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.

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

When I was three years old, my Dad came back after work one evening with a tiny little electronic keyboard for me and a little book of tunes. This thing was so small – smaller than a harmonica, I remember. I think my Dad got it at the local petrol station where he had been collecting loyalty stamps and this was one of the rewards (no doubt along with some kind of tankard and a Castrol GTX baseball cap). Anyway, I remember the keyboard didn’t have black and white keys but just a series of black buttons with do re mi etc. printed below. I learned all the tunes in the book that first night and I really enjoyed it. I still remember the feel of this little gadget in my hands – I have a very strong memory for how things feel. Some time soon after that evening, my parents and I visited my grandparents’ antiques shop in the Cotswolds and there was a piano in the showroom. I somehow managed to work out the tunes I’d learned on my little keyboard on that piano and was playing away. My grandparents asked if I could pick out a tune from the radio and work it out on the piano and I seemed to be able to do this. My Mum decided I should definitely have piano lessons and so we got a piano and she learned too, to begin with. As far as I can recall, all though primary school I knew that I wanted to be a pianist and had already formed that identity for myself. I had about four weeks when I was ten when I thought I might like to be a stockbroker: I think that was because I’d seen some footage of traders doing all those fascinating hand signals on the trading floor and I thought it looked cool. I love hands, and hands doing interesting things. Other than that brief interlude I’ve always been hellbent on being a pianist. I was very lucky to have such supportive and encouraging parents. They were never pushy – they just did whatever was possible to give me the best opportunities they could and I’m deeply appreciative for all they did for me.

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

I’ve had loads of teachers over my life – way more than most people, for some reason. I don’t know why this is. I’ve had some really brilliant teachers. I’ve had a few truly terrible ones too, and, actually, I learned a tremendous amount from those awful ones in terms of what I don’t want to be, how I don’t want to play and how I don’t ever want to treat a student. Enough of the bad ones though – the good ones were oh-so-good and they made a big impact on me. My most influential teacher, with whom I studied through most of my teenage years, was Caroline McWalter. She taught me at the Junior Birmingham Conservatoire and was the best possible fit for me – always so encouraging, and I hear her all the time when I’m teaching my own students. Other big influences on me were Alexander Kelly, Darla Crispin, Martin Butler and Peter Feuchtwanger. I’m really thankful to have had some fantastic teachers – all of them very interesting people. I like interesting people……. sounds like a dumb thing to say, doesn’t it? When does anyone ever say “I don’t like interesting people”? But what I mean is that I needed people with real personality to respond to when I was a student. Personality is key.

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

Ten years ago I was at a really exciting point in my career. I’d left music college and was getting really good gigs at high profile venues and I had recording opportunities. Things were going very well but I was starting to lose my hearing. It was sporadic – my hearing would just go for several hours each day. At that same time I noticed many changes to my hands and feet. The joints would often look a purple colour and they would swell, become stiff and very painful. After many tests and much monitoring I was diagnosed with an aggressive type of rheumatoid arthritis that went on a rampage through my body. I was told by my doctor that there was a good chance I would be wheelchair-bound within four years. I was told to give up playing piano. This was devastating to me. Losing my career was the worst news I could have been given and losing my greatest joy, passion, my raison d’être was just awful. I was given a lot of serious medication to take (15 pills a day) and the news from my medical team was pretty gloomy. As my mobility decreased, some days finding it difficult to walk even a few steps, I entered a deep personal crisis. I was scared of my own body – scared to be in my body, scared of how my body was changing and scared of what my body would be like in the future. On getting the diagnosis I was sent on a course to learn about my “condition”. I was shown slides of terrible deformities and was told that this is what I’ve got to look forward to. Frankly, it was a form of torture. I can’t quite believe I had to go through five weeks of attending this impending doom/gloom fest and be told to give up hope. Their advice was basically to sit at home, take loads of drugs, don’t do much, and spend hours each evening with my arms strapped into splints. It was grim, grim, grim.

Then after a few pretty darned depressing years something suddenly changed in me and I thought “well, I’m not having this – this is not what I want for my life.” I connected with this little, tiny fire deep in me that fuelled me and gave me the confidence to change my life. It was around the same time that my father died and so big change of course was bound to occur. I understood that I had the power to heal myself. I started doing yoga (Iyengar originally but now I do kundalini yoga), I developed a wonderful meditation practice and I totally cleaned up my diet. Things started to improve and I became more and more positive and capable. I started playing piano again (I had still been teaching whilst I was ill) but I was extremely tense and found everything very difficult. I found my way to the late, great piano teacher Peter Feuchtwanger and he helped me find a very natural, easy technique and put me back on track. He also sparked my interest in Asian musics and philosophies. He really changed my life and I will be eternally grateful.

My body is my greatest teacher. I wouldn’t change a thing about what I’ve gone through. I’ve learned so much. I don’t believe that I had rheumatoid arthritis – I believe I was in a state of “dis- ease” and my body was telling me that I had to change certain aspects of my life. It was a case of soul-sickness physically manifested, lack of connectedness, and it needn’t have been medicalised. In order to transform and move into another phase of one’s life often one has to experience some pain and there is a form of “death” to go through…….. the cycles of life within one’s own life. I had some pretty dark times and I’m all the better for them. The journey from being terrified of my body to now being totally in love with it and with all that it does has been so remarkable and so valuable. These days I run, I take no medication whatsoever, I wear high heels (didn’t think I’d be able to do that again!), I play for hours and am really happy, really well and feel connected and ‘in the right place.’ The little fire I re-discovered in me several years ago is now big, beautiful, creative and passionately burning.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of my very first solo album which I’ve recently recorded. It’s called BHOOMA and is inspired by the Hindu goddess representing Mother Earth, she of infinite variety. It’s a collection centred around my own compositions alongside works from across Asia and America and is due for release in 2018. There are Indian textures and Persian rhythms and quite a lot of jazz. Although most of my career has been focused around contemporary classical music, in my heart I feel much greater affinity to jazz. I used to play a lot and am now steering myself back in that direction.

It’s difficult to categorise what I do these days so recently I’ve found myself opting for terms like “post-genre” and “polystylistic.” I don’t particularly like these descriptions but they can be useful.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Pretty obvious, I guess, but my own compositions are what I play best! I seem to be a good baroque player and I also gravitate to composers with rich, resonant soundworlds like Messiaen, Somei Satoh and my old teacher Peter Feuchtwanger. Huge generalisations about to come….. A lot of French stuff suits me. American too. Russian stuff doesn’t.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For some reason, my most memorable concert experiences are negative ones, but quite funny, some of them. For instance, I gave the opening concert of a new piano festival at a big venue in London a couple of years ago and only two people turned up. One of them was my best friend. Another time I was doing a gig at a venue, also in London, and arrived to discover that there was no middle C in the piano – caused me no end of bother having to move everything up and down an octave the whole bloody time. A few years ago in Manchester I was playing one of my very, very favourite pieces (Incarnation II by Somei Satoh) which is a hugely rich and resonant and intense work. I had built up so much sound in this small venue that it had really disturbed someone. She said to me afterwards that my playing made her feel physically sick. Charming, eh? She had to leave the room to puke.

I have also had many lovely memorable experiences too though. Having St. Paul’s Cathedral all to myself for a whole week of nightly concerts as musician-in-residence was rather marvellous. I’ve been lucky to have concerts in fabulous settings like French chateaus, candle-filled churches and once in an Italian cave. I love those wonderful concerts where you just hit the right flow and can hold everyone in a beautiful space together, in communion with sound.

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

1. Naturalness.

2. Personal authenticity.

3. You don’t have to be good at everything.

4. Don’t follow the crowd.

5. Take risks.

6. Don’t be an operative.

7. Make everything you do physically pleasurable.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Among my piano heroes are Bill Evans, Martha Argerich, Abdullah Ibrahim, Nina Simone, Rosalyn Tureck, Jeremy Denk, Nat King Cole…. there are more. Beyond the piano I love Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Handel, Monteverdi, Bach, Messiaen, Steve Reich, Shivkumar Sharma, Amjad Ali Khan, Toumani Diabaté, Elton John (childhood hero), Stevie Wonder, Scott Walker, Roxy Music, David Bowie. I could go on forever……

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

I see myself in ten years’ time living in France running a cross-cultural music exchange centre in a beautiful location where musicians from all over the world can come and meet and collaborate with other musicians from across the globe. I intend to have a recording studio there and I want a venue where I can run candlelit festivals of ineffably gorgeous music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The bright silence of transcendence. There is perfect happiness in meditation.

What is your most treasured possession

My beloved piano.

I also have a small nineteenth-century bronze shrine to the goddess Lakshmi that I’m exceedingly fond of. If there was a fire in my flat there’s no way I’d be able to save my grand piano, of course, but I would make sure I took my Lakshmi shrine and my box of family photographs with me as I ran from the burning building.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Playing piano, writing music, kundalini yoga, transcendental meditation, dancing, singing, eating, drinking, going on road trips, and having as much fun as possible.

What is your present state of mind?

Full of wonder.

 

www.helenanahitawilson.com

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

We had an upright piano in the corner of the dining room, which one of my older sisters was learning on. Aged about 6 I used to sit at it, crashing about on the keys and flailing my arms around as I imagined concert pianists did –  maybe I saw one on the TV. I think my parents realised my enthusiasm needed channelling and took me to a teacher who reminded me of Cruela de Vil – brown hair on one side and blonde on the other! I had a wonderful teacher at secondary school, Elaine Hugh-Jones, who was very inspiring and supportive. For a long while I toyed with becoming a solo pianist, but turned down the opportunity to study piano at the RNCM in preference to taking up an instrumental scholarship at Oxford. Over time I began to realise that my musical temperament did not lean towards life as a soloist, and there were many other ways to pursue a performing career. The Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD) held those answers for me.

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

A chance conversation with Roger Vignoles prevented me from giving up altogether…I needed a teacher who knew about accompanying-he suggested some lessons with Paul Hamburger, and, as well as with him, at the GSMD I had the chance to work intensively with Graham Johnson, Martin Isepp and Iain Burnside, who were all hugely inspirational to me in their different ways. Playing for masterclasses at Snape for wonderful singers/teachers such as Elly Ameling, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Elizabeth Soderstrom were also fantastic learning opportunities. In latter years, especially after moving to Shropshire, I have Roddy (Roderick Williams) to thank for continuing to take me with him on his musical journey, whilst it may have seemed I disappeared off the musical world’s radar; and for his natural, intelligent, sublime interpretations. Oh, and his irrepressible sense of humour.

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

Trying to keep it going!! The move to Shropshire, having three children in close succession, and getting divorced made it particularly challenging to carry on playing at all.

Musically, I think some of the contemporary works I’ve performed have challenged me greatly, such as the four Songs by Torsten Rasch, commissioned for Gloucester Three Choirs Festival; and more recently getting out of my comfort zone and having to use an elbow in a new work called “The Rain is Coming” by Emily Levy.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Going way back, one which comes to mind is playing for Nathan Berg in the Gold Medal final at GSMD. He was singing Mahler’s Ruckert Lieder – trying to do these incredible songs justice for Nathan meant so much to me I was sick beforehand! Luckily it paid off – and he won. A recent performance of Die Schöne Mullerin with Roddy had a feeling of musical and emotional synchronicity – I was so glad to be part of that performance too. And I’m really proud to have been given the opportunity to record the new SOMM CD, songs that I have performed with Roddy many, many times over the years, all of which I adore.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

You may have to ask others about that!

Accompanists have to be like chameleons. It’s important to be able to feel comfortable in as many styles as possible. I like to think I can play best whatever I happen to be working on. Having said that, I have a particular penchant for the serious and intense, for example I think I can put across a pretty convincing “Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen” (Mahler)… I also feel I now have a more confident approach to playing Schubert – Die Schöne Mullerin is a personal favourite; although tomorrow it may be Schwanengesang, and the day after, Winterreise.

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

As an accompanist with many other demands made on my time, these choices are frequently not mine. Quite often my job is to fall in love with whatever repertoire I am tasked with – I enjoy that challenge.

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

Roddy and I did a tour of Schwanengesang in 2016. One of the venues was the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at the Globe in London. It was a very special place to play. It is an utterly beautiful bijou Jacobean-style space for starters, and as the performers, we were cocooned by the audience above us and around us, all of us bathed in the most atmospheric candlelight – a truly memorable experience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A festival in 2013 – memorable for the wrong reasons! I was attempting to give my all in an exceptionally beautiful postlude of Richard Sisson’s “So Heavy Hangs the Sky”, when the city council rudely began to empty the huge glass-recycling bins outside the venue – the sound continued for a good ten seconds… The second half of the concert was accompanied by reversing vehicle noises, pretty much matching the pulse, but not the atmosphere of Britten’s “The Sunflower”. The audience were not happy!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The ability to be able to move an audience through musical communication.

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

Respect the composer’s intentions, whatever you perceive them to be; try to communicate the spirit of the piece; enjoy the practice journey; have fun. Respect and support your colleagues.

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

Back at the Wigmore Hall

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The Beach House Goa Retreat

What is your most treasured possession?

My Steinway piano, given to me when I was 14

What do you enjoy doing most?

Walking the dog in the Shropshire hills with my kids

What is your present state of mind?

Busy!

 

Roderick Williams’ new CD, with Susie Allan, piano, ‘Celebrating English Song’ is available now on the SOMM label. Further information here

Susie Allan studied Music at Worcester College, Oxford, as a Hadow Instrumental Scholar, and Piano Accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She won the GSMD Accompaniment Prize, the Gerald Moore Award, and a Geoffrey Parsons Memorial Award. Her teachers included Paul Hamburger, Graham Johnson and Iain Burnside. She has accompanied many masterclasses at the Britten-Pears School at Snape Maltings, Suffolk and elsewhere, and has been a Professor of Accompaniment at the RCM and the RWCMD.

 

 

 

Meredith Monk Ellis Island

Phillip Glass – Études Nos 9 and 2

Debussy Études Book 1

Christina McMaster, piano

My second trip to Wimbledon International Music Festival proved as rewarding and enjoyable as the first. As part of the Festival’s New Generation Artist Series, pianist Christina McMaster gave a lunchtime concert featuring music by living American composers Meredith Monk and Philip Glass, together with Études by Claude Debussy.

Christina studied with Joanna Macgregor at the Royal Academy of Music and I think the influence of her mentor shows in her imaginative and eclectic programmes and the clarity, panache and vivid colour of her playing. Monk’s ‘Ellis Island’ was written to accompany a short silent film of the same name, which celebrates the gateway to the USA for thousands of immigrants in search of a better future. The music, originally scored for two pianos (I assume the transcription for solo piano was arranged by Christina herself), has a lilting Gaelic flavour, a reminder that many people from Scotland and Ireland emigrated to America. The overall message of the music is hopeful and joyful, though a quieter section at the end suggests eagerness tinged with anxiety at what the future may hold. Christina created a lovely bright, crystalline sound with a great sense of energy throughout, though the music never felt relentless, but rather light and dancing.

Fellow New Yorker Philip Glass is regarded as the master of minimalism, but his piano music when played with sensitivity can feel almost romantic, and this was certainly Christina’s approach to the two Études by Glass in this programme, one frenetic and urgent, the other more reflective with its Schubertian long-spun motifs, spaciousness and unexpected harmonic shifts. Her sense of pacing, elegantly nuanced dynamics and tempo made these works the highlight of this excellent programme for me.

Debussy’s Études follow Chopin’s model – short pieces written to exercise and improve the pianist’s technique, and like Chopin’s Opp 10 and 25 Études, Debussy elevates the pieces from student exercises to exquisite concert miniatures. The first Étude of Book 1 is dedicated to “Monsieur Czerny” and is an amusing take on Carl Czerny’s rather tedious five-finger exercises which many young piano students have had to endure (I know I did!). Cheeky interjections from rogue fingers hint at the student’s frustration at having to remain in a five-finger position on the keyboard and the work grows more expansive and virtuosic towards the end. It was despatched with playfulness and wit. The other Études were played with similar character, their individual quirks and delights carefully delineated by Christina. There were so many moments to savour – great delicacy of touch, subtle shadings, natural rubato and rhythmic vitality, and the entire performance was vibrantly coloured and very stylishly presented. The encore, Debussy’s ‘Girl With the Flaxen Hair’, was played with equal poise and elegance. 
(Photo: Dominic Farlam)

 

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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
It was an coincidence that I took up the piano. But later I chose independently to pursue a career as a musician, because I noticed that nothing other than making
music made me feel great.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Practically, it was my teacher Karl Heinz Kaemmerling, and my wonderful colleague, the violinist Benjamin Schmid – both during my studies at Mozarteum in Salzburg. Exposure to Friedrich Gulda and Nikolaus Harnoncourt were turning
points and led to greater inspiration for my musical understanding.

You are performing in the London Piano Festival this October – tell us more about this?
I loved Katya and Charles’ idea of performing what one likes most, and immediately said “yes”. Repertoire from the baroque and classical periods is my best repertoire. My interests and performing style have nothing to do with the “Russian piano school”, and I am deeply convinced that the modern piano offers the widest range of possibilities to create the sound appropriate for these works.
So I chose three composers: Scarlatti – his sonatas, of which there are so many, are one better than the next and always perfect for a discovery. Mozart is simply my favourite composer – I feel very close not only to his music, but to his entire personality. And Handel’s Suite is part of my award winning recording project for ECM.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
To start up from absolute zero with no money whatsoever. And to realize later on, that it is not only the musicianship, but Marketing and PR that you have to put your efforts in – a very disappointing discovery.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
The already mentioned Handel Suites for ECM, and the brand new Mozart Piano Concerti with my New Classic Ensemble Vienna – we just recorded and produced them for the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Mozart Piano Concerti

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
It is a mixture between requests from promoters and the works I would like to study or perform again – I try to find challenging combinations.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
The Concertgebouw Amsterdam. Everything feels perfect to me: The size, the acoustics, they always had a wonderful piano when I played…. and the red carpet on the stairs when you come down on stage feels like Hollywood….

Who are your favourite musicians?
Glenn Gould, Maria Callas, Friedrich Gulda, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Andras Schiff

What is your most memorable concert experience?
The one when my “plan” with a certain piece of music worked out, and fortunately there have been many.


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

To be honest, I don’t know, as I am still learning something new myself each day.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness is the flow to be so entirely occupied with what you do at the moment that nothing else exists. Naturally this cannot last your whole life, but also happiness cannot.

What is your most treasured possession?
My time.

Lisa Smirnova performs in the 2017 London Piano Festival at Kings Place in two concerts on 7 October. Further information and tickets here


Austrian-Russian pianist Lisa Smirnova is an internationally recognized concert artist renowned for her interpretations of baroque and Classical repertoire. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recently remarked that her “sense of style, use of phrasing and ornamentation and tempi, that make the piano an instrument of harmony of vibrating strings, gave her performance its transcendent and unmistakable character.”
(picture © Lisa Smirnova)

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

I played all kinds of instruments when I was young, but the piano is like a universe. You can use it to compose and to perform – it represents so many different styles of music from early French keyboard music and Bach, to Beethoven and John Cage, jazz and blues. I’ve always loved the piano, and loved listening to other pianists.
I’m devoted to practicing and studying music, mainly. It’s the physical and intellectual stamina it requires that I still find so exciting; I really enjoy talking a pencil and marking the score, and spending hours with a work. It’s allowed me to travel all over the world, which I never expected, as a performer. I love teaching, and collaborating with other artists and composers.

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

My mother had me when she was young, and I was her first piano student. She was very imaginative in her musical tastes: together we played Bach, Mozart, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Beatles songs, and gospel music. Being taken on by YCAT (Young Concert Artist Trust) in my twenties was a fantastic apprenticeship; I built up a big repertoire, and learnt to communicate with audiences.

David Sigall was also undoubtedly a major influence. He was my manager until he retired last year. He taught me to see the long game, and encouraged me to be a curator and artistic director. He seemed totally unfazed by anything I got up to, whether it was starting a record label, conducting or collaborating with world musicians.

I’ve also been heavily influenced by jazz musicians; the way they collaborate, make things happen, hang out together, and support each other’s gigs.

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

I’ve always loved playing at the BBC Proms – my first one was nearly thirty years ago! And broadcasting live is tough – you have to be on top of everything.
My most treasured memory is working with Pierre Boulez, twice; first on a European tour with the Philharmonia and later with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was witty, warm, elegant, gossipy and just a gorgeous musician to be with, both on and offstage.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Impossible to say, as they’re all flawed to my ears, of course. But for different reasons, Messiaen’s Vingt Regards; Deep River with the saxophonist Andy Sheppard, which explored music of the Deep South; and my most recent recording, the complete Chopin Mazurkas.

Very early on in my career I recorded Charles Ives’ First Sonata, an absolute epic, at Snape Maltings. I still love his music very deeply.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I seem to gravitate towards intense miniatures – Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys, Chopin Mazurkas – or huge cycles – Messiaen, Beethoven, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. I like architecture; on the other hand I also like playing in the moment. I find so much music is a mixture of structure, and unfolding, like following a fork in the road.

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

It depends on the venues, and what I’d like to add to my repertoire. I still learn new pieces – this year it was Schubert’s last sonata in B flat, coupled with some late Liszt and Ligeti. I’m not at all rigid about the number of recital programmes or concertos I’ll carry around in any one season. It depends on all the other collaborations and new work I’m doing; I always seem to be working on new projects with poets or artists, as well as other musicians.

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

Many favourites – the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Bimhuis in Amsterdam; the Wigmore Hall, the medieval hall at Dartington. Something to do with intense atmosphere and audiences.

Favourite pieces to perform?

I always love Bach and Beethoven; I love practising them. I’m heavily into Chopin’s fifty-eight mazurkas at the moment, played chronologically; rather like reading someone’s personal diary.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many. The pianists I listen most to (at the moment) are Edwin Fischer, Rubinstein and Maria João Pires. I adore spending time with Alfred Brendel; I admire great improvisers and slip into their concerts all the time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably playing Shostakovich First Piano Concerto at the Last Night of the Proms – memorable for all kinds of reasons, including the controlled hysteria backstage. Being invited to play the Goldberg Variations at the Albert Hall by John Eliot Gardiner was pretty exciting for me.

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

Individuality, fearless talent, creativity, and the ability to design opportunities – fundamental to building a long career. The piano students at the Royal Academy of Music (as Head of Piano there I mentor them all) come with a very high degree of technical skill and musicianship. But I encourage them to develop other skills—curating, improvising, working with multimedia, commissioning composers, conducting from the keyboard, having a working knowledge of early keyboards—that will help them flourish at the beginning of their careers. Every summer we run a Piano Festival, which is largely curated now by the students themselves, and it’s a testament to their imagination and unstoppable energy.

 

Joanna MacGregor is one of the world’s most innovative musicians, appearing as a concert pianist, curator and collaborator. Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music and Professor of the University of London, Joanna MacGregor is also the Artistic Director of Dartington International Summer School & Festival.

As a solo artist Joanna has performed in over eighty countries and appeared with many eminent conductors – Pierre Boulez, Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev, Sir Simon Rattle and Michael Tilson Thomas amongst them – and orchestras, including London Symphony and Sydney Symphony orchestras, Chicago, Melbourne and Oslo Philharmonic orchestras, the Berlin Symphony and Salzburg Camerata. She has premiered many landmark compositions, ranging from Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Django Bates to John Adams and James MacMillan. She performs regularly at major venues throughout the world, including Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre and the Barbican in London, Sydney Opera House, Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Mozarteum in Salzburg.