and Orlando Garcia.

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

My mother sent my father to the American G.I. flea market to buy a western suit in order to attend a cousin’s wedding. My father came home without a suit; instead, he returned with an old turntable and a stack of LP records. In the stack of LPs were all of the most important works from Mozart’s violin sonatas, to Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony, Beethoven’s piano concerti and symphonies, as well as Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade. My father wanted all of his children to learn how to make music, so he forced me to take up the piano. He took me to live concerts where I found the experience took me to the most beautiful world that humans can experience. I remember those blissful hours in concert halls watching artists strive to achieve something that seemed so impossible from a child’s point of view, and that inspired me to want to be one of them. I am always trying to achieve something that is beautiful and inspiring. 

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

I have to say it is my husband David Finckel, who is one of the most disciplined and imaginative musicians. To have a lifetime partner that is committed so deeply to an unwavering belief in the power of music, is so determined to uphold the highest standard, and is in constant quest for excellence in his musical life has influenced and affected me every single day. It is a blessing to have a lifetime partner who is in the same pursuit as a musician and artist.

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

I am a very optimistic person. I love to be challenged, so I don’t really remember meeting any challenges, I only remember seeing opportunities. 

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My recordings are like my children, I cannot possibly tell you which one I like more than the others. And I rarely have a performance that I am completely satisfied with, but I am always proud of the concert as long as my audience seems happy. 

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love Schubert, Chopin, Dvorak and Beethoven. That doesn’t mean I play them best, but I know that I always try my best when I perform any works.

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

I carry a large repertoire each season, between 40 to 60 pieces. My repertoire choice usually comes from the design of specific program. In the program, you need to find balance and variety. It is a combination of my passion that particular season and my program design where I find that magic formula that provides audiences with the most satisfying musical experience. 

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

Alice Tully Hall in New York City, one of the greatest halls, with its warmth and beauty of sound, as well as its complete silence. Alice Tully Hall also has the greatest piano in the world. It is an oasis for any musician to make music in such a beautiful space with such perfect acoustics. The color of the wood is modeled after the most gorgeous Italian string instruments, and the intimacy between the audience and the performers provides all the inspiration one would need. 

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favorite musicians are Vladimir Horowitz, Martha Argerich, Mstislav Rostropovich, Jascha Heifetz…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I played three concerts the week after September 11, 2001 for the most attentive audience. In all of the slow movements I could hear the sobs of the audience, as well as my own. Those were the most important concerts that I ever played in my life. 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

My definition of success is that I improve everyday, I try my best all of the time, and I make music that hopefully touches people’s hearts. 

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

I tell young musicians to be truthful to the score, always work hard, and be ready to be a strong advocate on behalf of great music, the music you truly believe in. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is to play a great concert, have a great martini and a great meal afterwards, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up in time to catch my next flight.

 

Wu Han LIVE III is the third collaborative release between the ArtistLed and Music@Menlo LIVE labels, featuring pianist Wu Han’s recordings of Fauré’s magnificent piano quartets from past Music@Menlo festivals.

More information

 


Wu Han is a Taiwanese-American pianist and influential figure in the classical music world. Leading an unusually multifaceted career, she has risen to international prominence through her wide-ranging activities as a concert performer, recording artist, educator, arts administrator, and cultural entrepreneur

 

(Artist photo: Liza-Marie Mazzucco)

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

There was always music being heard at home because both my parents are music lovers but actually playing the piano was introduced relatively late to me. I had many friends my age (8 at the time) who were playing an instrument and so my parents simply thought, why not?

It wasn’t until much later that I realised just what it might mean to be a concert pianist which was when I went to hear the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto at the Royal Festival Hall. The concerto captures your attention from start to finish and you can imagine how impressive it was to a child aged eleven. Of course my reaction then and what thoughts whirled in my head would not be how I hear the concerto now, but I learnt at that moment about the communication of music.

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

My many professors, of course, have all had an impact to my music making. One of my first professors was Christopher Elton. I was at the Purcell School and searching for a new teacher. I was introduced to Christopher and he accepted me in his class but I was this incredibly shy child who didn’t talk much to adults but was determined to make efforts through playing. Christopher was incredibly patient with me, and has, in in a way, been a musical father to me, as he has seen through all my career phases. Many, many years later, we still keep in touch and a friendship has developed since, which is always one of the nicer aspects of a musical relationship.

Then there is Maria Curcio-Diamond, who transmitted so many pearls of wisdom but I was too young to fully appreciate when I studied with her and now refer back to constantly today.

Lev Naumov was just a brilliant mind and musician and I was immensely fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate regularly in his classes.

John Lill has also been influential but I would say that however, it was the years I spent alongside Ruggiero Ricci that has had the most impact with my approach to music making today. He was heralded as a prodigy as a youth, a virtuoso as an adult violinist (a term he disliked) and the first violinist to have recorded all the Paganini Caprices. He was so modest and lived through so many experiences. I would often accompany his students in masterclasses and I learnt so much from watching him teach and from when we played together. There was something so natural and straightforward in his music making. It’s something I have tried to transmit in my own performances. It was also these years spent with Ricci that opened many doors for me, notably by meeting other musicians, some very well known, others less, as well as non-musicians but music lovers who have all had an influence into my approach to performing and life today on and off the concert circuit.

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

Juggling between raising two small children and keeping up with the rhythm of giving concerts have been challenging but extremely rewarding. Before my children, my focus before and during performances would hinge entirely around the concert, but today, now with my children, I am somewhere in the back of mind, thinking, “I hope they had a good day at school, I hope they have eaten well, I hope they are sleeping well”. The usual worries all parents have!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Always wanting to improve on the last performance/recording is a common trait in performers and I share this!

Of course there have been certain performances that have been more satisfying than others, not only in terms of my particular performance, but also when the audience is so reactive and appreciative, it is a very special moment. I really appreciate also when sometimes members of the public write to me following a performance to let me know how much they enjoyed that particular concert or how much they enjoyed the last album.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

In giving an interpretation to any one work, I really try to show what might be new to discover in the piece. In this sense, I think I convey Beethoven quite well. The French composers also seem to suit me; maybe it’s being married to someone French!

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

What’s great about mixing chamber, duo and solo repertoire in a season is that there is an abundance of choice! It’s common these days to link a theme to a programme so that gives me a certain guideline. Otherwise for concerto dates, it’s quite often what the promoter has in mind for the season alongside the choice from the conductor so I need to be quite flexible for these dates.

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

Of the more well known venues, like many other performers, I would have to say the Wigmore Hall. Its reputation precedes it and the hall doesn’t disappoint. That said, there is a venue in France called Prieuré Sainte-Marie du Vilar that has to be included. It is a restored Romanian Orthodox Church, lost in the middle of the Pyrénées Orientales, and each year the monks and nuns organise a music festival for the community. The rawness of the venue and being surrounded by the stones impregnated with history gives a very unique atmosphere.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I gave a series of concerts in Greece and one of the venues was in Patras. What was most striking about the make-up of this audience was that it was treated as a family outing. The children were all placed in the front rows, some not abiding by the ‘silence code’ of a concert, but it didn’t matter. At the end of each work, they applauded enthusiastically and seemed to enjoy the concert as much as the adults. It reminded me of my first impressions of attending performances and I hope I was able to communicate something to them with the Mozart concerto that I performed at the time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you feel you have found your voice and you have the opportunities to express this.

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

Never be afraid to be wrong and learn from everyone. Watch and watch and listen and listen again. There is so much archive available on the internet today. It’s important, I think, to be open to all interpretations and techniques of playing before creating and defining your own.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Two answers to this question. It would be either to find the time between concerts and practice for a good dance session with my husband and children because we always end up by collapsing in laughter. Otherwise it would be to take time out from playing to be by the sea with the family and catch up reading and a good glass of wine to hand.


Min-Jung Kym’s debut recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto is available now. Further information

Min-Jung Kym is establishing herself as an artist bringing fresh quality and musicianship to her performances. Since her London solo concert debut at the age of just 12, she has performed at the Barbican Centre, Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, UNESCO in Paris, the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea and many, many other venues.

www.minjungkym.com


(artist photo: Arno MiseEnavant)

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.”

www.musicherstories.com


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

My parents introduced me to several activities when I was very young; there was ballet and sports (I reached competition level in swimming). Music was already present in the house – my father was a surrealistic painter and always worked while listening to music in his studio. But it wasn’t until we visited a friend who owned a piano that the idea cthat I could start taking lessons came about.

Later on, growing up, I started making a selection, making my own choices. First, I decided to stop ballet in order to learn the violin. I was already leaning more towards music. But soon I realized that the piano was closer to my heart and my abilities, and at age 12 I told my parents I wanted to pursue music seriously.

Since then, and despite the many ‘detours’ and experiences I had – undergoing an academic course and taking a two-and-a-half-year break from music in my mid twenties –  an inner calling has always led me back to the piano and that motivated me to pursue a career in music. Intuitively, I understood that this professional path would satisfy the needs of my body, mind and soul at the same time. It is a balance of intellectual and manual work. Indeed, I perceive “art” in its full meaning, crystallized by the Ancient Greeks in the word τέχνη (technè), which gave our modern word “technique”, but, depending of the context, could signify both craft-like knowledge, skill and “art” – that is to say, the capacity to express emotions. Another ancient concept that I find particularly interesting to describe a musical career comes from Dionysius from Halicarnassus that talks about introducing “diversity into homogeneity”. What we do is every day the same,  it is never the same. The possibility to reinvent oneself daily and the freedom that it implies in music is something that I very soon understood I couldn’t live without.

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

I have always been in search of a mentor, and wasn’t fortunate enough to find one during my studies. Until recently I have been looking for someone to fit the role, and fate made me meet Jorge Luis Prats, who inspired me for years as a musician, and the polished the artist I wanted to be.

On a personal level, my father’s paintings, work ethic and dedication to art and beauty have been a huge influence in my approach to music. My mother’s sensibility and at the same time practicality helps me to look at the bigger picture whenever I tend to get stuck in small things and details, since I am an eternal perfectionist.

On a larger level, I want to stress that the other art forms have always been an influence on my musical life, and they help to nourish it. Amongst them, poetry – I write poetry myself in Italian, French and English – and dance, everything that has to do with the body’s movement, as for me music is movement, flow.

Nature too, as much as it inspired composers, is something I have to feel close to in order to create.

In the end, I was blessed by my father’s surrealistic philosophy and imagination, by the way he taught me to look at everything that surrounds me with a new and personal perspective, as a potential inspiration, to make it my own. And to take time. To be an observer and a listener. This are crucial components for me in order to be a good musician.

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

Having access to a piano. Having access to a good piano. Nothing is more frustrating than when you want to play or have to practice and you can’t.

Evolving in a very conventional and constrained world – especially in today’s music education system – when you are different and your approach is unconventional. So a real challenge was and is to make my path and my vision accepted and not to be judged for not having done or doing things that are “expected”. Being a free spirit in a way is a challenge in the “business”.

Accepting where you are, being patient in achieving your fullest potential and enjoying the process!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I can honestly say that I am never satisfied with a performance or recording. The ones that I am most proud would have to be the ones that involve the highest degree of challenge as this is a factor that helps me push my limits. As an example, a recent and improvised recording of 3 contemporary pieces by French composer Jean-Luc Gillet, during an artistic residency with him, done on an old 1984 Steinway that had a very uneven keyboard and piercing sound in the higher register and that hadn’t been played for 15 years. But at the same time that piano had a wonderful soul and sound signature. When I manage to reach new levels of interpretation on challenging instruments, that’s when I am most satisfied.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It tends to change, as it is deeply connected with one’s maturity and knowledge of certain pieces. But in general, the repertoire that explores the sound possibilities of the piano. I have more a sonic approach to the piano than a technical one. That’s why the virtuoso repertoire doesn’t speak to me as much. I can’t really speak of particular composers or eras, rather a way of writing music. When I see a score, I know instantly if it is music that I will play well. And this goes from Rameau, Scarlatti and Bach, through Brahms, Rachmaninov to contemporary music. Piano is an instrument-orchestra, and I like to play the composers that best keep that in mind.

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

My father always used to tell me that he had more ideas than he would ever have time during his life to paint them all. And he kept lists of all of them so he didn’t forget them and could come back to them later when he has the time or inspiration to accomplish them.

I feel the same about the pieces I want to perform. So I keep a list of composers and pieces that I discover year after year. And by looking at the list, I start creating connections. Sometimes it is between composers and then I would do some meticulous research to find the right pieces to put together. Sometimes, it is precisely while researching on a certain piece that I create connections with others I know or I read about those connections in the literature I am reading.

I particularly like to put unknown or forgotten pieces in my repertoire, and I love to collaborate with contemporary composers and premiere their works.

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

If I had the ideal concert venue, I know I wouldn’t feel the same in it twice. Acoustics are a very subtle matter. They can significantly change between a rehearsal when the hall is empty and the actual performance, where the filling of the hall with members of the audience can sometimes drastically modify your perceptions. For me it is also a matter of having or creating the right energy. Some venues have better “energies” than others, but the audience’s energy is equally important, no matter where you perform. In the end, because these are all factors that you can’t control, I’d like to think that the best concert venue has to be in the musician’s mind, in a process that is close to what Glenn Gould described in the way that you have to recreate a “good piano” conditions in your mind when you have to play on a not so good instrument.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who are passionate and have a “signature sound”. But in order to keep an interpretative authenticity, I don’t listen to classical pianists too much. I am fascinated by some conductors – Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel…

Outside the classical world, amongst the ones that I keep going back to and that have emerged as inspirational figures, I would like to mention: Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, jazz pianist, Estrella Morente, flamenco singer, Hayley Marie, lead vocalist of Australian indie rock band “The Jezabels”, the rock band “Dream Theater”, Lisa Gerrard, Rodrigo Costa Felix, fado singer, and many others…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One where I came out of my body and was able to watch myself perform from the outside, as if I was a spectator.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not just as a musician, but as an artist, the greatest success is when you make the audience feel something, when you surprise them, touch them, and maybe, through your art, make them discover something about themselves; when they walk out of the concert hall and they are a new person; when your art has an impact on someone’s life and is able to bring hope.

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

Humbleness. To be aware that everything has already been created, and the only approach possible to art is by being true to yourself and authentic.

And to not be afraid to question yourself and not always find the answers. And to take time. Even time off, if needed. Sometimes taking a break will make you evolve much faster afterwards.

Of course, as in all classical disciplines, an almost sacred devotion to music is necessary in order to do it justice (from work ethic and rigour, to the life sacrifices that a musical career involves, to achieving a mind, body and spirit balance…)

And to be smart. You are who you are without all the expectation and pressure or the perspective of what people think of you. Taking all that aside and really homing in on who you are and embellishing it with your craft is the way to go.

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

I live in the moment, and try to be as “present” as possible. I live from day to day and can’t see myself a week from now, let alone 10 years in the future!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be at peace with oneself. Live life to its fullest without having any regrets.

What is your most treasured possession?

My parents’ handwritten notes.

What is your present state of mind?

I am constantly in a meditative state of mind, with a flow of different thoughts in it.

 

 

Ida Pellicioli’s website

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.