Tag Archives: interviews with musicians

Meet the Artist……Stewart Goodyear, pianist

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

Love and happiness is what inspired me to take up the piano and pursue a career in music. When I was 3, I was a painfully shy kid, but I wanted very much to communicate to people. Every time I heard music, I would open up…It was the language that spoke to me deeply from the very beginning, the first language that I spoke. Playing the piano was my way of opening my heart to people…and pursuing a career in music was my way of opening my heart to the world.

My first concert was seeing Andre Watts perform in Toronto at Roy Thomson Hall…I will always remember every second of that concert because that experience sealed it for me; I told my mother “This is what I want to do”.

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

The most important influences on my musical life and career have been the support of my friends and family. Their words of encouragement and their unending support inspire me every day.

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

To me, challenges push me to be better…a better musician, and hopefully a better human being. Every chapter of my life shaped the course of my musical journey, and I am thankful for each challenge life throws my way.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Each performance and recording has been very meaningful to me, from the complete Beethoven sonatas to my new Ravel recording. Each work I have recorded I have lived with almost all my life, and sharing my love of this music to my listeners is a great gift.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have tried very hard not to be a specialist in one composer or one genre. For me, each composer demands my complete devotion, attention and understanding.

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

I wish I could say that each season is devoted to a particular repertoire! So far, my concerts are a combination of collaborations with orchestras and chamber musicians, and solo recitals.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

My favorite venues are those that not only have amazing acoustics, but designed in a way that is an intimacy between myself and the audience. Two of my favorite halls I have performed in are Koerner Hall in Toronto, the Berlin Philharmonie, and the Gewandhaus in Leipzig.

Who are your favourite musicians?

When I listen to music, I enjoy hearing orchestral music and opera. Right now, I am listening to a lot of Bach cantatas and passions.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My favorite musicians are those that broke the mould and brought the listeners with them. One of them is Maurice Ravel!

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

I can sum it up in a few words: Trust your heart and your gut.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

49 years old, slim with an 8-pack, and my fingers and mind still working.

 

Stewart Goodyear’s disc of piano music by Ravel is available now on the Orchid Classics label

www.stewartgoodyearpiano.com

Meet the Artist…….Jess Gillam

Jess Photo Shoot 117

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

When I was 7 years old, I went to the Barracudas Carnival Arts Centre with my Dad as he was teaching drums and percussion. In the room next door to him, there happened to be a saxophone workshop and I decided to try it. I picked it up, made a sound and immediately fell in love with the instrument. I haven’t looked back since!

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

I take inspiration from many different saxophonists (and musicians) from hugely different genres. My saxophone role models are Barbara Thompson, Rob Buckland, John Harle and I love the music of King Curtis and Snake Davis’ solos. A family friend first introduced me to the music of Barbara Thompson when I was about 12 and ever since then I have really looked up to Barbara. As well as being such a fantastic musician, she is also such a determined and creative person and this has had a influenced me very much.   

Whenever I am in need of musical inspiration, I listen to Pee Wee Ellis’ solo on the live version Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey. The way he combines rhythm, melody, harmony and feeling is something I greatly aspire to.

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

It has taken me a long time to realise that I am never going to be able to give a performance that I am completely happy with and that this is part of the beauty of exploring music. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my performance of Michael Nyman’s ‘Where the Bee Dances’ in the BBC Young Musician Final 2016. I had never before been quite as focussed and immersed in the music and that feeling is unforgettable.

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

I love the versatility and dynamism of the saxophone. It can convey so many different emotions, just like the voice can, and one minute you can be making a hugely powerful, aggressive sound and the next you can be floating the sound and singing out a beautiful, delicate melody, and I try to reflect this as much as possible when choosing repertoire. I try and include repertoire that I can really connect with so that hopefully audiences can enjoy it as much as I do.

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

I don’t have a particular favourite concert venue; I love performing and would perform anywhere! However, the first stage I ever performed on was the Coronation Hall in Ulverston when I was 9 years old. Since then, I have had so many unforgettable performance experiences on that stage and it always feels like home.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

One of my favourite pieces to perform just has to be ‘Where the Bee Dances’, the concerto I performed in the BBC Young Musician Final.  The piece begins with the most beautiful chords and the perfectly paced build to the very last note is something that requires my whole being to concentrate and be completely consumed by the music.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Creative musicians who manage to convey intense emotion to an audience hugely inspire me. David Bowie is one of my all time favourite musicians as is John Harle. They are both such artistic people who have written music that resonates with so many people.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One of my most memorable concert experiences is making a guest appearance with Jools Holland and his R+B Orchestra. I had absolutely no idea what we were going to play until 5minutes before stepping on stage. This made me quite anxious but once we had started playing, I couldn’t have been happier.

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

I think to enjoy music is the most important piece of advice I have been given. It makes the hours of practice an absolute joy if you are enjoying being inquisitive, determined and passionate about attempting to master an instrument! Aiming to convey a personal interpretation of a piece of music is also important I think. Music is one of the most powerful forms of communication and can be used to say an incredible amount.

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

I would love to be regularly performing across the world!

What is your most treasured possession?

Most definitely my saxophones – I don’t know what I would do without them!

18 year old saxophonist Jess Gillam from Ulverston, Cumbria, began playing saxophone 11 years ago, aged 7.

Jess made history as the first ever saxophonist to win the Woodwind Final of BBC Young Musician of the Year and after competing in the Semi Final, she reached the Grand Final where she performed a concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Barbican to critical acclaim.

Jess was also recently awarded Musician of the Year at the Cumbria Culture Awards presented by Melvyn Bragg. She has a busy performance schedule and has made a guest appearance with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and has performed as a concerto soloist with the Worthing Symphony Orchestra (in the same series as Nicola Benedetti, Emma Johnson and Julian Bliss). Upcoming concerto highlights include performances with the Southbank Sinfonia and the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Recently, Jess was the youngest of 2,600 delegates to perform at the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg. She performed a recital consisting entirely of world premieres by some of the world’s leading saxophonists: Barbara Thompson, John Harle and Rob Buckland as well as one of her own compositions.

Read more about Jess on her website

Meet the Artist……Pieter Wispelwey, cellist

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

My father is an amateur violinist and has been playing in string quartets with friends all his life. At the age of two I was allowed to sit in the room when they were rehearsing and I was obsessed with the cello and have been ever since.

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

I was extraordinarily lucky with my first cello teacher. I started the piano with my mum, who taught me to read music and was then introduced to my teacher, Dicky Boeke, at the age of six, but didn’t start with her until I was eight as she was so busy. She taught me for 10 years, and not just about cello; it was about art, literature, opera. She helped me audition for the great Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma and I studied with him for two years from the age of 17-19. I have been on my own since then, apart from a year of studies in the US and an unforgettable summer course with William Pleeth in Aldeburgh.

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

I consider my career to have reached its middle length so far, and I still have two decades to go. So of course there are ups and downs and disappointments – everybody has these. One challenge could be physical in terms of injury; however I have been very lucky in that sense. Practising and the relationship with your instrument keeps you inspired.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My last recordings, although I still hope to keep improving and being more expressive. I’m now at two-thirds of my recording project doing all the sonatas by Schubert and Brahms which include many violin pieces and on the last release is the 2nd Brahms violin sonata, which I believe is a world premiere recording. I also recorded Schubert’s Fantasy for violin and piano, which is technically a very intimidating piece, so getting my teeth into that was great, very stimulating and I am very happy with it. Some recordings just have very happy memories, for instance doing The Walton Concerto with Sydney Symphony Orchestra 7 or 8 years ago in Sydney Opera House, that most glamorous and gorgeous place.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I am always happy performing concertos with orchestras, however the Beethoven Cello Sonatas are particularly rewarding to perform, brimming with energy and lyricism, as they are.

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

As I said, I have embarked on this enormous recording project with the Schubert and Brahms pieces so they will appear on my recital program, concertos are up to orchestras that invite me to play and then there are occasional collaborations in chamber music programs, in trio, quartet, quintet or sextet repertoire, but also projects like the one I’m doing next month with a singer and a pianist.

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

I mentioned Sydney Opera House; however another example is the new Melbourne Recital Centre, a stunningly beautiful place in which to perform and listen to music. I will be doing three recitals on three consecutive days in August: Beethoven, Brahms and Bach marathons, a bit of a milestone week for me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My all-time favourite musician is a singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the German baritone. As a teenager I started collecting his albums and still collect today. He is a supreme musician and a fantastically inspiring singer to listen to. I also really respect and enjoy listening to the American cellist YoYo Ma.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The Walton Concerto with Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Sydney Opera House, but it could also be Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. In fact it’s hard to say. I enjoyed Paxton last year for example.

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

I am a professor in a German Musikhochschule and I try to inspire and discipline the students; however what musicians might not realise is that they must work as creative artists. They are of course recreating scores that composers delivered, but it is very important for them to do that with creativity. They must consider traditions, what they mean, and how important and unimportant they are. Also creativity in how you practise and make things better. It is important to keep muscles supple and continue to practise in that way. Also to simply enjoy alternative approaches to keeping your mind fresh.

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

My wife is English so maybe living in the UK once we have raised our kids in Holland.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

That includes other people around you, conversation and good food.

What is your most treasured possession?

Other than my cello, nothing in the material sense.

What is your present state of mind?

I have just been working as a jury member in Brussels which was an intense period, so I am recovering from that. I am looking forward to the summer festivals, which include Music at Paxton, and also to catching up with my colleagues and working with them. I am also looking forward to going to my little basement cellar to practise!

Pieter Wispelwey performs at Music at Paxton this summer and will also be giving a masterclass:

Sunday 23 July 1.30pm, cello masterclass

An opportunity for advanced students of all ages to learn and gain insight into Bach’s Cello Suites from an acknowledged master. 

Please note places are strictly limited. For further information and application details, please contact info@musicatpaxton.co.uk by 01 June 2017.

Tickets £10.00 (concessions free entry) – unreserved.

NB: free to ticket holders for the evening concert.

Sunday 23 July 7.30pm Pieter Wispelwey in concert

J S Bach Three Suites for solo cello – No 3 in C, No 4 in E flat & No 5 in C minor

Full details and tickets

Pieter Wispelwey is equally at ease on the modern or period cello. His acute stylistic awareness, combined with a truly original interpretation and a phenomenal technical mastery, has won the hearts of critics and public alike in repertoire ranging from JS Bach to Schnittke, Elliott Carter and works composed for him.

Highlights of the 16-17 season include a play-direct project with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a performance of the complete Bach suites at Auditorium de Lyon and the City Recital Hall in Sydney, performances of Tavener’s Svyati with the Flanders Radio Choir and two recitals at King’s Place in London as part of their ‘Cello Unwrapped’ season. Pieter will also give series of extraordinary recitals at the Melbourne Recital Centre as part their Great Performer Series, where he will perform the complete Bach Suites, Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano, and the two cello sonatas by Brahms over the course of three consecutive evenings.

Pieter Wispelwey enjoys chamber music collaborations and regular duo partners include pianists Cédric Tiberghien and Alasdair Beatson and he appears as a guest artist with a number of string quartets including the Australian String Quartet.

Wispelwey’s career spans five continents and he has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s leading orchestras including the Boston Symphony, Dallas Symphony, St Paul’s Chamber Orchestra, NHK Symphony, Yomiuri Nippon, Tokyo Philharmonic, Sapporo Symphony, Sydney Symphony, London Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, BBC Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig, Danish National Radio Symphony, Budapest Festival Orchestra and Camerata Salzburg. Conductor collaborations include Ivan Fischer, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Herbert Blomstedt, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Jeffrey Tate, Kent Nagano, Sir Neville Marriner, Philippe Herreweghe, Vassily Sinaisky, Vladimir Jurowski, Louis Langrée, Marc Minkowski, Ton Koopman and Sir Roger Norrington.

With regular recital appearances in London (Wigmore Hall), Paris (Châtelet, Louvre), Amsterdam (Concertgebouw, Muziekgebouw), Brussels (Bozar), Berlin (Konzerthaus), Milan (Societta del Quartetto), Buenos Aires (Teatro Colon), Sydney (The Utzon Room), Los Angeles (Walt Disney Hall) and New York (Lincoln Center), Wispelwey has established a reputation as one of the most charismatic recitalists on the circuit

In 2012 Wispelwey celebrated his 50th birthday by embarking on a project showcasing the Bach Cello Suites. He recorded the complete Suites for the third time, released on the label ‘Evil Penguin Classics’. The box set also includes a DVD featuring illustrated debates on the interpretation of the Bach Suites with eminent Bach scholars Laurence Dreyfus and John Butt. A major strand of his recital performances is his performances of the complete suites during the course of one evening, an accomplishment that has attracted major critical acclaim throughout Europe and the US. “On paper it is a feat requiring brilliance, stamina and perhaps a bit of hubris. In practice Mr. Wispelwey proved himself impressively up to the challenge, offering performances as eloquent as they were provocative” ( New York Times).

Pieter Wispelwey’s impressive discography of over 20 albums, available on Channel Classic, Onyx and Evil Penguin Classics, has attracted major international awards. His most recent concerto release features the C.P.E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A major with the Musikkollegium Winterthur, whilst he is also midway through an imaginative project to record the complete duo repertoire of Schubert and Brahms. Other recent releases include Lalo’s Cello Concerto, Saint-Saen’s Concerto no.2 and the Britten Cello Symphony with Seikyo Kim and the Flanders Symphony Orchestra, Walton’s Cello Concerto (Sydney Symphony/Jeffrey Tate), Prokofiev’s Symphonie Concertante (Rotterdam Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky.

Born in Haarlem, The Netherlands, Wispelwey’ studied with Dicky Boeke and Anner Bylsma in Amsterdam and later with Paul Katz in the USA and William Pleeth in the UK.
Pieter Wispelwey plays on a 1760 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini cello and a 1710 Rombouts baroque cello.

www.pieterwispelwey.com

(photo credit: Carolien Sikkenk)

Meet the Artist……Florian Mitrea, pianist

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

I suppose it was initially the fact that my father’s enjoyed playing a little jazz piano as a hobby, and as a toddler I couldn’t resist hitting the keys, rather too often for my Grandmother’s liking. It was this that meant I started having formal piano lessons, and it has grown from there. It was, however a long time until I thought that I might be able to play professionally. I think in the end it comes down to the fact that I love music and having the opportunity to share it, and there came a point where I just couldn’t conceive of doing anything else.

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

I have benefited very early on in my life from wonderfully committed teachers who cared about my personal development as well as my musical one. They gave me a through technical grounding, but they also showed me that technique is about freeing yourself to be able to communicate musically.

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

I think for any young pianist currently it is quite tough, there are so many exceptional musicians that it’s hard not to wonder sometimes whether you have something distinctive to bring. And balance is always something that’s hard to achieve – especially when navigating your early career. I hugely enjoy teaching and working with young musicians, and being able to share with them, but also take part in competitions, as well as performing. I have in the past struggled a great deal with nerves and perhaps for me that will be a lifetime process, but it is something that I have very actively worked on in the past few years, and am gradually overcoming.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I think the performances I am most proud of aren’t necessarily the ones in the most prestigious venues, but the ones where I feel a real connection with the audience. That can happen not just in a big concert hall, but sometimes when you play to children or people who don’t often attend classical music concerts, they aren’t constrained by learned behaviour. They experience music in a very immediate way. In terms of recordings, I have just been in the studio, recording my first CD project, in partnership with Kawai and German label Acousence, of pieces which are linked to folk music and the Danube – it was wonderful to have the opportunity to make the recording, and I am so excited for it to be released later in the year.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It’s really hard to choose a favourite, when so much depends on the occasion, the audience and the mood. I feel a particular affinity with Mozart: the phrases are so natural, and I think as far as one can argue that classical music is somehow universal, then Mozart is the embodiment of this. But I also love the richness of the great Romantic repertoire, the sheer inventiveness of Prokofiev, and of course nearly all pianists want to explore the depths of Beethoven’s piano writing.

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

I’m not yet in a position where I make all the choices! Often I get offered a concert with particular repertoire in mind, so that’s always an excellent justification for broadening my repertoire. Otherwise I try to create interesting programmes which have overarching themes, or celebrate a particular composer, and I try to balance familiar repertoire with other pieces which may be fresh to the audience.

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

As a pianist I am always going to be thrilled if a venue has a great piano, as pianists have to try and adapt themselves to the temperament and qualities of the piano they find, rather than being able to bring a familiar instrument with them. But I don’t think it’s the building that makes a concert. It’s the audience, so it doesn’t matter if it’s an ornate concert hall, although they are obviously wonderful, or a more alternative and intimate setting. I’ve never played outdoors as an adult, so that’s one I hope to try one day!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It’s so hard to choose but the Mozart concertos, some Liszt and Prokofiev would have to be included. I also enjoy listening to music I can’t play myself: Opera, symphonic repertoire and jazz being my favourites.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I believe there’s a wealth of inspiration to be found in the recordings of the old piano masters. I am personally most drawn to Gilels and Lipatti. The sincerity and depth of their performances is rarely matched. Also, we are very blessed to be able to experience live the performances of legendary musicians such as Argerich, Lupu and Barenboim. Away from the world of piano, my favourite musician is probably soprano Cecilia Bartoli. She sings so beautifully, and I find her art inspirational for my piano playing.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was a small boy when Gerhard Oppitz came to give a recital in Bucharest. I remember it was all sold out, but I managed to squeeze in the auditorium thanks to the kind ticket lady who let me in. I sat on the fire-escape stairs, but I will never forget the impact his rendition of the Beethoven Diabelli Variations had on me. It was music-making beyond any rational understanding.

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

I think that hard work and dedication can never be underestimated. But if you keep practicing and listening and being open to ideas you will always improve. Music is an art not a science, and so people will always have different ideas of what things should sound like, but this doesn’t have to be reductive. You have to be led by a desire to communicate, so educate yourself as broadly as you can, read literature, go to the theatre, as well as practise.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being on a remote island, with my wife and dogs, an amazing picnic, some wonderful recordings – and a boat to go back to the mainland on at the end of the day.

 

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Florian Mitrea’s early passion for the piano led him to a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In  2016 Florian was joint winner of the Verona International Piano Competition and was awarded second prize in the major biennial James Mottram International Piano Competition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, UK. This followed success in 2015 when he was a finalist (fourth prize and chamber music award) at the Hamamatsu Piano Competition and earlier was awarded second prizes at both the Santa Cecilia Competition in Porto, and the Premio Città di Imola at the Imola Academy. In 2014 Florian won third prize and the Classical Concerto Prize at the ARD International Competition in Munich, and first prize at Lagny-sur-Marne. Previous prizes include first prizes at the Panmusica 2010 Vienna International Piano Competition, the Beethoven 2010, and Sheepdrove 2011 Intercollegiate Competitions in the United Kingdom. Earlier prizes include several first prizes in the Romanian Music Olympics and the Ada Ulubeanu Piano Competition, and third prize in the Jeunesses Musicales International Competition.

Florian has performed recitals and concertos across Romania, and in Austria, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea and the USA. In the UK Florian has performed at venues including St John’s Smith Square, King’s Place, St. Martin-in-the Fields, St. James’ Piccadilly, Steinway Hall, Draper’s Hall, Colston Hall in Bristol, Dartington Hall and Bath Abbey.

Florian’s piano studies started in Bucharest as a student of Flavia Moldovan and Gabriela Enăşescu, ultimately at George Enescu Music High School. While studying at RAM with Diana Ketler he obtained his BMus with First Class Honours and the Regency Award for notable achievement. In the summer of 2014, he obtained his Master of Arts degree with Distinction and a DipRAM for his final recital, and received the Alumni Development Award for distinguished studentship. He held the Hodgson Memorial post-studentship Fellowship at RAM in 2014-2015 and continues to teach there within the piano department. Florian is currently studying with Boris Petrushansky at the Accademia Pianistica Internazionale “Incontri col Maestro” in Imola, Italy.

 

Meet the Artists…….Carducci Quartet

Completed by Michelle Fleming, 2nd Violin of the Carducci Quartet

The Carducci Quartet are

Matthew Denton, Violin

Michelle Fleming, Violin

Eoin Schmidt-Martin, Viola

Emma Denton, Cello

 

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

I think we were all inspired by family members really. 

Emma comes from a rather musical family and her grandmother, Anita Hewitt-Jones, who was a cellist, teacher and composer, began teaching Emma cello from the age of three. 

Eoin was inspired by his grandfather, who was an traditional Irish fiddler. 

I was inspired by my older siblings, who were all learning the violin – I think my parents got good value out of those little violins as all five children had their turn playing them!

Matthew’s parents were music teachers but he was particularly drawn to the violin when he heard the sound a busker was making on the street one day.

When it came to making a decision to make quartet playing our careers, Eoin and I were hugely influenced by the Vanbrugh Quartet, who were quartet-in-residence at University College Cork when we were growing up. We had, and still have immense admiration for them. For Matthew and Emma, studying in London and working closely with the Amadeus and Chilingirian Quartets while they studied in London was a very inspiring time. They had been playing in a quartet together since their early teens and those years in London really developed their love of the genre.

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

I think that the years immediately following graduation from music college are tough. We had come together from the Royal Academy, Royal College and Royal Northern College of Music and so we didn’t immediately have the strong support of any institution. Shortly afterwards, we became Bulldog Fellows and then Richard Carne Fellows at Trinity Laban and with the help of those managed to launch our career by winning the Kuhmo Chamber Music Competition in Finland and the Concert Artists Guild International Competition in New York. 

We had made a decision to only work as a quartet and avoid taking on freelance work individually and so the pressure was on to make a living as a quartet. As we are two married couples, we had no other income except for the quartet work so we were highly motivated!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

A particular highlight for us was our Shostakovich15 project, in which we performed 10 complete cycles of Shostakovich’s 15 Quartets all around the world in 2015. It was very rewarding and absolutely fascinating to have Shostakovich as such a focus throughout that year. We still love each and every one of the quartets and always relish the opportunity to perform them.

Aside from that, we have had some wonderful opportunities to perform at some of the best chamber music halls in Europe and further afield and those are always exciting events…Carnegie Hall, Concertgebouw, Wigmore Hall etc…each of them has a very special atmosphere.

Recordings wise, we have done some lovely recordings for Signum in the last few years. We are really proud of our Shostakovich disc and are looking forward to recording the next instalment soon. We have had a wonderful time recording with some amazing musicians too – Nicholas Daniel, Julian Bliss, Emma Johnson, Gordon Jones and others.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Because of our immersion into the Quartets of Shostakovich a couple of years ago, we do feel an affinity for that music. We also play a lot of British and contemporary music and have been lucky enough to have had some fantastic works commissioned on our behalf. We do feel lucky to play a huge variety of repertoire though. We enjoy all sorts. We have always held Beethoven’s cycle up as the pinnacle of the quartet repertoire and find the works endlessly fascinating.

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

We have our own wish list which we combine with special requests we receive from concert organisers. It means we end up with quite a diverse mix of repertoire, and we do enjoy that.

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

We have some favourites, but they are quite varied – Highnam Church in Gloucestershire has an interesting history as it was Parry’s family’s church and we hold our annual festival there. Matthew and Emma were married there almost 20 years ago so it holds particularly fond memories for them. We always enjoy Wigmore Hall…the acoustic there has to be our absolute favourite and the audience is so warm and enthusiastic about string quartets.

Who are your favourite musicians?

It is difficult to choose! We have been influenced by so many from the past and from the present! We do feel honoured to collaborate with some older musicians whom we use to listen to as students.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think it has to be 9 August 2015, the 40th anniversary of Shostakovich’s death, when we performed all 15 of his quartets at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe in London. We had four concerts with no more than an hour in between each and the same audience with us from 11am until we finished at about 9pm. It was indescribable really – the intensity, the special rapport the audience had with us, the support, the elation and the fatigue at the end of it all! I think it took us about a week to get over it! We will never forget it and even now, two years on, we meet people who say, “I was there, at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre for Shostakovich15!”, and there is a connection there, as if we are forever kindred spirits!

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

Like every other area, the arts are becoming increasingly competitive and it isn’t easy to know how to get where you want to be. I suppose our advice would be to look at your strengths and think about all the possible paths you can take in order to make your career a success. Think outside the box. You will quite likely end up including many different elements to be a good musician. For us, the combination of performing, recording and educating provides us with a wonderful variety.

What is your present state of mind?

Happy! I love early summer for many reasons. The weather is getting warmer, the evenings are longer, the summer festivals are approaching and the quartet always has a busy but lovely time travelling around to them, school holidays are coming so we will get more time with our children…life is good!

Carducci Quartet perform music by Shostakovich, Glass, Part and Ravel at Music at Paxton on 15th July. Further information here

Described by The Strad as presenting “a masterclass in unanimity of musical purpose, in which severity could melt seamlessly into charm, and drama into geniality″, the Carducci Quartet is recognised as one of today’s most successful string quartets. Performing over 90 concerts worldwide each year the quartet also run their own recording label Carducci Classics; an annual festival in Highnam, Gloucester; and in September 2014, curated their first Carducci Festival in Castagneto-Carducci: the town from which they took their name.

www.carducciquartet.com

Meet the Artist……Steven Devine, harpsichordist & director


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

I started as a pianist – we had a piano at home and I just enjoyed the sensation of interacting with it. Things seemed to go OK and I got a place at Chetham’s School of Music. While I was there I discovered the harpsichord and started to learn it with David Francis whose enthusiasm and approach to the instrument and music suited me perfectly.

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

I think it’s been everyone I’ve ever made music with; the harpsichord is such a collaborative instrument and as we spend so much of our time improvising, everyone has an influence on what we do. Two teachers played a big part in my thinking about the instrument – David Francis and the late John Toll.

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

Maintaining my own musical personality whilst needing to work and pay the bills.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It’s always hard listening to my own recordings – the music is always developing so often recordings feel like an earlier statement of a work. Performances are very much more satisfying and I’m proud of every one I’ve done – even the not very good ones!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that depends what I’m working on and on what instrument at any moment. Each new project needs immersion in the musical language and also a different approach to the specific instrument. Every different harpsichord/clavichord/piano needs listening to as well to bring out what they offer so I play best what I’m working on at any moment.

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

I try and have an idea of things that I’d like to get under my fingers in the next few years, but working with a record company and concert promoters has to be more flexible than simply what I’d like to work on next season.

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

The nature of the instruments I play means that smaller is better. The Wigmore Hall is, of course, ideal. However, any venue where the instrument is balanced with the acoustic is great.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing the Goldberg Variations – it’s such a journey for performe and audience.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Anyone that makes me think about the music first, and the performance next.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

So many spring to mind: but the most memorable ones are nearly always collaborations. There’s something special about sharing the experiences with other people.

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

Practice, train and develop yourself to be as flexible and adaptable as possible. You never know what a concert situation or instrument is going to bring. Treat each new factor as an enhancement of the music, rather than a hurdle that must be overcome. There is no “perfect” musical situation.

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

Doing what I do now and working with as many musicians across the world as I can!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

At home in the garden with my family and a lovely glass of something.

 

Steven Devine enjoys a busy career as a music director and keyboard player working with some of the finest musicians.

Since 2007 Steven has been the harpsichordist with London Baroque in addition to his position as Co-Principal keyboard player with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He is also the principal keyboard player for The Gonzaga Band, Apollo and Pan, The Classical Opera Company and performs regularly with many other groups around Europe. He has recorded over thirty discs with other artists and ensembles and made six solo recordings. His recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (Chandos Records) has been received critical acclaim – including Gramophone magazine describing it as “among the best”. Volumes 1 and 2 of the complete harpsichord works of Rameau (Resonus) have both received five-star reviews from BBC Music Magazine and Steven’s new recording of Bach’s Italian Concerto has been voted Classic FM’s Connoisseur’s choice.

He made his London conducting debut in 2002 at the Royal Albert Hall and is now a regular performer there – including making his Proms directing debut in August 2007 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He has conducted the Mozart Festival Orchestra in every major concert hall in the UK and also across Switzerland. Steven is Music Director for New Chamber Opera in Oxford and with them has performanced repertoire from Cavalli to Rossini. For the Dartington Festival Opera he has conducted Handel’s Orlando and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

From 2016 Steven will be Curator of Early Music for the Norwegian Wind Ensemble and will complete his complete Rameau solo recording for Resonus Classics.

Meet the Artist……Madeleine Mitchell, violinist

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

Although neither of my parents were musicians, they were both very musical and liked to listen to classical music, so we often had BBC Radio 3 on at home and recordings of violin concerti by Elgar with Menuhin and Sibelius by both Heifetz and Ginette Neveu, were important influences. Apparently they discovered I was musical because the Sunday school teacher told my parents I was leading the singing at the age of 3!! Actually I don’t have such a great voice, but aim to sing through my violin. I am very grateful to my parents, who were not at all wealthy, for prioritising giving me piano lessons from the age of 6, over material things – they used to make some of our clothes and furniture and were generally very creative, which has imbued my life. I took up the violin 3 years later at school in shared lessons and was offered a Junior Exhibition to the Royal College of Music on both instruments and later a Foundation Scholarship to the RCM with a violin bought for me by my parents for £20. I had thoughts of becoming a composer when I was quite young and enjoyed harmony and music theory but my passion for the violin took over – I loved the possibilities, it’s such an expressive instrument and this is what made me pursue a career as a violinist.

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

I was lucky to be awarded the Fulbright/ITT Fellowship to study for a master’s degree in New York for 2 years with some very fine teachers – Donald Weilerstein (then leader of the Cleveland Quartet and a most inspiring musician), Sylvia Rosenberg, a real artist who’d studied with Nadia Boulanger as well as Ivan Galamian, and Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard and the Aspen Festival. But I later learnt as much from Jean Gibson – that “your body is your instrument” – to be free to channel and express the music. When I tour I’m likely to be be found in an art gallery; I find looking at paintings from Rembrandt and Vermeer to Cezanne, Monet and some abstract expressionists, very enriching.

Some of my most extraordinary musical influences in performing have been with Norbert Brainin and Ivry Gitlis. Being the violinist/violist in the Fires of London at the start of my career led me to meet all sorts of composers who then wrote works for me, such as Brian Elias, which has been a significant thread through my musical life.

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

Funding and fundraising (for which we are not trained) has become more and more difficult. I feel so passionately about being a musician and not selling my soul so there’s time to devote to one’s art, that in order to do so, I’ve often lived quite frugally. My generation were supported in our studies whereas now it has become more difficult with tuition fees, living costs and buying an instrument. To be a fine musician requires great sensitivity and yet in daily life it’s challenging not to be too sensitive and affected by things. I also think there is not enough appreciation that artists can improve with age! I think my playing has gradually developed over time. There’s a lot of emphasis on the latest talent of course, but you can take on too much at that stage when you’re flavour of the month whereas later on, where you know the music better, you can return to works with added experience and perhaps wisdom.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The Grammy-nominated Lou Harrison Violin Concerto with Percussion Orchestra (‘FiddleSticks’ album with new works for violin and percussion), my NMC Artist Series disc ‘In Sunlight: Pieces for Madeleine Mitchell’ with a range of works written for me by composers including James MacMillan, Michael Nyman, Nigel Osborne etc., and a personal collection of favourites – ‘Violin Songs’. I’d very much like to pay tribute here to the pianist Andrew Ball, my musical partner for some 20 years in concerts, broadcasts and 3 albums.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

There is so much fine music I like to play. Perhaps late romantic/early 20C works like Bruch Violin Concerto, Franck and Elgar violin sonatas and the more lyrical contemporary works suit me best however.

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

It depends on what I may be asked to perform, when I’m able to devise programmes or perhaps premiere a new piece. I’ve always loved putting programmes together, aiming for a good balance and being attuned to the situation – the audience or the occasion. I have eclectic tastes and enjoy playing a wide range of music from c1700 to the present and sometimes combining with the other arts.

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

Wigmore Hall, of course because of the sound and the atmosphere, also St. George’s Bristol, Djanogly Hall Nottingham and Carnegie Hall, but also venues such as some country churches – I was invited to be artistic director of a summer series called Music in Quiet Places with chamber music which was very special.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Too many to list but my Century of British Music recital for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, both in Rome and in the US, receiving standing ovations and the first performance I gave of Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps in the group I formed with pianist Joanna MacGregor in a special 6th century church, St Illtyd’s, which led to performances at the BBC Proms and a recording at Snape Maltings.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think to be able to say you’ve played your best, reached audiences in all sorts of places with the music and enjoyed it.

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

To aim to be a well rounded, cultivated musician, to have your eyes and ears open beyond your own instrument and to the other arts, nature and so on.

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

Still playing well and perhaps in a wonderful chamber group.

What is your most treasured possession?

My violin, which has been my companion in concerts in some 50 countries and my hearing and vision. Although not my possession, my life treasure is my daughter.

What do you enjoy doing most?

I enjoy playing music I love, to the best of my ability and I very much enjoy travelling (including swimming in warm seas). Listening to music, from Mozart operas to Jazz, but I also cherish silence – the most profound I ever experienced was in the Namib dessert when I was on tour giving concerts for the British Council.

What is your present state of mind?

Grateful, thinking back over all the things I’ve done, people I’ve met and worked with, amazing places I’ve visited through music and to Frances Wilson for hosting this interesting series.

MADELEINE MITCHELL has been described by The Times as ‘one of the UK’s liveliest musical forces’ (and) ‘foremost violinists’. Her performances as a soloist and chamber musician in some 50 countries in a wide repertoire are frequently broadcast including the BBC Proms, ABC, Bayerischer Rundfunk and Italian TV. She has given many recitals in major venues including Lincoln Center New York, Wigmore and South Bank Centre London, Vienna, Moscow, Singapore, Seoul Centre for the Arts and Sydney Opera House. She’s performed as soloist with orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, Czech Radio, St Petersburg Philharmonic and most recently the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, in the concerto written for her by Guto Puw, which will be included on her forthcoming album, Violin Muse, of world premiere recordings by established UK composers, for Divine Art.

Mitchell’s acclaimed discography for which she has been nominated for Grammy and BBC Music Awards, includes works written for her by composers such as James MacMillan and the popular ‘Violin Songs’ – Classic FM CD of the week. She has also championed early 20C British music in performance internationally and in recordings. A highly creative artist, Madeleine devised the Red Violin festival under Lord Menuhin’s patronage, the first international eclectic celebration of the fiddle across the arts. She’s also created programmes with poetry and unique collaborations with voices and solo violin with percussion and has been Director of the London Chamber Ensemble for many years. Madeleine Mitchell won the Tagore Gold Medal as Foundation Scholar at the Royal College of Music where she is a Professor and the prestigious Fulbright/ITT Fellowship to the Eastman and Juilliard Schools in the USA, where she regularly returns to give concerts and master classes.

www.madeleinemitchell.com

Meet the Artist……Vikingur Olafsson, pianist

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

I came to the piano quite early – when still in my mother’s womb! She’s a piano teacher and when 5 months pregnant with me, she played her diploma recital from Berlin university, so I was quite close to the keys from the beginning. I started playing the piano before being able to speak (I was admittedly rather slow when it came to forming words), and there are pictures of me playing the piano as soon as I was tall enough to reach for the keys, high above my head.

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

That would be my parents. My mother, the piano teacher, and my father who is a composer and architect. Mum introduced a lot of the classical and romantic repertoire to me, while dad brought 20th century music to my attention, relatively early on.

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

Finding my way after my study years in New York, moving to Europe with practically no professional connections and nothing going for me. I wanted to build my career without doing piano competitions and realized that I needed to become my own teacher and find my own way once I had finished school. So I had a lot of time for self-study and focused especially on the works of J.S. Bach, started my own record company and later also started a music festival in Reykjavík, and gradually began to get more and more invitations to play concerts. But it wasn’t always easy. Getting a manager seemed very difficult early on, I sent some CD’s and letters to different people and never got answers. I felt the business was simply impossible, that no one was listening, regardless of how you played or what you did. But bit by bit things started to happen and it helped me quite a lot when Alfred Brendel reassured me in 2012 by telling me that “it takes 15 years to become famous overnight”. I think that holds true for the great majority of International performers, but not many people talk about it.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It’s easy to look at everything one has done and only see the things that one would have liked to do differently in the present. I think we have to embrace the different phases of our artistic development and often I find that peformances from the past are considerably better than I had imagined and worried.

I’m rather happy about my Bach-Chopin album from 2011 with Partitas No 2 and 5 and the 24 preludes, I can listen to that disc and enjoy it. For concert performances, I’ll mention my first Rach 3 performance, from 2007 with Iceland Symphony and Rumon Gamba (on Youtube). I was actually very unhappy with myself after the concert but today I don’t really understand why.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Not for me to say, but I do feel very comfortable in the works of J.S. Bach and Ludvig van Beethoven.

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

I try to have a healthy balance of adding new concertos and recital works to my repertoire and to revisit works I’ve played before. I also try to commission and premiere a new Piano Concerto every 2-3 years. Right now, I’m actually more into revisiting works, but I’m still adding 3-4 piano concertos every season and probably 1-2 recital programmes.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? My favourite venue is Harpa in Reykjavík. I was honoured to perform the very first concert in the big hall in 2011, the Grieg Piano Concerto with Iceland Symphony and Vladimir Ashkenazy, and I still get this extra buzz of excitement when going on stage there. Besides, the acoustics are marvellous, the pianos great and backstage you have the view of the ocean and Mount Esja, my favourite mountain.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones who keep an open ear and never take anything for granted.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The opening concert of Harpa Concert House in 2011.

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

I think the most important is to find a way to become your own teacher. For that you have to try to develop the skill to listen to yourself while you play as if you were sitting 15 meters away in the hall. Quite paradoxical. Nothing is better in this regard than recording yourself, whether at home or for an album release. But it can be painful and one always wants to practise just a little bit more before pressing the rec button and having to look in that musical mirror…

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

Alive and playing great music!

What is your most treasured possession?

My Steinway B model Grand Piano from 2009 and my gorgeous Longman and Broderip Square Piano from 1785.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m on an airplane as I write these answers, heading to Iceland. It’s 25th February and somehow I’ve already played 12 concerts this month. I’m a bit tired and am so looking forward to having 10 days of break!

Vikingur Olafsson’s CD of Philip Glass Piano Works is available now on the DG label

Possessing a rare combination of passionate musicality, explosive virtuosity and intellectual curiosity, Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson has won all the major prizes in his native country, including four Musician of the Year prizes at the Icelandic Music Awards as well as The Icelandic Optimism Prize.

Víkingur grew up in Iceland where he studied with Erla Stefánsdóttir and Peter Máté. He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald.

Read Vikingur’s full biography

[Interview date: 25th February 2017}

 

(picture: Harrison Parrott)

Meet the Artist……Ben Goldscheider

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

I started to play the cello at five years old as both my parents were professional string players and it seemed like the right thing to do. When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with the lung condition Bronchiectasis and this led to the decision that maybe taking up a brass instrument (with the added element of deep breathing!) would be a great way to strengthen my lungs. From there it was a case of playing in various orchestras, ensembles and listening to famous horn players which made me realise that pursuing a career in music was definitely the way forward for me.

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

My teacher at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, Sue Dent, was absolutely incredible for me in terms of developing as a musician both with and without the instrument. I studied with her for almost eight years before my idol, Radek Baborak, of whom I had listened to almost every recording and watched every YouTube video of, invited me to study with him in Berlin at the Barenboim-Said Academy. Aside from horn players, I was always very interested in the artistry of Rostropovich and listening to recordings made at a time before it was possible to edit them to perfection. This raw energy is something I really admire.

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

I think an on-going challenge and a challenge I will have for the rest of my career is to convince first the management and organisational side to music, then the wonderful audiences that the horn should be held in high regard as a solo instrument!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Performing in the Brass Category Final of the BBC Young Musician Competition for me was the single most enjoyable musical experience of my life. I had dreamt about being on that stage for years and had really prepared every single note of my programme as well as physically possible. To be rewarded with such an incredible response from both the live audience and then the people watching at home was just incredible,

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think when it comes to very technically difficult and abstract contemporary music, I really enjoy taking the time to figure out the puzzle and think that it is an area of music where I feel most at ease performing.

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

As a young aspiring soloist, I tend to accept any invitation I get to play and more often than not, promoters already have a piece or programme in mind. Now and then it is possible to make requests and here I try and add concertos that people very rarely play and are most likely unknown to the audience.

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

I recently played in the KKL Concert Hall in Lucerne, Switzerland and before even stepping foot inside the unbelievable hall, had fallen in love with the town.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One of my favourite pieces to perform is the Franz Strauss Nocturne for Horn and Piano. It is really quite cheesy but so satisfying to play and allows you to really express yourself to the audience. To listen to…will always be the Goldberg Variations by J.S Bach.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have many favourite musicians both dead and alive! I think my teacher, Radek Baborak, is quite an extraordinary musician as is Daniel Barenboim and I am also fascinated by the wonderful percussionist Martin Grubinger.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut at the Royal Albert Hall with the English Festival Orchestra was by far, for me, the most special concert I have ever been involved with. To walk out to a completely sold out RAH, with sound coming from all sides was just incredible. And then to see the audience’s faces light up with the Rondo of the third movement from Mozart’s 4th Horn Concerto was really special.

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

I think that something that is quite seriously overlooked in aspiring musicians and certainly something I overlooked is the simple fact that people should be in music and study music to enjoy it. The profession is too difficult anyway so at least enjoy making the music!

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

Easier said than done but I would love to be in a position where I was performing concertos with orchestras all over the world!

Described as “a musical Bear Grylls” (Huffington Post, May 2016), Ben has quickly emerged as one of the most exciting horn players of his generation. Winner of the Brass Category Final in the 2016 BBC Young Musician Competition, Ben went on reach the concerto finals at London’s Barbican Hall, where he performed Strauss Horn Concerto No. 2 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Mark Wigglesworth.

From October 2016, Ben has been studying with Radek Baborak at the Barenboim-Said Academy in Berlin. Keen to promote the horn as a solo instrument, he has recently recorded his debut CD with Willowhayne Records, featuring works by composers including Schumann, York Bowen, Kalevi Aho and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Upcoming concerto highlights include Strauss with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Mozart with the European Union Chamber Orchestra and representing the British Council at the European Soloists Festival in Venezuala. Other recent notable highlights include a live broadcast on Austrian TV and Radio of the Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto with the mdw Chamber Orchestra and a solo recital at the Royal Albert Hall, Elgar Room. Ben has also been guest principal with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra under conductor Daniel Barenboim. 

In 2016, Ben won the Philip Jones Memorial Prize at the Royal Overseas League Annual Music Competition for most outstanding brass player, the Cox Memorial Prize and audience prize at the Eastbourne Symphony Orchestra Young Soloist Competition, second prize at the Leoš Janáček International Competition and second prize at the Bromsgrove International Musicians Competition. Ben was recently invited to participate in the International Music Academy for Soloists (Bückeberg Palace, Germany) and the International Summer Academy for Wind Soloists (Payerbach, Austria).

Born into a musical family, Ben began playing the horn aged nine, and commenced studies with Susan Dent at the Royal College of Music Junior Department two years later. At the age of 13, Ben was appointed principal horn of the National Youth Chamber Orchestra and, in 2014, principal horn of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain where he was awarded the John Fletcher Brass Prize for his contribution to the orchestra.  In 2012, he was the youngest participant in the London Symphony Orchestra Brass Academy. Ben has also played with the Philharmonia and collaborated with Dame Shirley Bassey on her 2015 Christmas Single.

Ben is grateful for support from Awards for Young Musicians, Dorothy Croft Trust for Young Musicians and EMI Music Sound Foundation. He is a June Emerson Wind Music Young Artist. As a result of his success in the BBC Young Musician Competition, Ben receives career guidance and diary management from the Young Classical Artists Trust.

Ben plays on a Gebr. Alexander 103 horn.

Meet the Artist……Stephen Upshaw

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

Growing up, I was often the slightly withdrawn aesthete picking up beautifully coloured leaves on the football pitch rather than playing the game, so in a way I think I was just waiting to find the right creative outlet. The moment came when, aged 10, I decided to play the viola in my school orchestra. It became clear immediately that I had found the medium and instrument that sparked my imagination. Unusually, I never played the violin or indeed any other instrument before the viola – my first read notes of music were in the dreaded alto clef! It seemed that EVERYONE else wanted to play the violin, and my lanky limbs and desire to be different made the sultry viola a natural choice. My parents are not musicians but are great appreciators of music of all styles and so I always loved listening to (and dancing around to) music from an early age so was thrilled to finally be able to make it myself.

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

Throughout my musical development I have had a number of inspiring teachers and mentors. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, home of Marilyn Seelman, violist and pedagogue extraordinaire, and she completely changed the course of my musical life (and the flexibility of my bow hold), seeing a future brighter and bigger than I had ever envisioned for myself. I then went on to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where Carol Rodland taught me all about co-ordination, tension-free playing and musical abandon, Martha Katz guided me in the great art of chamber music playing and how to search for the perfect and most creative sound at any given moment, and Katarina Miljkovic opened my ears to and sparked my passion for the vast array of music written since 1950. I then finished my studies in London with the great David Takeno whose irrepressible enthusiasm about music and unbelievable work ethic continue to be a daily inspiration.

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

Confidently forging my own musical path, trusting my instincts and not being afraid to take musical and career-related risks.

You’ve recently joined the board of The Riot Ensemble, tell us about your work with them?

The Riot Ensemble is a wonderful group of virtuoso musicians from across Europe who I was excited to discover upon my arrival to London. Their focus on the newest and most exciting music from across the globe was an immediate draw and after playing a few projects with them over the years, I was thrilled to be invited to join as an artistic board member and regular player. We produce and commission new work across the UK and abroad from a diverse selection of composers and aim to present a wide array of musical styles in contexts both traditional an unusual. We’ve just selected 7 composers from our 279 Call for Scores applications and are always on the lookout for new and interesting compositional voices – it’s always so inspiring to see the wonderfully wide range of work that’s being created!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I particularly relate to anything which showcases the extreme, beautiful and huge emotional/ sonic range of the viola.

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

Often these choices are made based on a number of logistical factors such as commission schedules, artist availability, etc., but one strategy I love to employ is to construct a programme around a single work that is particularly special to me. For example, the recital I have coming up in June, centred around Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp (with the wonderful Gabriella Dall’Olio and Anna Noakes). The Debussy has long been one of my favourite pieces of music and I’m particularly interested in placing canonical works of the past in dialogue with music of our time, in this case Saariaho’s stunning ‘Vent Nocturne’ for solo viola and electronics, Garth Knox’s duos with viola powerhouse and fellow Atlantan Jennifer Stumm and a new work for solo viola and sampled sounds by a student composer from Trinity Laban.

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

I’ve played in a wide variety of venues in recent years, from celebrated concert halls to clubs, basements and living rooms, and it would be hard to pick a favourite. Generally, I love playing anywhere with an excited and attentive audience. In terms of enthusiasm and energy, I remember being blown away by the audiences in Japan and Korea and for full houses of seasoned concert goers up for the most challenging of new music night after night, Vienna’s Konzerthaus.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To perform: I love the quicksilver energy, vitality and youthful fearlessness of Mendelssohn’s chamber music, the beauty and power of Jonathan Harvey’s ensemble works and the primal pyrotechnics of Luciano Berio’s viola music (I’m looking at you, Sequenza!).

To listen to: Beethoven symphonies and violin concerto, Brahms chamber music (early Cleveland Quartet recordings particularly), Mozart Requiem

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gidon Kremer, Kim Kashkashian, Joseph Szigeti, Helmut Lachenmann, Whitney Houston, Little Dragon, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

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

Try to understand why you are making music, what you want to say in your interpretations and to whom you want to say it. Without getting too fluffy, I really do think it’s also important to always remember what a privilege it is to make art professionally and to never take it for granted – the world needs more gratitude and we can start with being grateful for the enlightening task we as musicians have been set!

Stephen Upshaw performs a recital with Trinity Laban students and staff at St Alfege Church in Greenwich on 8 June – more information here

Since making his concerto debut at 17, violist Stephen Upshaw has played in prestigious halls (Carnegie Hall, Barbican, Wigmore Hall, Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw…) and festivals (Lucerne, Salzburg, Huddersfield, City of London, Aix-en-Provence…) around the world. A recognized interpreter of contemporary music, he has worked regularly with ensembles such as Klangforum Wien and Ensemble Modern, collaborating with composers such as Heinz Holliger, Julian Anderson, John Adams, Helmut Lachenmann and Michael Finnissy, who recently wrote a new solo piece for Stephen.

Stephen has a strong interest in synthesizing music with other fields and has helped realize collaborative projects with the Boston Architectural College, Transport Theatre Company, Hofesh Shechter Company, Rambert Dance Company and Parasol Unit Art Space. He is also the founder and Artistic Director of Sounding Motion, a company combining contemporary music and dance.

He holds a BMus(Hon) from the New England Conservatory of Music (Boston) and completed his Postgraduate studies in the class of David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 2016 he was awarded the Richard Carne Fellowship for solo artists at Trinity Laban.

www.stephenupshaw.com