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

As I was born into a family of musicians, I literally breathed music from my early childhood. It was just natural to me, and when I grew up that natural feeling turned into a passion that has not left me.

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

My father was my first mentor and definitely shaped my vision of music. Later on, I had the great luck to work with very inspiring pianists, each of them leaving their mark on my musical understanding. Today I feel that the great composers I listen to have shaped my musical world the most, and are virtually always on my mind: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt.

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

To avoid distractions and focus all my efforts on my main goal: making music.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I do not like looking back so much and am always most excited about my next project rather than my last.

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

I learn what I feel I have to learn, and nowadays I compose my concert programmes like a gastronomical menu, avoiding excess and trying to delight with the unexpected and surprise with the well-known.

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

I have been blessed to play in many wonderful venues, I liked many of them very much, however it is always the audience that makes a concert experience truly special.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Whenever my excitement for the music reaches the audience, and people leave the concert noticeably happier then when they arrived, I am happy. As for anecdotes I definitely experienced a lot of funny and less funny situations, from being obliged to repair a pedal by crawling under the piano, to a member of the audience falling from his chair. Luckily it turned out it was only dehydration, and I came to meet him the next day and we shared a great laugh, making it a wonderful memory as well.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Making music an equally emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience.

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

Reflecting on Edwin Fischer’s quote: “Nicht ich spiele – es spielt” (I am not playing – it plays).

Jean  Muller’s second volume of Mozart Piano Sonatas is released on 29 November on the Hãnssler Classic label.


Hailed as a “major talent“ by Gramophone, Jean Muller has shown exceptional musical talent since his earliest childhood. At age seven, he assembled his first Chopin Etude and has been performing on stage ever since. Following his initial training at the Conservatoire of Luxembourg in Marie-José Hengesch’s class, he was exposed to varied pianistic schools in Brussels, Munich, Paris and Riga under the guidance of, among others, Teofils Bikis, Eugen Indjic, Evgeny Moguilevsky, Gerhard Oppitz and Michael Schäfer. Having received further advice by distinguished artists Anne Queffélec, Leon Fleisher, Janos Starker and Fou T’song to quote but a few, Jean Muller became a master craftsmen who combines “savage technical voltage” (Gramophone) with a capacity for bold and interpretive risk. He thus achieved the rare stacked-deck of every pianist’s dreamed triple-threat ability: “Everything is there: fingers, head and heart” (Jean-Claude Pennetier).

Read more

 

(Artist photo: Kaupo Kikkas)

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

I knew when I was about 12 that the piano was going to be an essential part of my life. I was quite shy and reserved as a child, and felt I could only express certain things and be truly myself when playing the piano. It felt immediately like a close friend that was always there and with whom I could share all the ups and downs of life. I did not know then what being a professional pianist meant, I just knew that music would always be an essential part of my life.

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

There are so many. If I was going to put one at the top of the list, I would say Ruth Nye – she was my teacher during my studies at the Yehudi Menuhin School and Royal College of Music. She was not only my mentor but rapidly became like family, and remains to this day an inspiration. She has shaped my artistic, technical and philosophical development like no other person in my life. Also Nikolai Demidenko, Murray Perahia, and Dominique Merlet all taught me crucial things at various stages of my development.

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

Challenges go hand in hand with a performing career. Of course, I have had to go through many stressful situations, dealing with tight deadlines and intensive performing periods. But these are to be expected and it is nothing special. A good example of that was when I did my first concerto recording. This was a three concerto album, performed live at the Cadogan Hall in one concert. The very next day, I had a recital at the Wigmore Hall. I remember coming home late that night after the Cadogan performance and practising until about 4 am.

But the most important challenge is to get up everyday and thrive to reach a deeper artistic understanding of the music I am playing, to always question, to remain insatiably curious and never stop learning. In art, movement is everything. The music grows with me everyday, and I hope that the second I have performed or recorded something, my interpretation will have already started to evolve.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Pride is not really a feeling I would associate with a successful performance or recording. But I guess more a feeling of exhilaration during a special moment shared with an audience or in the intimacy of a recording studio with my producer and recording team. But perhaps if I had to choose one, I would say my first Wigmore Hall recital; I remember doing a crazy programme, including Bach-Busoni chaconne, Beethoven Sonata op. 110 and Liszt B minor Sonata. I remember the Beethoven op. 110 in that hall as one of these rare moments when you feel you are no longer physically there. There was a real link between me, the music and the audience that night.

In terms of recordings, I think my latest Hyperion concerto recording of works by Bronsart and Urspruch (two Liszt students) with the BBC Scottish Symphony and Eugene Tzigane is particularly interesting. It was a fantastic experience for me to record these hardly known romantic works and bring them to life with such wonderful musicians. My Chopin preludes album as well; I think we managed to capture an intimate sound that allows one to hear all the details, yet distant enough that the poetry remained intact.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I am not sure about using the word best, but I would say that this non-exhaustive list of pieces are some of the works that are very close to me: Liszt B minor sonata and Après une lecture du Dante, Ravel Gaspard de la nuit, Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, Schumann Études Symphoniques, Beethoven sonata op. 110, Chopin preludes op. 28, Schubert sonata in Bb D. 960, Mozart concerto in D minor K. 466 and Brahms concerto No. 1 in D minor.

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

Mostly of my own choosing: the piano repertoire is extremely vast and there are so many works that I want to explore! Though choosing a programme has to be done carefully. It is like putting together a meal. I will only perform something if I feel I have something truly special to say playing this work, that it has become a part of me. Also, other considerations come into play. The venue is one; I might not choose to play the same thing in a big London hall and in an outdoor summer festival. Also, I might be in the process of recording specific works, and of course a particular season might coincide with a composer’s birthday, for example, Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020.

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

For me Wigmore Hall is very special. I have wonderful memories there. It has perfect acoustics and is just the right size to be intimate yet not too close; you can hear everything right down to the very last row.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many: Claudio Arrau would be one of the most important ones. His sound, colours, depth of interpretation, but perhaps more importantly, he is the artist who resonates with me the most in terms of philosophy and approach to performing. He was completely uncompromising, putting the music and respect for the score at the centre of everything with such integrity. But also Dinu Lipatti, Ferruccio Busoni, Alfred Cortot, Martha Argerich, Yehudi Menuhin, Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein and many many more!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think it would have to be the first time I performed Brahms’s first piano concerto as a young student, conducted by Andrew Litton. I had won the Royal College of Music’s concerto competition. We had three big rehearsals, which of course never happens in the professional world. This allowed for some truly special music making – Andrew Litton was amazing, the orchestra was full of passionate and eager music students wanting to give everything they had to the music and the conductor. I hold the memory of this concert very close to my heart.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

That is a very hard question. But at the same time, as strange as it may seem, I don’t think I spend too much time thinking about it. I guess, doing what I love to do for as many years as I am lucky enough to be able to do it! Being a musician is who I am no matter what, music is my oxygen and it’s at the very core of my identity.

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

I would say that for me, the most important thing is to keep remembering what is at the centre of it all – the music. That as performers we are a middleman, a link between the music and the audience. The hardest thing I think on this journey is to keep a healthy psychological compass and to not fall into the traps of vanity or self-doubt, as both extremes are equally destructive. It’s a delicate balance: one has to remember that if you are a talented artist, you have a unique message and personality; that is what you have to cherish, nurture and put at the service of your art to the best of your ability with integrity and complete dedication.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

All these precious simple moments spent with my wife and baby daughter.

To be on stage performing beautiful music, on these rare moments when everything clicks into place and there is a real link made with the audience is a wonderful feeling.

 

Emmanuel Despax will be performing live on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune programme on 29th April at 5pm, ahead of his performance of both Chopin concerti with string quintet at the Menuhin hall on 30th April (more information)


“Poetry fused with breathtaking technical perfection” (Concertclassic) and “A master colourist with genius-like ability” (Classical Source) is how the brilliant French pianist Emmanuel Despax was described after his acclaimed recitals at the Louvre auditorium in Paris and Wigmore Hall in London.

Despax is establishing himself as an artist whose interpretations bring a rare sincerity and imagination to the music. He performs internationally and is regularly broadcast on many radio stations including France Musique, BBC Radio 3, Classic FM and Medici TV.

His latest Romantic Piano Concerto album for Hyperion – with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Tzigane – received a glowing review from Gramophone: “It’s hard to imagine it being better played than by these forces, Emmanuel Despax displaying a wide range of colours combined with an easy virtuosity … It requires prodigious playing from soloist and orchestral musicians to make it sound as effortless as here, and that it does is tribute as much to conductor Eugene Tzigane as to Despax.” The recording features two romantic concerti by students of Liszt, Hans Bronsart and Anton Urspruch.

His previous Chopin preludes album on Signum Classics was chosen as “Album of the week” by Classic FM in the UK and received a five-star review on Diapason in France: “The young artist’s poetic work of entomology left me speechless. Rarely has the text of these 24 pieces been thus read, enhancing the least articulation or pedalling detail in relation to tempi, sound weight, projection from a prelude to the next, from a group of preludes to another, transmuting his Fazioli into a 1900s Pleyel, iridescent as needs be – intimate and very beautiful.”

In his native France, Despax has appeared in prestigious venues such as Paris’ Salle Gaveau, Salle Cortot, the Louvre Auditorium and the Festival International des Nuits Pianistiques in Aix-en-Provence. He performs regularly across Europe and has given recitals at the Fazioli Auditorium in Italy, the Gasteig Blackbox in Munich and the Palais des Beaux Arts in Belgium.

UK highlights include recitals at Wigmore Hall, the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, the Chipping Campden and Petworth Festivals and a performance of three piano concerti at Cadogan Hall. This concert was recorded live and released on Signum Classics. “Emmanuel Despax is a formidable talent, fleet of finger, elegant of phrase and a true keyboard colourist.” (Gramophone)

Having studied in the UK at the Yehudi Menuhin School and Royal College of Music with Ruth Nye, one of Claudio Arrau’s finest students, Despax draws inspiration from a long tradition of pure artistry and uncompromising commitment to the score. His passion lies in retaining and regaining the true role of a performer, as a faithful vessel for the composer’s message.

Now based in London, Despax has performed with many UK orchestras including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Orpheus Sinfonia, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

emmanueldespax.com

 

Artist photo: Luca Sage


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

I saw a grand piano at the house of a friend of my parents. She was a piano teacher, she explained me the mechanism of the instrument, she played a bit… I fell in love. I was 2 and a half years old! I think I saw it as a huge toy, a gigantic noisy toy. Noisy but beautiful. So I immediately asked my parents if I could play the piano, but this teacher said “not before 5” so I had to wait. It was (apparently!) tough.

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

My first piano teacher, Michèle Perrier, with whom I started the piano. I think she gave me a fundamental quality, curiosity, as well as an aspect that is more important every day of my life: discipline. Two qualities you absolutely need to keep “walking”!

Then of course you meet lots of different people who give you advice, who can impress you. If I had to give one other name it would be my teacher in the Paris Conservatoire, Gérard Frémy, who himself studied with Heinrich Neuhaus in Moscow. His words resonate every single day in my head.

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

I could give you names of very difficult works I had to learn in a very short time like a Rachmaninoff third concerto at the same time as Bartok second concerto… but actually the main challenge today is to organize my personal work, when to work on what piece, how far in advance, to be sure I am ready for each concert. I play so much repertoire that I always work on several programmes at the same time, and this brings much more stress than actually performing.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Proud?…. Never really proud of a performance. Very happy, it happens. It’s more a question of repertoire. I will always remember some works, at some nights in some concert halls… Liszt sonata in Wigmore Hall in London last July, my first Sonatas and Interludes by John Cage in a friend’s Gallery, again in London… or the Ravel concerto at Carnegie Hall… it’s impossible to make a hierarchy.

For the recordings…. Impossible to say. Maybe the series of three Bartok as I was (and still am) deeply in love with his music. I think the result is a good “picture” of who I am now as a musician.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The pieces I love the most! Works in which I really feel there is a story to tell. Actually, I don’t think there are works I play which I don’t love….

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

It’s following a mysterious logic, one programme makes me think of another. Playing the Berg sonata made me think of the Liszt sonata because of its key (B minor) and its contrast of length…. It can be suggestions from my recording company (Bartok). Or very simply musical “crushes”, works I forgot…. It always takes a long time to build a recital programme as each work in it must have its reason to be there, and must have a link with the other pieces. The way you organize a recital programme makes it alive (or not). For me, it’s a long (and sometimes painful ) process to find the perfect match or balance.

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

There are many. But Wigmore Hall will always be “my” musical home. It has a special energy, a special acoustic, a special history. I must have performed more than 40 concerts there so “my” history there makes it even more special.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Impossible to say. I’m usually very happy to be on stage and it’s very often a powerful experience. I could name too many. There are special legend places where you think “wow…. I’m playing there”. Carnegie Hall in NY, Musikverein in Vienna, Royal Albert Hall for the Proms in London, Severance Hall in Cleveland or Chicago Symphony Hall… or the Paris Philharmonie

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The possibility to play what you want. It’s when there is only happiness to perform. It’s a well-balanced life, without the necessity to play “more” concerts. It’s when you can say “no”. It’s when you work the people you want and love (especially Alina Ibragimova!)

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

Discipline, curiosity and communication. It should drive people’s personality inside and outside music. Curiosity keeps you alive. The desire to keep discovering, maybe change your ways to see new/different things. Meeting new people….

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

In my house with my family.

 


Cédric Tiberghien’s flourishing international career sees him performing across five continents in some of the world’s most prestigious halls, including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Kennedy Center in Washington, the Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Wigmore Hall and Barbican in London, the Salle Pleyel and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, Berlin’s Bechstein Hall, Salzburg’s Mozarteum, the Sydney Opera and Tokyo’s Bunka Kaikan and Asahi Halls.

Over the years, Cédric Tiberghien has established a strong reputation with a recital repertoire focusing on the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, Szymanowski, Bartók and Berg.

Cédric Tiberghien studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Frédéric Aguessy and Gérard Frémy and was awarded the Premier Prix in 1992, aged just seventeen. He was then a prize winner at several major international piano competitions (Bremen, Dublin, Tel Aviv, Geneva, Milan), culminating with the First Prize at the prestigious Long-Thibaud Competition in Paris in 1998, alongside five special awards, including the Audience Award and the Orchestra Award. This propelled his international career, leading to over 150 engagements worldwide, including visits to Japan and appearances throughout Europe.

With over sixty concertos in his repertoire, Cédric Tiberghien has appeared with some of the world’s finest orchestras and conductors. He is also a dedicated chamber musician, with regular partners including violinist Alina Ibragimova, soprano Sophie Karthäuser, baritone Stéphane Degout, violist Antoine Tamestit and cellist Pieter Wispelwey. His passion for chamber music is reflected in a number of recordings for Hyperion with Alina Ibragimova, including Ravel, Schubert, Szymanowski and the complete Mozart sonatas. He has also recorded piano concertos by Dubois, solo piano music by Karol Szymanowski, including Masques, Métopes and two sets of Études, and has undertaken a survey of Bartók’s piano music encompassing three albums.

 

 

(photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot)

album_coverLucas Debargue: Scarlatti, Chopin, Liszt Ravel (Sony)

Escape all the noise and fall out of Brexit and the Conservative Party leadership wrangling with this exquisite debut disc by Lucas Debargue, the young French pianist who came fourth in the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 2015.

Weightless elegant Scarlatti opens this album which was recorded live at the Salle Cortot in Paris, Debargue’s first concert in his hometown after the competition. His sense of pacing, evident in the Scarlatti sonatas, really comes to the fore in his reading of Chopin’s Fourth Ballade, where he balances delicacy and poetry with drama to create a performance which is both intimate and expansive. The real impact comes when he holds the music in suspense: it feels natural and unpretentious. His performance of Gaspard de la Nuit, the work for which he received much enthusiastic acclaim during the competition, is equally impressive. His clarity of touch and tone combined with that wondrous pacing brings a silky sensuality to ‘Ondine”s watery arabesques while ‘Scarbo’ is less grotesque, more puckish and playful, though no less dark for it. In between these movements, ‘Le Gibet’ is seven minutes of restrained desolation. His Liszt is a proper waltz instead of the headlong frenzy some pianists give to this work. The Grieg is like an encore, a calming salve after Liszt’s twirling rhyhms. The Schubert is as intimate as you like, as if Debargue is playing just for you – and playful too, reminding us that Schubert was a composer of dances and Ländler. And in a neat piece of programming the album closes with Debargue’s variation on the Scarlatti Sonata in A which opens the album.

At the Tchaikovsky Competition, the Moscow Music Critics Association awarded him their prize for “the pianist whose incredible gift, artistic vision and creative freedom have impressed the critics as well as the audience”, and his debut disc demonstrates these attributes in spades.

Highly recommended.

Lucas Debargue’s performances at the Tchaikovsky Competition are still available to view on the Medici TV site

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Olivier Messiaen’s monumental work Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus (Twenty Contemplations on the Infant Jesus) surely ranks amongst the “greats” of the piano repertoire, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas in terms of its scale, variety and pianistic challenges. It is one of the most ground-breaking works in 20th-century piano music, a work which has accrued iconic status and deep respect. It combines richly-hued romanticism and the spare modernism that influenced Messiaen’s pupil, Pierre Boulez, and reveals many of Messiaen’s preoccupations and interests – birdsong, eastern rhythms and instruments, cosmology, religious iconography and his own deeply-held Catholic faith.

French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard enjoys the special distinction of having known Messiaen personally, and he studied with Yvonne Loriod (who premiered the work in March 1945 and who became the composer’s second wife in 1961). Aimard has a long-standing and highly-respected relationship with Messiaen’s piano music and it remains a core part of his repertoire. He is also a champion of modern and contemporary piano repertoire, and as a result he brings to this music a special understanding of Messiaen’s unique approach to pitch, rhythm, sonority and attack.

Read my full review here

(photo credit: Paul Mitchell)

Prom 29 had a distinctly French flavour, featuring music by Ravel and Messiaen, two composers who idolized Mozart, whose music opened the evening. The concert was bookended by two works in which dance featured strongly, from Mozart’s elegant post-Baroque ballet sequence for Idomeneo to Ravel’s swirling, breathless portrait of the disintegration of fin-de-siècle Vienna. Ravel also looked to Mozart’s piano concertos as a model for his own, and the vibrant, jazzy G major concerto formed the second part of the first half of the programme, performed by French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.

Read my full review here