elspeth_wyllie-320x439Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?

I didn’t plan on becoming a pianist or a professional performer until studying with Raymond Fisher while at university; he gave me the technique and self-belief to give it a go. Before that, I got a huge buzz from being surrounded by other enthusiasts and immersed in music day in, day out at music school. I’d studied recorder and clarinet too, but gradually came to realise that the piano appealed the most – because of the wealth of repertoire and playing opportunities it offers. My family wasn’t particularly musical, but my mum could strum a guitar so we sang lots of songs when I was pretty small, and I loved listening to records.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

Obviously my teachers – I’m very grateful for my time with Richard Beauchamp who is disarmingly modest, open-minded and curious. The quality and quantity of chamber music on offer at school has undoubtedly given me a passion for collaborative playing. I like to think I have a reasonably open-minded attitude and curiosity for all arts and music – growing up in Edinburgh with it’s annual festivals and inspiring live performances of music, dance, theatre and wealth of art exhibitions has helped that.

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

Staying focused and productive in personal practice, balancing commitments between different projects, being efficient with admin, and working out what’s next in a field that offers such huge flexibility for developing your career.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

The projects where there’s a shared attitude and natural understanding with the people I’m working with, or in new projects that involve an element of challenge or risk and stretch you further than you thought possible. Specific things I’m really proud of: solo performances of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, duo performances of Bowen’s Sonata for flute and piano with Claire Overbury, Amalie Trio’s school workshops about the drama and skills of chamber music, and my recent debut recording bringing together lots of colleagues, Enigmas.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Anywhere with a decent piano that’s not too cold, and an open-minded audience!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To listen to: Barber’s Violin Concerto, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Schubert’s three last piano sonatas, any of Brahms’ violin sonatas… Mind you, I don’t often listen to classical music in my downtime. I dance and sing along to bands like Snarky Puppy, the Divine Comedy, Count Basie and Stornoway, or listen to Cerys Matthews and Craig Charles on Radio 6 Music. To perform, I love finding compelling repertoire that’s less well-known: trios by Nicolai Kapustin and William Bolcom, an Azerbaijani suite by Fikret Amirov, songs by Bernard Stevens. I love it when the audience hasn’t heard of a piece or composer but enjoys the discovery. It’s way more interesting to me than being the 3000th person to play Beethoven’s Ghost Trio, however good the piece is!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who find endless expressive nuance without distorting the overall shape of the music, and who prioritise the music and avoid any on-stage presence of ego. I’ve been blown away by concerts and recordings by Adrian Brendel, Imogen Cooper, Stephen Hough, Kathryn Stott and Steven Osborne, and outside the classical world by the creativity of Stornoway and Chick Corea, and the skill of Courtney Pine and Joshua Redman.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hmm. They’re often memorable for the wrong reason. Performing extremely badly but with total swagger aged 7, with two painfully-bandaged knees due to a pre-performance backyard incident! Nerve-wrackingly page-turning for Martha Argerich and Nelson Goerner in the Edinburgh Festival. Good ones: Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (from memory, which is unusual for me), Enesco’s Violin Sonata no. 3 in my final recital at music college, the rapport with new colleagues in our very first performance together of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in C minor.

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

Play pieces you really believe in, and nothing beats being properly prepared.

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

Performing more frequently with my regular chamber music partners and doing more 1-1 coaching with adults – I enjoy accompanying and working with them to release potential musical expression and overcome frustrations. I also love working with choirs, so continuing to develop that alongside my performing work.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A productive days’ work, or being outside somewhere rural in good weather, or good food in relaxed company.

Elspeth Wyllie performs throughout the UK and abroad as a solo pianist, chamber musician and accompanist. She has appeared at the Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls, The Brunton, and on Classics Unwrapped for BBC Radio Scotland. She is a founder member of the Métier Ensemble (with flautist Claire Overbury and cellist Sophie Rivlin) and the Amalie Trio (with mezzo-soprano Catherine Backhouse and violist Alexa Beattie), performing regularly with them and in projects with other musicians from major ensembles, orchestras and opera companies.

In addition to chamber music, Elspeth rehearses and performs with choirs. Particular highlights have been a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and piano duo performances of Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem and Liebeslieder Walzer. Her experience includes engagements with the BBC Symphony Chorus, the National Children’s Choir of Great Britain, and animateur Gareth Malone, as well as regular work with Clapham’s Festival Chorus and several other amateur choirs. Elspeth also teaches, coaches and accompanies, both privately and for workshops and courses. In the studio, she has recorded sessions at Abbey Road, AIR and Dean Street Studios, and for Novello publications.

Elspeth studied piano with Richard Beauchamp and Audrey Innes at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, and continued with Raymond Fischer while reading music at the University of Oxford. She completed her professional training with a PGDip from the Royal Academy of Music, London, studying piano and accompaniment with Andrew West and Colin Stone and winning many prizes, including the RAM Club Prize for Accompaniment, the Vivien Langrish Prize, Evelyn German Prize and J E Reckitt Award. She was supported during her studies by the Oldhurst Charitable Trust and was shortlisted for the 2011 Park Lane Group Award with duo partner Claire Overbury. She has enjoyed lessons and masterclasses with many wonderful musicians, including Julius Drake, Susan Tomes, Adrian Brendel and Tasmin Little.

‘Enigmas: solo piano and chamber works’ is released by Divine Art Records on 19 May 2017

www.elspethwyllie.co.uk

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I was brought up by a musical mother who studied the piano with Moisés Moleiro, and sang in the choir in the premiere of the ‘Cantata Criolla’ by Antonio Estévez. Unfortunately she fell ill very young and had to abandon music. When I was 7 I was accepted as a student at the Conservatorio Juan José Landaeta in Caracas where I had the most wonderful and generous teachers. My piano teacher was Guiomar Narváez, strict and very artistic, with a great passion for the classical composers and Latin American music. At 16 I won a scholarship to come to the Royal College of Music in London, where I was assigned to Phyllis Sellick as the teacher who would carry on developing what Mrs. Barbara Boissard and Michael Gough Matthews saw in my style of playing when they heard me in the audition in Caracas. For that I am very grateful: Phyllis was an extraordinary human being who taught me the art of piano playing.

Who or what were the greatest influences on your playing?

My main teachers obviously, including Polish pianist Regina Smenzianka and Paul Badura-Skoda, and also the many concerts I went to as a child growing up in Caracas. I remember listening to Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, George Demus, Willhem Kempf, Yoyoma, Alicia De La Rocha, and conductors such as Charles Dutoit, Cuban Nicolás Guillén reciting his poetry, popular singers like Mercedes Sosa, the cinema of Carlos Saura, Stanley Kubrik, Herzog, Chaplin….all these wonderful true artists, giving us the best of their knowledge and gigantic talents, seeing, listening and receiving all the universal and most humane expression and energy.

Then in London I have enjoyed many concerts of classical music and jazz, plus all my friends who also play and are now the great musicians of our time.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career?

Every concert you play, every CD you make is a challenge. To teach very gifted children is also a challenge. I think we face climbing Everest nearly every day! Nothing is easy. To play phrases in the most clear of ways, respecting the intentions of the composer is a challenge. When you decide that you are a pianist you understand that the challenge is what motives you, that’s what takes you out of bed.

A big challenge we face today is that classical music has been marginalised by the media, and by the idea that fashion, cookery and frivolous cinema or football stars are more important than profound thought, creativity and art. We have to keep going, as it is now up to us to make sure that this precious legacy we have acquired through centuries survives. It is a very hard and heavy burden!

Which CD in your discography are you most proud of?

Although I have recorded about 9 hours of music from Venezuela, by Venezuelan composers, I consider them all to be very different from each other. I have also recorded one CD of music by Chopin and another one by Ernesto Lecuona, which will come out in the autumn. I am sensitive to the qualities of the piano, acoustics and sound engineer. I have produced most of my CDs and am in general satisfied with the results; perhaps sometimes I am over critical and cannot bear listening to something that is too slow (I can think of one piece that I let myself be influenced by the engineer and now I do not agree with the tempo…). I think each CD is a world of its own: they are “concepts” and represent moments of our lives.

Critics are not familiar with Venezuelan music and a few years ago those CDs represented a kind of “political statement”. What’s good now is that those critics are more receptive, less “Eurocentric” and are beginning to understand (after 500 years) that Latin America is part of western culture.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I love the Purcell Room, the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Invalides in Paris, and the Teatro Teresa Carreño and Municipal in Caracas. Any hall with a decent piano and lovely audience will be always great!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love every piece I play, and with each of them there really is a love affair. From Bach, Scarlatti, Mateo Albéniz, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, to Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Ravel, Gershwin, Scriabin…the list is very long. Equally I have to constantly listen to classical music, salsa and Latin American popular music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

All the musicians that show passion, love, understanding, involvement, imagination… There are millions of fantastic musicians in our planet.

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

I think I have answered this above, but there is a concept I have discovered recently and it is to do with sharing with the young one’s knowledge, experiences and very importantly giving these young, very talented musicians the opportunities to perform and express their ideas and art. I think experienced, successful musicians should open the path for the young. Not many people in the “business” will do it for them now days.

What are you working on at the moment?

Beethoven ‘Emperor’ Concerto, Mozart Sonatas, Villa-Lobos, Chopin, Piazzolla, exploring Colombian music…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness can be found anywhere, at any time, the thing is to be aware of this and enjoy it while it lasts.

‘Joropo’ by Moisés Moleiro

Caracas-born pianist, Clara Rodriguez studied with Phyllis Sellick after winning a scholarship from the Venezuelan Arts Council to train in London at the Royal College of Music. There she was the recipient of numerous prizes and performed as a soloist with the RCM orchestras including De Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the Ravel Concerto in G at St. John’s Smith Square.

In Caracas she made her debut playing Mozart’s last piano concerto with the Simón Bolívar Orchestra under the baton of José Antonio Abreu at the age of sixteen; from then on Clara Rodriguez’s career as a concert pianist has taken her to perform all over the world. Her large and interesting repertoire covers works of the best known Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern composers; she has also intensely promoted the music of the Latin American continent.

Her discography includes CDs of the piano music of the Venezuelan composers Moisés Moleiro, Federico Ruiz and Teresa Carreño; her catalogue also includes Popular Venezuelan Music Vol. 1; El Cuarteto con Clara Rodríguez en vivo as well as the piano works by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona and of Frederic Chopin late works.

Her recordings are regularly played on BBC Radio3, Classic FM, Radio Nacional de Venezuela, Radio France International, and networks from Argentina to the USA, Australia and China.

Clara Rodriguez teaches piano at the Junior Department of The Royal College of Music in London.