Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?
Whilst toddling around my house, aged 3, I banged my head on something and lashed out. To my surprise, it made a beautiful sound, and I’ve played the piano most days since.
Choosing music as a career took a bit longer. Despite feeling elated and richly fulfilled as a chorister touring the Eastern Seaboard with St David’s Cathedral Choir, many years ago, I expected to continue my pastoral life in Pembrokeshire and become an accountant… until I heard about music college auditions. I applied and have never looked back!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Such a tricky question! Being a former cathedral chorister was certainly the most important influence on my formative years and still influences me greatly. The training and performance opportunities I received were incredible and now inform the way I collaborate with singers. Working with Pascal Nemirovski during my undergraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music was a very important influence, and more recently being the Viola Tunnard Young Artist at Snape Maltings (where Flax and Fire was recorded) gave me the chance to explore new ideas and skills.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Lockdown! And secondly, having the courage to admit how dearly I wanted a family, and taking a leap of faith to start it. I was really afraid of losing work – and there were a few engagements I surrendered or postponed – but in retrospect it was the best thing I ever did. It has brought a sense of balance and practicality to my work that I’d only dreamed of before.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Curating ‘Flax and Fire’ was a pivotal moment for me: I developed holistically as an artist during the process, and it taught me a lot about my creative practice.
Building SongEasel from scratch and performing in the series has been a really affirming activity, and bringing it online this July is something I’ll remember for years to come.
I am also really proud to have performed Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto to a packed Oxford Proms audience several years ago – the emotional and physical stamina required meant that it was something of a personal triumph!
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I have a particular affinity with dramatic, lyrical works, such as those by Liszt: romanticism is a period close to my heart. That said, many of Schubert’s Lieder are mini-dramas in themselves, and the clean slate of a new composition is always inspiring.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
As a collaborative pianist, a lot of my repertoire choices are a joint venture. I will often be guided by a voice type as I construct a programme for singers. In parallel, I aim to curate and tour programmes that fascinate me – for example repertoire that I’ve loved since I was a child; or a little-known work that has captured my imagination. I feel lucky to be able to follow my curiosity a great deal of the time.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
There are so many lovely venues, it’s very difficult to pick one! I’ve had some really amazing experiences at Wigmore Hall, and also playing at home in Wales is always a pleasure.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Recently I’ve been listening to Martha Argerich and Vladimir Horowitz. Their pianism is second to none. I also love the recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – he was an iconic interpreter of Lied, and Carlos Klieber’s discs with the Vienna Philharmonic are wonderfully emotional and energised. I’m also a fan of Bon Jovi!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There are a few works which, when I perform them effect me deeply and leave me feeling hollow from the rawness of their emotion. These memories are frozen in my memory, like a very special place in time. The first was accompanying a production Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd as a student; the second performing James MacMillan’s Kiss on ‘Wood’; the third was Rhian Samuel’s The Gaze with Elin Manahan Thomas; and most recently, Shostakovich’s Four Pushkin Romances with Gareth Brynmor John.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
It has to be loving what you do, above anything else, otherwise there’s really not much point!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Know and love your unique weaknesses – nobody else will be able to do this like you can, and others most frequently focus on your strengths.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I used to think that achieving the perfect work-life-family balance would bring me happiness. Now I believe that happiness is actually the process of aspiring to this perfect equilibrium, working towards it each day, and the hope brought by such a unachievable concept!
‘Flax and Fire’ is the debut album of tenor Stuart Jackson and pianist Jocelyn Freeman, featuring works by Britten, Wolf, Liszt and Robert Schumann and released on the Orchid Classics label on 17 July.
Award-winning collaborative pianist Jocelyn Freeman is founder-director and curator of SongEasel, a new initiative established to provide a platform for song in South East London. Her artistry has been described as “outstanding”, “brilliant”, “sparkling” and “one to watch”, including accolades from The Observer and International Piano Magazine.
Jocelyn’s versatility ranges from Lieder to chamber music and concertos, often championing lesser-known composers alongside standard classical and contemporary repertoire. She has premiered and recorded works by John Brunning, Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Rhian Samuel. Her imaginative approach to programming is evident in projects with award-winning artists including Jamal Aliyev, Gareth Brynmor John, Elin Manahan Thomas and Julien Van Mellaerts, and her discography includes releases for Kissan Records, Orchid Classics and Ty Cerdd.
Jocelyn is a prize-winning graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, Phoebe Benham Fellow 2012 at the Royal College of Music, a Samling Artist and Britten–Pears alumnus. Prizes include the Viola Tunnard Young Artist Award, Marlow International Concerto Competition and the Internationalen Wettbewerb für Liedkunst in Stuttgart with Stuart Jackson.
The Cross-Eyed Pianist is free to access and ad-free, and takes many hours every month to research, write and maintain. If you find joy and value in what I do, please consider makking a donation to support the continuance of this site