Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have  been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Music was part of the house in which I grew up as both my parents were  wonderful musicians: my father was the Cathedral organist in Ottawa, Canada for 50 years, and my mother a piano (and English) teacher. She started  me off when I was three years old, though I was already playing some toy  instruments before that. So they were the biggest influences of course.  I always had excellent teachers: Earle Moss and Myrtle Guerrero at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto (I never lived in Toronto, only  went there for lessons); and especially the French pianist Jean-Paul Sevilla at the University of Ottawa. He was a huge influence, being a marvellous player himself, especially of the Romantic and French repertoire. But he was also the first person I heard perform Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which he did magnificently. I also studied classical ballet for 20 years from the age of 3 to 23, and that was a huge influence on me in every way, and very beneficial for playing the piano.  I also sang in my father’s choir, played violin for 10 years, and also the recorder. All of those things made me the musician I am today.

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

The whole thing has been a challenge. From beginning to end. Even if you have the talent, it’s nothing without the work. I’ve sacrificed a lot to be where I am today, but that’s OK. I struggled to get known as a young  pianist. I did many competitions. I won some, got thrown out in others.  When I did win a big prize (the 1985 Toronto Bach Competition), at least that meant I didn’t have to do any more. But then it was up to me  to keep the momentum going. I’ve had good and bad experiences with agents. I’ve always done a lot for my own career. An enormous amount, actually. It was a challenge to come to London in 1985 when I was totally unknown and make a name for myself here. I worked hard at that.  It took me 15 years of renting Wigmore Hall myself before I started selling it out and being promoted by the hall instead. The recording contract with Hyperion I got myself. That was one of the best things ever, also thanks to the great integrity that label has. Artists of my  generation have also had to adapt to the social media world and work with that in a good way. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to stay sane and healthy when you are doing a job that demands the utmost of you, both physically and emotionally.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve been happy with every recording I’ve done for Hyperion in the past 26  years. I never leave the studio unless I feel we have the best possible  versions. Of course things change over the years—that’s only natural.  But each CD is a document of how I best played the works at that time.  Apart from my Bach cycle, I am happy that I’ve recorded so much French music (Ravel, Chabrier, Fauré , Debussy, Messiaen, Rameau, Couperin) and  also the more recent Scarlatti CDs. Great stuff! I’m almost finished my Beethoven Sonata cycle which has taken me 15 years, and that gives me enormous satisfaction.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’ve always done a very wide repertoire. People think I only play Bach, but no. In my teenage years I was more known for the big romantic works like the Liszt Sonata and the Schumann Sonatas, though of course everybody knew that I played Bach. I think it’s important for a good musician to play in many different styles. On the whole I like to take complicated works and make them sound easy (like Bach’s Art of Fugue).

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Everything you experience in life goes into your music and your interpretations. Talking with friends, reading books, going to the theatre, travelling,  seeing a movie, reading the news, experiencing the tragedy of this awful  pandemic….all of that ends up in what you produce later on at the  piano.

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

Often it follows recording projects because I like to perform what I am going  to record, of course. But also it depends on what people ask you to do.  It’s a very difficult thing, choosing programmes for a whole year, and I’ve never been one to play the same programme all season. I can change  several times a month.

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

Oh, just one where people don’t cough!

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Just go out and perform each time in a way that makes people want to hear you again. Then you build an audience. If a concert is boring, nobody is  going to return. You have to make people really want to go to hear you.  Of course there’s all the stuff about developing a younger audience, and that’s extremely important. I support a project in my home town of Ottawa, Canada called ORKIDSTRA which gives free music lessons to children in under-served areas of the city. It’s wonderful to see how  much learning an instrument adds to their lives and to their general  development and sense of community.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I don’t know about most memorable, but certainly playing the Turangalila  Symphony at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in July 2018 was a night to remember. Fantastic performance, conducted by Sakari Oramo.  Very moving. Great audience. That’s the right hall for that piece. If I never play it again it doesn’t matter—I had that experience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success?  Well, playing a piece you have worked very hard on, and finally  memorising it and performing it well in public. That gives great satisfaction. Material success, as we have seen with this pandemic, can vanish in an instant. I suppose success is when concert promoters think of you when they are putting together their season. You have to have something they want to sell. When you have that something and have totally kept your integrity and got there because you’re good and worked  hard, then I think that’s success. But I don’t really like to think of  “success”. It’s very fragile.

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

To play their instrument with joy and not to be stiff and tense when they play. They must easily communicate with their audience and show that every part of their body is feeling the music.

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

Alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Playing for a friend and having a meal afterwards.

What is your most treasured possession?

My new Fazioli F278 concert grand piano.


One of the world’s leading pianists, Angela Hewitt appears in recital and as soloist with major orchestras throughout Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Asia. Her interpretations of the music of J.S. Bach have established her as one of the composer’s foremost interpreters of our  time.

Born in 1958 into a musical family (the daughter of the Cathedral organist and choirmaster in Ottawa, Canada), Angela began her piano  studies age three, performed in public at four and a year later won her  first scholarship. In her formative years, she also studied classical ballet, violin, and recorder. From 1963-73 she studied at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music with Earle Moss and Myrtle Guerrero, after which she completed her Bachelor of Music in Performance at the  University of Ottawa in the class of French pianist Jean-Paul Sévilla, graduating at the age of 18. She was a prizewinner in numerous piano  competitions in Europe, Canada, and the USA, but it was her triumph in the 1985 Toronto International Bach Piano Competition, held in memory of Glenn Gould, that truly launched her international career.

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An interview with pianist Beth Levin by Gil Reavill

I assume you’re in quarantine along with the rest of us. How have the months of isolation influenced your creativity, or, on a more commonplace level, changed your practice routines?

I’m not sure. Everything is different—that much I know. I’ve been working on music that I would have performed in the spring and summer- specifically Schumann, Chopin, Beethoven and Yehudi Wyner. But I notice that I’m approaching it in ways that match the longer road we’re on—taking time to pull things apart, to muse, to examine voices and phrasing and only then putting the pieces back together. Even in the most “presto” passages now there seems to be an inherent slowness. I was always saying things like, “I wish I had a year to learn that concerto,” or, “I wish I had two years for that set of variations.”

“The pandemic is a portal,” states novelist/activist Arundhati Roy. Do you find it so?

Perhaps it is an inward portal. One’s creativity really can be nurtured right now because we are in a blank state, with nothing pressing, nothing other than music and time. I’m amazed at how much emotion rises up as I practice—nothing is there to stop it. Also I’m looking back, perhaps too much. I’ve put many old performances on Soundcloud and listening has been cathartic. This passage from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets came to mind:

The river is within us, the sea is all about us

The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite

Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses

Its hints of earlier and other creation

You seem to be attracted to tremendously challenging works, and have recorded The Goldberg Variations and The Diabelli Variations, with your recording of the Hammerklavier sonata forthcoming.

Well, first, that’s a tradition from my teachers, particularly Shure and Serkin. And I like works that are made up of variations such as the Goldbergs, Davidsbundlertanze, The Schumann Symphonic Etudes, Diabelli, etc. I have never let not being able to play something stop me from learning a new work—ha-ha! Honestly, I have friends who won’t play this or that because of a large stretch or a fiendish page or two. If a work has a great and true expressive quality (practically anything of Schumann, say), but is technically challenging, expression wins out.

I’m interested to know the ways in which the emotional tenor of a work such as the Hammerklavier might change in the run-up to performing it in concert or preparing for a recording, shifting with the player’s increasing facility, familiarity, or understanding.

I find closer to a performance that the whole endeavor seems utterly impossible. I felt that way with the Hammerklavier even after months working on it. I mean you have good days when you feel that there is hope and everything is coming together. Just that fact of making Op. 106 feel like one piece is quite a challenge. Thinking in the longest lines possible helped and not being afraid of glacially slow or impossibly fast. The dynamic range asked for was also exciting in its scope. There is an ecstatic aspect to the sonata that may only be truly realized on stage. I think you can understand aspects of the Hammerklavier, be familiar with it and even have the facility to play it well—but the work has its secrets. I think in the end you play it to see where it will take you and take the audience.

You write poetry. What sort of cross-fertilization do you detect between language and music?

The ear and one’s sense of pulse has so much to do with both language and music. Especially if you read a poem aloud—you can hear how the pure sound of the words has a musical and rhythmic basis. I’m quite an amateur poet and never feel I know what I’m doing. I’m pretty seasoned as a pianist, and a novice at poetry writing. But my musicianship does help me as I write a poem. This strange pandemic seems perfect for using time in creative ways and in ways we might not try otherwise.

You’ve had a long association with the works of Robert Schumann, recording Kreisleriania and performing other works, and have also written about him recently. How do you engage with Schumann as a composer and creative force?

I probably have an affinity for composers who don’t want to be tied down, completely understood or caught. When I think of Schumann I think of someone reaching upward, yearning, seeking and with an ardent intensity. And I think of ultimate contrast. As soon as you meet Florestan and Eusebius in his writing, you experience Schumann’s own extreme dual nature. Schumann loved words as well—see his writings in Neue Zeitschift für Musik. I was given the music of Schumann as a child and am still discovering it. Most recently I performed the Piano Trio in D minor with Roberta Cooper and Eugene Drucker and currently I’m working on the Symphonic Etudes for piano. His music is uncannily intimate and so on that level it is very easy to engage with it. On the other hand Schumann strove to write orchestrally for the piano and wound up writing some deliciously hard music for the instrument. Schumann wrote fondly of Clara’s performance: “The way you played my Etudes—I won’t ever forget that; they were absolute masterpieces the way you presented them—the public can’t appreciate such playing—but one person was sitting there, no matter how much his heart was pounding with other feelings, my entire being at that instant bowed down before you as an artist.

There’s been some back and forth of late about whether Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was written for harpsichord or clavichord. With cellist Samuel Magill, you’ve performed preludes from the piece, arranged by the virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles. Any thoughts on period instruments versus their modern offspring?

The music of Bach has that ability to survive just about any treatment and still emerge as Bach. When I first saw the Moscheles transcription the word “schlock” may have crossed my mind. But Sam won me over with his gorgeous playing and love of Romanticism. I believe we began the programme with the Bach and after the concert it was one of the most remarked upon works.

You often perform and record contemporary composers. Do you seek out connections, comparisons, commonality, or inheritances in earlier works of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic or Modern canon?

Some of the contemporary music I’ve played seems to spring very naturally from earlier periods—say, the music of David del Tredici, Yehudi Wyner or Scott Wheeler. Other works break off from tradition completely; Bunita Marcus comes to mind. Lately I’ve been sending little music notebooks to composer friends and one, Frank Brickle, has begun writing me pieces for piano. I can’t wait to see the result. I think as in more traditional music you have to find the voice of the work itself and not make comparison studies.

Beth Levin, Brooklyn, NY, August, 2020


Beth Levin’s recording of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata and other works mentioned in this interview will be released by Aldila Records

Blurb:

When Beth Levin released her third live album seven years ago, she summed up Ludwig van Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas under the motto ‘A Single Breath’. At the time, a critic called her a titan and wrote that she played as if she was a contemporary of Eduard Erdmann, Artur Schnabel, Wilhelm Backhaus and Walter Gieseking. This has not changed. Since then, colleagues, admirers and connoisseurs have repeatedly asked her to present her interpretation of the Hammerklavier Sonata. She has now complied with this request, also with a ‘Live in Concert’ recording. And again she plays in a highly explosive manner, spontaneously as in an improvisation and at the same time with an incorruptible inner logic, with inexhaustible power and an immense dynamic spectrum of expression.

The Hammerklavier Sonata forms the symphonic climax of Beethoven’s piano work with its final fugue that transcends all boundaries. This concert program is introduced with a suite of George Frideric Handel, including a set of wonderful variations. Handel was Beethoven’s favorite composer, and the motto “All power to the dominant” could stand above both composers. Between the works of the two old masters is the 3rd Disegno by the great Swedish composer Anders Eliasson, who died in 2013, entitled ‘Carosello’. This free-tonal cantabile study in 5/4 time creates a sphere of weightlessness in contrast to the cadential purposefulness of Handel and Beethoven.

“One may agree with it or not. No one plays Beethoven like Beth Levin.” (Christoph Schlüren, 2013)

https://www.bethlevinpiano.com/

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I grew up surrounded by music.  We always had the radio playing at home and my older sister played the violin and piano. I wanted to be just like her so was more than happy to start playing those instruments at a young age, but I pestered my parents for years to start learning the harp!

I remember getting my first CD of harp music when I was young and it was all played by the incredible Marisa Robles; the ‘Impromptu-Caprice’ completely mesmerised me. I have been so fortunate to have lessons with Marisa and consider her a friend, thanks to my amazing teacher Daphne Boden.

There are so many wonderful harpists and nowadays it is so much easier to discover new (and old!) music through social media and online platforms. One of the most inspiring harpists I discovered in recent years has to be Dorothy Ashby.  She broke stereotypes in all walks of life, especially in harp playing, and her music is very special.

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

When I was younger I struggled with stage fright, so although I was busy performing on a regular basis, it was a challenge for me once I was on stage. I can still remember the day I was fortunate enough to turn this around and it made me very aware that I was pursuing the right career path. I now enjoy nothing more than sharing my music with others.

The last few months have been tough to say the least, not just for me but for all those who work in the arts. When the country pretty much closed overnight due to COVID-19, freelance musicians lost everything and it is still very uncertain when we will be able to return in full force. I was very fortunate to have some teaching I could do online, however the loss of income and opportunities to make music with others has been a real challenge.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I am so pleased with the singles I recently recorded as part of my new contract with Sony Music Masterworks.  With the wonderful team at Sony and my incredible producer Anna Barry,  we recorded some of my favourite harp pieces and also some exciting new material.  Ronan Phelan at Masterchord Studios is a brilliant sound engineer and I hope everyone will enjoy the tracks as much as I did recording them!

Baroque Flamenco (opens in Spotify)

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I have always enjoyed playing uplifting and rousing music! That’s why ‘Baroque Flamenco’ was a piece I really wanted to record for my first single. It has so many exciting and unusual elements to it. That being said, I’ve also always enjoyed the French-Romantic genre.  Harp music is spoilt for choice when it comes to French composers and there is some incredible music for us to play.

I am always open to new musical suggestions, genres and styles. I have often been asked by audience members to play some Metallica or Led Zeppelin, usually as a joke, because the majority of people would presume you can only play classical music on the harp.  I took on the challenge and it really diversified my play list so that I could show that the harp is incredibly versatile and the possibilities are endless!

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I love being surrounded by nature.  My favourite places in the world are the Lake District and Malta and I have been so fortunate to enjoy both, being of Maltese heritage and growing up in the UK. I could not be happier than when I am swimming in the Mediterranean or when I turn off my phone and go for a hike with my husband in the Lake District.  I think cutting yourself off from technology and enjoying the simple things around you is so important and grounding.

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

I try to listen to as large a range of music as possible. I don’t tend to stick to traditional harp repertoire all the time and I have started exploring a lot more piano music recently as that was how I originally started my musical journey. There is so much that can be arranged for the harp and I enjoy  challenging myself technically as well as musically.

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

There are so many wonderful venues but in terms of acoustics, I think Wigmore Hall is very special.  It provides an intimate and unique setting for recitals.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I really do feel that a love of and interest in music has to be developed at a young age whilst still at school. Music is a vital part of every child’s education and it is so important overall development. It can increase self-confidence and there are many studies which suggest that music helps brain development which can help in the learning of many other subjects.

I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up listening to classical music and having the chance to have music lessons from a young age. I think it is important to remember that classical music is a huge part of all our lives whether we realise it or not. Many film scores are based on classical music and many current pop singers use classical music for samples.

To this end, I think that the Senbla Concert Orchestra’s performances of popular movies with live orchestra is a brilliant idea.  Although people are going to watch the film, speaking to audience members after the concerts showed up how many people do not quite realise what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in terms of the music and were blown away by the sound a live orchestra could make.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut concerto at the Barbican when I was eighteen really stands out for me.  It was such an honour to be given this massive opportunity and I worked so hard to make it as brilliant a performance as possible. I was so nervous before going on stage but can still remember the joy I felt once I finished.

In an orchestral setting, playing under Sir Roger Norrington’s baton when I was leading six harps in ‘Symphonie Fantastique’  was so inspiring and a really enjoyable experience. His humour and musical expertise are unrivalled in my opinion and it’s an experience I will never forget!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I don’t think there is one way to define success as a musician. We are always striving for better, hence why you can never stop practising as there is always room for improvement. I am so very fortunate to have been given a platform to share my music and I think success for me is being able to continue making music and sharing it with others.

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

Keep an open mind. Explore all avenues of music, even the ones you might think you do not like. Do not compare yourselves to other people, just keep working hard and have confidence in yourself and your choices. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by others on social media but if you are making yourself or another person feel something through your playing, then you are doing something right.  Also, keep up the practise!  Watching other musicians performing, whether at a live gig or on a recording or online can also be very inspiring. There is so much that can be learnt from musicians all over the world, playing in all kinds of genres and styles.

What is your most treasured possession?

My harp really is my most treasured possession. I try not to get too attached to material objects in general but my beautiful harp is something I have had for twenty years now.  It has travelled the world with me and been there for all my auditions, exams, high and low points.

What is your present state of mind?

I am excited to see what the future holds. This has been an interesting year to say the least but I am determined that musicians will be back, stronger than ever and with even more to share than before.

Cecilia Da Maria’s second single is released on 4th September on the Sony label


Born in the UK to Maltese parents, Cecilia recently completed her Masters degree with distinction at the Royal College of Music where she was an ABRSM scholar, studying with Daphne Boden. Prior to this she graduated from the same institution with a First Class (Honours) undergraduate degree.

Cecilia originally started her musical life as a pianist before starting the harp at the age of eleven. A year later she was accepted into The Purcell School of Music and later joined The Royal College of Music, Junior Department.

Cecilia has been fortunate enough to travel extensively with her harp to countries including; Italy, Spain, Portugal, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia and The Baltic States.

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

As a child my aunt was a pop singer, and released music; she also recorded my first song. My music teachers at school were supportive, and luckily Northamptonshire had a great music service when I was a child.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

As a composer I have been lucky to have great female role models – Rhian Samuel, and Diedre Gribben briefly taught me at post-graduate and undergraduate levels.Sadie Harrison is a great mentor and teacher, an inspiring woman. I am also incredibly lucky to have worked with Kuljit Bhamra on his Tabla notation project. I was commissioned by Sound and Music to learn a new notation system for Tabla and compose new work for Kuljit, Anne Denholm and Joe Richards, mentored by Colin Riley. Most recently, the amazing soprano Gweneth Anne Rand is advising and mentoring me on composing for voice for my new work for Téte å Téte Festival in September 2020.

The music industry is tough and it is so important to have guidance and support. I have been lucky to be surrounded by strong female spirits throughout my life; even now my own grandmother has been teaching my son piano over Skype through lockdown. Her mother was a pianist (whom I never met), born in Greater Manchester, and studied in Vienna as a young girl. She married a lovely man from Lancashire who worked in the cotton mills and she ended up teaching and playing in the pubs of Oldham. My Grandma was keen to buy us a piano when I was little, so we got one from a pub in Wellingborough, where I grew up, and I began lessons as a child. Later I learnt cello, through the Northants Music Service at Junior School. I probably resonated with the cello after listening to the Bach Cello Suite’s, by Jaqueline Du Pré, on a tape cassette of my Mum’s that I think she was introduced to through contemporary dance. I grew up listening to a mixture of Bach, Dave Brubeck, Nina Simone, Carol King, The Specials, Madonna and Soul to Soul. Lisa Stansfield was my first proper concert at Sheffield City Hall with my Aunties, Mum and sister. As a young person I went to concerts at The Stables, a 40mins drive from where we lived, and performed in Youth Orchestra Concerts at The Derngate, Northampton. There was also a local Jazz night at a local pub which had some good players that my sister’s saxophone teacher let us know about, my Dad has always been really into Jazz and Blues and has been a huge influence on my listening. Latterly I became introduced to all kinds of music, North Indian Classical, Bartok, Shostakovich, Mahler, Saariaho, Cage, Oliveros, and all kinds of dance music, from electronica, drum and bass and Techno.

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

On leaving Newcastle University, I initially found it really difficult to find work, and was on The New Deal for Musicians. It was amazing as I got business advice and support from various professionals. I also got a Prince’s Trust grant to buy a computer as I had never owned one and then when I began working professionally as a cellist I had some guidance and awareness of the industry. A year later I was performing on The Mercury Music Prize (2000); perhaps without the chance to learn the ropes of being a self- employed musician I would not have had that opportunity. An RSI injury in my late 20s and early 30s was a real low point. My inspiring cello teacher at the time, Sue Lowe, built me back up again, emotionally and physically, which took several years. Luckily my composing career has been building slowly since then. My most recent career high was hearing my work for Tabla and String Quartet performed at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter just before lockdown in March. The work was for amateur performers from the Devon Philharmonic with professional Tabla player Jon Sterx. The musicians were amazing – with very little rehearsal time they performed with such vitality and commitment.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

The pleasures often outweigh the challenges; however since the Covid-19 lockdown I feel many musicians and artists in general are facing huge barriers to their livelihoods. Currently I am composing new work for Fenella Humphreys, and have contributed to her Caprice’s project, funded mostly by Kickstarter (see her website). It is thrilling when performers like Fenella agree to perform and record your music. Fenella has a Youtube channel which is enabling new work to be premiered to wider audiences, so moving on from the devastating lockdown challenges, people are really trying to overcome them through digital platforms, and I just hope people can continue to contribute to artists’ projects financially right now, as so many freelance artists have lost so much work and income.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

So much of my work, commissions and premieres have either been postponed or cancelled, and as an emerging composer, it is especially tough and heartbreaking. I only began composing again seriously after my son was born, so I am a bit of a late starter, and I just hope my energy and determination carries me though this unstable period. Some amazing opportunities have still managed to happen. I am currently working on a new Imaginary Opera project Song of Isis, Goddess of Love, for the Tête-à-Tête Festival 2020, which is a truly inspiring, inclusive and exciting festival to be part of. This wonderful opportunity is a lifeline as it is still going ahead in September, regardless of Covid restrictions. See the wonderful blog from Bill Bankes-Jones for more information. The practicalities of working on this are huge – devising and rehearsing new work with actor/singer Sèverine Howell-Meris over Zoom will be particularly unique to these times. I will be documenting this process online on the blog but really also hope to share our work in a real live format somehow.

Our performance date is, hopefully, 9 September 2020 (please follow us on @imaginaryopera or @laurareidmusic to find out when/if the performance will be going ahead live at The Cockpit Theatre, London). Again finances are tight, and Tête-à-Tête are fundraising for the festival on their website.

I am working with writer Chris Aziz, and animator Martha King to provide online content. I am hoping to include a virtual chorus, using singers and friends around the UK to participate in some capacity from their homes. Working with an all-female team is exciting, but as it is our first opera it is incredibly daunting at the same time. Networks such as Engender, run by producers at the Royal Opera House, are proving to be so important right now to get things to happen. Hearing leading figures like Gweneth Ann Rand and director Adele Thomas talk at the last meeting was inspiring and really encouraging.

Of which works are you most proud?

My commission for the Dorset Moon ‘Celestial Bodies’, performed to over 1,000 members of the public via headphones underneath Luc Jerram’s amazing Museum of the Moon.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Eclectic, diverse, contemporary folktronica.

How do you work?

Sporadically. In the old days pre-covid, I had routines and time to think. But now it’s in odd moments when I am not doing childcare or home-schooling, mostly in the evenings since lockdown, although I am usually a morning person. I am really looking forward to, and feel incredibly lucky to be going to Made at The Red House, Aldeburgh, hosted by Wild Plum Arts, which will be an amazing opportunity to compose and think away from domestic responsibilities.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My tastes are always evolving and changing. I currently love listening to Jill Scott, Tallis, and Bach. I really enjoyed listening to After Rain by Hildegard Westerkamp recently at the UK and Ireland soundscape conference in Sussex.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Happiness balanced with enjoying the process of composing and playing, and working on projects that inspire change and amplify narratives from the margins.

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

Keep a sense of your self and what feels right to you. Learn the rules, and then how to break them. Nothing matters very much, except staying sane and positive. We all face challenges so try and focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cello J

 

Song of Isis. Goddess of Love, with music by Laura Reid, will be premiered by Tête-à-Tête on 9 September. Further information here


www.laurareid.co.uk

@laurareidmusic

@imaginaryopera

https://imaginaryopera.wordpress.com/

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

From a very early age I was surrounded by classical music. Although my parents were scientists, they were very drawn to and active in classical music. Both were enthusiastic members of concert choruses; my mother studied singing for many years and my father played piano and viola. Almost weekly there were chamber music/string quartet evenings at home and my parents read through many songs together – from Schubert to Hugo Wolf. Before I entered grammar school, I was already familiar with a large art song repertoire.

As was usual in my generation, early on I joined a children’s choir. I played the recorder for years and finally was allowed to study piano as well. As a ten  year old I first experimented with composition and at fourteen it was already clear to me that I wanted to be a musician. The question was only whether it was to be as a pianist, conductor or composer. All of them seemed equally desirable. For a while my mother suffered from my decision to follow a slightly different path. Next to chamber music, the human voice fascinated me above all else, so my passion led me to become an accompanist for singers. I have never regretted it.

I had fine teachers, but the most important inspiration/impetus came later: above all, from my friend and colleague Leonard Hokanson and from the two most important singers of my early career, Irmgard Seefried and Hermann Prey. Today I still learn a great deal from the singers I accompany, much of which is not taught in schools.

What have been the greatest challenges in your career?

I had the good fortune at a relatively young age to work with singers who were ahead of me both in age and, more importantly, in their careers. The first steps with these well known artists were always a big challenge for me. I often had the feeling that in the course of a few minutes my chosen career path could change dramatically and this was, in fact, several times the case. The first rehearsal with Irmgard Seefried, at that time a celebrated star especially to Viennese audiences, remains unforgettable because of her ‘motherly’ severity. Then there was the audition for Hermann Prey, during which my right leg shook so much with nerves that I could scarcely control the piano’s pedal. Such critical situations no longer happen, but in general every concert is a new challenge, first regarding my singing partner, but also for myself. That is a part of this occupation and one gets used to it.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I would not say that I am proud of a particular concert or recording. Some are more successful than others. There are, for example, around twenty-five songs on a CD, and it can happen that I am satisfied or even happy with some of the songs. With concerts, it is more complicated. I think one has certain ideals in performance which one attempts to reach, even knowing that they are unattainable. There are thousands of notes in any concert performance. For me, it is inconceivable that they will all sound as perfectly as I imagine. One must be satisfied with ninety percent and often a great deal less. Perhaps one can be ‘proud’ of a particular phrase or passage, but never of an entire concert.

Which works do you think you perform best?

In answer to this question, I can only say what kind of music I like best, which musical style I feel most comfortable and secure playing. That is clearly the Romantic era from Schubert to Strauss and Mahler. This is music which demands emotional depth, reflectiveness, infatuation and passion. The fact that these musical emotions, as well as the often wonderful texts, comprise most of today’s usual song repertoire, definitely influenced my career choice. In addition to the great volume of German art song, I especially love the Slavic repertoire.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I do not consciously do anything in order to inspire myself on stage. Of course I listen to recordings and attend concerts. I read books about composers and their times. Sometimes I learn a lot from all this, but, in the end, the inspiration comes from the life I live and have lived: from the dreams, the fears, the anger and the frustrations which I have experienced. It comes from a wonderful evening atmosphere by a lake or on a mountaintop, from the longing, the loving, the disappointments and the happinesses I have known. Many of these are unforgettable memories and some I still experience today, thank heaven! Inspiration comes from everything which has formed my personality – in good times and in bad.

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

Song recital programmes are ideally discussed and decided upon by both the singer and the pianist. At the beginning of my career, well-known and experienced singers simply gave me the programmes. Later, little by little, it became a joint decision. Today, because of my long experience, I am often asked to make up a programme or at least to make suggestions.

Creating a good programmme is not a simple matter, and there are no easy recipes to follow, rather there are warnings about what one should not do: for example, not too many multi-versed songs in a row. I admire singers and colleagues who can devise an exciting and meaningful programme in a short amount of time. I often need several days.

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

There are certainly many famous halls in which one is happy to perform/play: Carnegie Hall in New York, for example, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona, and many more. But when one has grown up in Vienna, already during one’s school years, one dreams of appearing at least once in the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. This hall, opened 150 years ago, where numerous famous works have had their world premieres, where Liszt and Brahms, Bruckner, Strauss and Mahler performed, a magnificent hall which is praised for its wonderful acoustics, and which broadcasts its New Year’s concerts throughout the world, is internationally known. Even when one has often had the good fortune to play there, each appearance brings a special joy and a feeling of ‘coming home’.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?

It is certainly pointless to dwell on the past, where music was actively played in homes. My generation was the last to experience this and it will not return. It seems to me more realistic to wish that music be taught in schools, starting with elementary schools and continuing through the entire educational path.

Many concert promoters have tried for years to offer programmes for children, and
have had success with this. But in general music education in schools is more and more curtailed to the point where in some places it no longer exists. It is not so much a matter of teaching knowledge, but a simple familiarisation, an introduction to great works, attending concerts together, and, in my view most importantly, choral singing. Good and enthusiastic teachers who can ‘sell’ this are necessary, but young people often find doing things together a lot of fun, and, of course, it does not always have to be classical music. Actively involving students with music – no matter what the style – can make them curious and hopefully form new audiences. I can only speak about the current poor situation in Austria and Germany. There it is, in general, pretty sad and hopeless.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

After a career of over fifty years, I am fortunate to be able to look back on many memorable concerts. Some were in small, elegant halls such as Wigmore Hall, others where the size of the hall or the enthusiasm of the audience impressed me more than the quality of the concert itself. Those include concerts at Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires or the Herodes Atticus Theatre in Athens, as well as the stages of La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Growing up, I was an eager concert-goer with many subscriptions to the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienn,a and many unforgettable concert experiences. One concert, however, occupies the very pinnacle of all of these, a concert at which I was neither in the audience nor was I playing: Verdi’s Requiem in the massive Theater of Epidaurus with 13,000 seats, built in the 4th century before Christ. Herbert von Karajan conducted one of his absolutely favourite works, and I sang bass in the chorus of Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. In the “Lux Aeterna”, as the moon rose over the surrounding hills, I felt as if I were in a dream. No concert in my life has moved me as this one did. With a nighttime return to Athens by boat, newly in love with another
chorus member, who later became my wife, the evening came to a close – forever unforgettable.

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

Your talent is a gift, not an accomplishment. Make as much out of it as you can!
Some success comes late, sometimes never. But do not give up too quickly! Try, with everything at your disposal, to understand what the composer wanted and fulfill that as best as you can. These were geniuses to whom we can only look up with respect and wonder. Personal vanities have no place in the music of these gods.

Imagine an exact idea of what you would like to express musically, and do not be satisfied with solutions which only approximately reach your ideal. Try to remain honest with yourself.

‘Success’ can sometimes be achieved in an amazingly cheap fashion. It is wonderful when you can make an audience happy. It should always be more important to be satisfied with yourself.

“Always play as if a master were listening!” (Robert Schumann)

“There is no end to learning!” (Robert Schumann)

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

Even if it not very realistic, in ten years I would wish not only to still be alive, but, even if I am not making music, to still be able to enjoy it.

What is your present state of mind?

A continuous fluctuation between optimism and pessimism. I try to see my situation realistically, but the results are always the same: I can be very happy about some things and quite sad about others. That is probably normal for my age, but, on the whole, I must be very thankful for all the wonderful experiences I have had in my career and in my life. And there is still hope that there will be more wonderful experiences to come.

Helmut Deustch’s book ‘Memoirs of an Accompanist’, with a foreword by Alfred Brendel, is published by Kahn & Averill in September. Further information here


Helmut Deutsch ranks among the finest, most successful and sought-after song recital accompanists in the world. He was born in Vienna, where he studied at the Conservatory, the Music Academy and the University. He was awarded the Composition Prize of Vienna in 1965 and appointed professor at the age of 24.

Although he has also performed with leading instrumentalists as a chamber musician, he has concentrated primarily on accompanying song recitals. At the beginning of his career, he worked with soprano Irmgard Seefried, but the most important singer of his early years was Hermann Prey, whom he accompanied for twelve years.

Subsequently, he has worked with many of the most important recital singers and played in the world’s major music centres. His collaborations with Jonas Kaufmann, Diana Damrau, Michael Volle, Camilla Nylund and Piotr Beczala as well as the young Swiss tenor Mauro Peter are currently among his most important. Helmut Deutsch has recorded more than a hundred CDs.

In recent years, the development of young talent has been especially close to his heart. After his professorship in Vienna he continued his teaching primarily in Munich at the University of Music and Performing Arts, where he has worked as a professor of song interpretation for 28 years. He is also a visiting professor at various other universities and gives an increasing number of masterclasses in both Europe and the Far East.

Photo : Shirley Suarez

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was inspired from music and art from my first life and birth. My Grandmother, Katharina, bought a Steinway on the occasion of my birth, and I still have the original receipt from this purchase. During my birth, music by Chopin had been played. I began to play at the early age of 3. Still  From a young age, I played pieces from memory. To study music and piano was self-evident.

The most important influences in my career are first, as already pointed out, my grandmother; later my teachers Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Poldi Mildner, Shura Cherkassky and Herbert Seidel. Through them I’m a representative and guardian of the great Romantic Tradition – a tradition, which I preserve for myself, but also pass on to my students.

Today, being a recipient of the renowned ‘Goethe-Prize of Frankfurt/Main, presented to me in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt in January 2020, was another decisive challenge and turning point in my career.

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

My latest project, ‘Chronological Chopin’ (Divine Art label ddc 25752), and my current project ‘Fantasies’ with major works by Robert Schumann (also with Divine Art)

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

‘Chronological Chopin’ and the Goldberg-Variations (Bayer), but also the Chopin – Schumann Anniversary Edition 2010 (MSR-Classics), Schumann: Kreisleriana Op. 16 and the Symphonic Etudes Op. 13, including the Variations posthumes (Bayer), Schumann – Liszt: Fantasie in C major Op. 17 and Sonata in B minor (Bayer), Scriabin: Piano Works, Opp. 2 – 74 (Bayer), and the DVD with Liszt: Piano Transcriptions of Schubert Songs and Godowsky Symphonic Metamorphoses on Waltzes and Themes of Johann Strauss (Arthaus), produced by WDR-Television. These productions have been broadcast on all major tv-channels since 1997, and today they are available on Fidelio, a new tv-channel from ORF and UNITEL.

But I’m also proud of and happy that the highlights of my ‘Chronological Chopin’ enjoyed a re-release in 2018 on a luxury 2-vinyl-edition from‘Divine Art.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Bach: Partita in C minor, BWV 826, Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903, Italian Concerto, BWV 971

Weber: Rondo brilliant, Op. 62

Franck: Prelude, Choral and Fugue

Chopin: Prélude in C sharp minor, Op. 45, Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47, Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49, Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, Scherzo No. 4 in E major, Op. 54, Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57, Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60, Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61

Mendelssohn: Variations sérieueses, Op. 54

Schumann: Kreisleriana Op. 16, Fantasy C-major, Op. 17, Arabeske Op. 18, Fantasies Op. 12

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Hugo Shirley in ‘International Piano’ (February 2020) described me as a “multifaceted pianist”, who “unites intellectual clarity with an intuitive sense of colour, influenced by his artistic upbringing and his parallel life as a scuba diver”. Yes, I’m inspired in my parallel life by the experiences from the underwater world. As a ‘PADI Master Instructor’ I can refer to more than 8500 logged dives on the oceans all over the world and have visited countries even in out-of-the-way areas. I’m also certified to teach classes for Underwater-Photography and Videography, and I’m the official Ambassador of the PADI Project Aware Foundation for the “Protecting of Our Ocean Planet.” (If interested, one can visit my site under: www.diving-adventure.org

The inspiration of the variety of colours of the underwater world I convert into differentiated sounds in my artistic interpretations, a phenomenon called synesthesia.

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

I try to be at home in all epochs and styles of music, to cover the whole literature. But mainly I like to focus on Bach, Chopin and the German Romantics

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

Yes, indeed I have: Carnegie Hall, New York. The acoustics are unique and outstanding. And of course also the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Besides the acoustics, the hall there has a singular mood and atmosphere.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I fear losing the tradition; this has already begun in school for children with a false “system of learning”. Back to the roots of learning, that the experience and realization of values is a way to the future …

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Japan, Tokyo: Bunka Kaikan and Suntory Hall

USA, New York: Here I once played a sensational ‘American STEINWAY D’ number ‘207’; I had the chance to selected this piano for a recital in New York City in the concert basement of Steinway Hall on 57th street, assisted by my longtime friend Peter Goodrich, who was chief of the concert and artists department of Steinway NY. In my career, I have played and performed on countless excellent and singular instruments, but I never will forget the number, and the unique and warm sound of this instrument, the ‘207’… Now I’m sure I made a major mistake not to have purchased this gem….it was “love at first sight”.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

True success is connected and bounded to the truth of interpretation. There begins and starts a long lasting experience: the chance that the artistry of a true artist will live on for generations, and will influence other epochs. This is the meaning of artistic integrity – and the definition of success.

Related to this, one could ask “what  is talent?”, to which I would immediately answer: “To have the strength, power, endurance, courage and stamina to start new after each setback.”

These characters blend into one: Virtue

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

I would like to rephrase the question: What I would not impart to aspiring musicians? If they are not authentic and true to themselves, if they do not express the music in a proper and thoughtful way.

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

To be even more successful and to achieve “musical heaven”, which would mean artistic truth

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being on stage and to feel at one with the (art)work and the audience

What is your most treasured possession?

My two very special Steinway D-274 pianos, which I use for all my recordings and important recitals/concerts.

Also my intelligence, the alertness of my mind and my indefensible intuition, which provides me a special view of life and art, and my visual memory

To lose both, or even only one of this indispensable unit, would mean the end of my life; it really would kill me

What is your present state of mind?

Inspired, vigilant, alert and ambitious for more artistic ideas and inspiration, eagerly looking forward to my upcoming projects.


Burkard Schliessmann, recipient of the renowned Goethe-Prize of Frankfurt/Main 2019/20, Germany, is one of the most compelling pianists and artists of the modern era.

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