Tag Archives: interviews with musicians

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.


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


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 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 good voice, but aim to sing through my violin. I am very grateful to my parents, who were not at all wealthy, for giving me piano lessons from the age of 6, prioritising this 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 Galamain, and Dorothy DeLay. 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, 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, 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.

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, some of my favourite are the Mozart operas 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.

Support Madeleine Mitchell’s fundraising for her forthcoming album https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/record-new-violin-works-madeleinemitchell/ which closes on 15th June at 5.30pm

Sat 1st July 7.30pm Madeleine Mitchell performs as soloist with the Bloomsbury Orchestra in Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending and the premiere of Explorations of Themes of George Butterworth by Michael Turner at St James, Sussex Gardens, London W2 3UD http://www.bloomsburychamberorchestra.org.uk/ Tickets on the door £12 (£10 concs) or www.wegottickets.com

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, Bayerisher 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 and 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 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.  




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.


Meet the Artist……John Joubert, composer

A special Meet the Artist interview on the occasion of the 90th birthday of composer John Joubert


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

As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to do something creative. At first it was painting. I got quite far in this, partly because we had a marvellous art teacher at my preparatory school but also because my father was an accomplished draughtsman. In my early teens music began to take a more central part in my life largely because my mother, who had studied piano in London with Harriet Cohen, saw to it that music was integral to our domestic and educational background.

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

Two names occur to me – W.H. Bell and Claude Brown. Bell was a distinguished composer who had emigrated to South Africa in 1912 to become Head of the newly-formed Faculty of Music in the University of Cape Town. Having played an influential role in South Africa’s musical life he was living in retirement when I was first introduced to him by my mother. She had taken it upon herself to show him some of my first juvenile attempts at composition. What he saw in them I can’t imagine, but he must have recognised some potential as he offered there and then to take me on as a pupil. For the next three or four years until his sad death in 1946 we would meet as and when we could. During that time he gave me a thorough grounding in compositional technique which was to stand me in good stead as a basis for further development towards my then fixed goal to become a professional composer.

Claude Brown, my other main musical influence was the music master at my school. He came from an Anglican Cathedral background, having previously been Sir Ivor Atkins’s assistant at Worcester. The school had a strong musical tradition and it was here that I absorbed the influence of both Elgar and the the Anglican musical repertoire which Brown had experienced in England. Here again my mother played a part, as during a period of ‘straightened circumstances’ in our family, she insisted on keeping my brother and me at school despite strong pressure from other family sources for us to leave and get jobs to ease our financial situation.

Following my entry to the Royal Academy of Music in 1946 my ‘significant influences’ became the three composers I studied with there, namely Theodore Holland, Howard Ferguson and Alan Bush. Each had their own contribution to make on my development as a composer.

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

A big challenge was getting acclimatised to a new country (the terrible winter of 1947 was my first winter in England). I had no English relatives to turn to and for a long time my closest social contacts were the fellow South African students I had travelled over with on my 3-week voyage aboard the Winchester Castle (then still in its war-time adaptation as a troopship).

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

The pleasure of receiving a commission is having the sign that somebody out there likes your music and wants more of it. The pressure of meeting a deadline is of course a challenge, but challenges can be a stimulus that keeps you on your toes.

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

As a practising musician my principal activity apart from composing has been conducting whether choral or instrumental, professional or amateur. One of my most congenial tasks as a University Lecturer was to conduct the University of Birmingham Motet Choir. With such a group one could tackle quite demanding music, and we quite frequently did so, including some of my own.

Of which works are you most proud?

It is difficult from a catalogue of over 180 works to pick personal favourites but I think I would have to include the following: my Octet, the opera ‘Jane Eyr’e, song-cycle ‘Six Poems of Emily Bronte’, oratorio ‘The Raising of Lazarus’, Second Symphony, Sonata No 2 for piano, Pro Pace motets, String Quartet No 2, Temps Perdu (string orchestra), ‘South of the Line’, Piano Trio, ‘Landscapes’ (song cycle), oratorio ‘Wings of Faith’, ‘An English Requiem’, St Mark Passion and Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I try to achieve a personal voice based on traditional classical principles and carrying as lucidly as possible a strong emotional message.

How do you work?

Most mornings I am at my desk – which doesn’t mean I compose only in the mornings. I compose most of the time away from my desk whether consciously or unconsciously. I don’t compose at the piano, but I need a piano in order to try out different ways of seeking the clarity of expression I always strive for.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I love all the great classics up to and including Wagner. After him I love Mahler, Strauss and Elgar and after them, Stravinsky, Bartok, Walton, Britten and Shostakovich.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Seeing (and hearing) Richard Strauss conducting his Sinfonia Domestica (a greatly underrated work) at the Albert Hall during the Strauss Festival of 1947.

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

I think it was Eliot who advised aspiring writers to ‘work out your salvation with diligence’. I reckon the same goes for composers too!



John Joubert was born in Cape Town in 1927. Aged 19 he won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London and has lived and worked in England ever since. Joubert’s long composing career encompasses all genres from symphonic, operatic and chamber works to the ever-popular choral miniatures, Torches and There is no rose. The two Symphonies, three String Quartets, Oboe Concerto and Cello Concerto are recent additions to a growing catalogue of recordings from across his work list. Commissions of the last few years include An English Requiem for the 2010 Three Choirs Festival and Concerto for Cello and Chamber Orchestra for Raphael Wallfisch as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Joubert was featured composer at the new music wells 73-13 festival in June 2013 which included a new mass setting and anthem for the choir of Wells Cathedral. 2016 saw two major premieres: Joubert’s substantial St Mark Passion at Wells Cathedral and his opera ‘Jane Eyre’ – recorded live for Somm as one of several new releases to mark his 90th birthday in 2017.



Meet the Artist……Julia Morneweg, cellist


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

Genetic predisposition! My dad was a cellist in the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne. I didn’t however start playing the cello until I was 12 years old. When I was younger I always had a natural interest in the piano and at about 7 or 8 we got an electronic keyboard which quickly became my favourite toy. However for some reason still unbeknown to me, my parents never arranged formal piano lessons for me so I was almost entirely self-taught and didn’t have a proper piano lesson until I got to the RCM, by which time I was playing Beethoven Sonatas and all sorts of repertoire with far more enthusiasm than proper training!

At around 10 or 11 my parents suggested I should take up another instrument and I distinctly remember not thinking very much at all of the idea at the time (I just wanted to play the piano!), so I didn’t really get going on the cello for quite some time. Gradually the interest grew, but it wasn’t really until I started having lessons with Raphael Wallfisch at 15 that something clicked and I decided that this was what I wanted to do. Of course by that point I was so far behind everyone else that I had to do what other people would do in 10 years in 2! I worked incredibly hard and got into music college at 17, first in Hannover and then in London at the RCM.

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

I think my time at the RCM was hugely influential in terms of opening my eyes to the huge range of possibilities one has as a musician. Growing up and studying in Germany that wasn’t high on the agenda – you were expected to get an orchestral job and that was certainly the done thing in my own family! (My dad worked in the same orchestra for 43 years!) I think I am temperamentally wholly unsuited to knowing my schedule 12 months in advance, so discovering that your career can encompass many different aspects of performing and teaching was great and I ran with it. There is certainly no lack of diversity in my career now and I rarely know my full schedule even one week in advance!

As a cellist I think I always have soaked up influences not only from my teachers but also from many fantastic players (of all instruments) I have had the privilege of working with and that’s very much an ongoing process. I think it’s hugely important to be able to look at any piece of music you play not just through the prism of your own instrument, but to have a much wider base of knowledge and inspiration to drawn upon.

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

At the moment my greatest challenge is trying to find the perfect cello. This is hugely complicated by the fact that I am quite tall, but have absolutely tiny hands! Trying to find an instrument with the right proportions that also has the power and the quality to project in a large hall and keep up with the amazing instruments I am regularly surrounded by, is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. So far I found one perfect match – regrettably about £200,000 above budget!

Apart from that, the never-ending challenge is trying to keep on top of all my commitments (concerts, rehearsals, practice, travelling, students, managing a concert series etc…) and still have some sort of home life and down-time. Especially when your partner leads exactly the same life, trying to arrange going out for lunch or dinner, let alone a proper holiday, becomes a major logistical task! (And the laundry basket is constantly overflowing…)

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Hmmm…tricky! I think playing Shostakovich’s second Piano Trio at the Purcell Room a few years ago would have to be up there. It’s such a scary piece for any cellist, so to do it well in a very pressurised environment was a huge relief.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think whatever I really get my teeth into, but very often that happens to be 20th century music.

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

Unfortunately I have found the choice to be less and less mine! In more than 10 years of touring the UK chamber music scene with my trio I found that, no matter what pieces we offered – and there were many, what promoters asked for remained largely unchanged. The repertoire favourites, sure to bring in a capacity audience, with only occasional forays into anything more adventurous.

So last year I took matters into my own hands and founded ChamberMusicBox, a London concert series where people only find out what’s on the programme as the concert unfolds! This year we have a pool of 25 fantastic players and each and every concert is a completely mixed bag of music for strings, woodwind, piano and occasionally even voice. I have had to learn phenomenal amounts of notes since the series began, but it is so satisfying!

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

I have been fortunate to perform in so many fantastic halls around the world, including some amazing brand new ones in Asia, but I think one of my favourite halls to play in would have to be Zurich’s Tonhalle. Both the small as well as the large hall have wonderful acoustics.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One piece I never get tired of playing is Schnittke’s Piano Trio. It was actually the first trio I played at the RCM, and what was supposed to be a one-off concert actually started off my chamber music career path. We were incredibly fortunate to work on the piece with the late Alexander Ivashkin, Schnittke’s close friend and biographer, who brought the story behind the piece to live so vividly that it has ever since remained one of my very favourite works to perform. Sadly Sasha Ivashkin died three years ago, but everything he shared with us goes on stage with me every time I get to play it. It’s the most emotionally draining piece, but I just love it.

As a listener I am absolutely addicted to opera and singing in general.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, singers feature very heavily in that list: Placido Domingo, Jessye Norman, the great Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, and many great singers of the 20th century such as Mirella Freni.

As a cellist growing up I have always had huge admiration for Leonard Rose. His playing was everything cello playing should be. But there are so many other players I love, too many to mention.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think I would have to go with the most comical one of my career to date here! Several years ago I played at a festival in Sussex on a hot July day. At the time I was (yet again!) trying out a very nice Italian cello which I considered buying and this cello happened to be fitted with a certain type of mechanical metal pegs (they have largely gone out of fashion – thankfully!) which really didn’t seem to like going from a hot car into a cold church. Less than an hour before the concert the first peg started to slip. And the next. And another. No amount of tuning, pushing or shoving would keep these pegs in place and half an hour before the concert I had to admit my predicament to the organiser. He calmly told me not to worry and that he’d quickly nip home to fetch a cello he had. Fifteen minutes later he returned with a cello rather peculiar in colour and even more peculiar in sound. I had no choice but to play the concert on this cello. Only afterwards was I told its history: bought for £2 in an antique shop in Plymouth, it was completely stripped of its original varnish and repainted in a different colour – with fence paint!

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

Being a great player isn’t enough to guarantee you a great career! Today’s music profession demands so much more of those who enter it and I think as teachers we have a responsibility to be very open and honest about that. I would encourage aspiring musicians to be incredibly proactive and open-minded as to where their career path as performers may lead as, quite frequently, it will be somewhere totally different from where you thought it would lead when you entered college. Of course the reality is that, especially in London, you are eventually likely to be combining numerous different types of work, from chamber music to sessions, orchestral freelancing, teaching etc… You need to be extremely adaptable.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Cooking for those around me! I can regularly be found in the kitchen late at night after a concert cooking for whoever happens to be sat around our dining table at the time.


Since graduating with honours from the Royal College of Music in 2007, Julia Morneweg has quickly established a remarkably versatile career as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player.

The recipient of an EMI Music Foundation Award, she made her London concerto debut in 2006 performing the Elgar Concerto at St John’s Smith Square which immediately led to further engagements including a performance of Haydn’s C major Concerto with the International Mahler Orchestra at the same venue as well as Elgar with the Ternopol Philharmonic Orchestra in the Ukraine. Other concerto performances have included Lalo in London and Vivaldi in Cologne. As a recitalist she has appeared around the UK, Belgium, Italy, Germany and at venues such as the Purcell Room, Oxford’s Holywell Music Rooms, Trieste Opera House, St. Martin in the Fields, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the 2007 Charterhouse Festival (by invitation of renowned flautist Susan Milan) and the Tacoma International Music Festival, USA when she was only 16. Most recent festival appearances have included the Leamington, Lower Machen, Uckfield and Shipley Arts Festivals. Julia has collaborated with many renowned artists including Shlomo Mintz, Anna Kandinskaya, Mikhail Bereznitsky, Joan Enric Lluna, Sergei Podobedov, Kathron Sturrock, and Oleg Poliansky to name a few.

Julia Morneweg’s full biography

Meet the Artist……Kirill Gerstein, pianist

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

I think for me, music and the piano emerged from the fog of my earliest memories because the piano was always in the house for as long as I can remember. My mother was teaching in a music college but also at home, so in that sense the piano, and especially music, were always there. It started as a sort of game with my mother: that was the trigger.

As for this whole music “career” business, I didn’t know until I was about 10 or 11 that I adored the piano. I loved music more than the instrument to begin with and then the love of the instrument came at a later stage. So I knew I wanted to do something with music but not whether I would or could be a concert pianist. But from about the age of 10, I switched to a better teacher and all of a sudden I had this tremendous interest in the instrument. Then I won a children’s competition in Poland and one thing led to another…

I can’t point to an earth-shattering moment when I knew “this is what I want to do” – it was more of a gradual, organic process.

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

The most significant teachers (and this is not to do any disservice to other people from whom I received advice) and musical influences would be Dmitri Bashkirov with whom I studied in Madrid, and Ferenc Rados, who I studied with in Budapest, and wherever else we would meet. Those two are really the most significant musically speaking. But then I have received a lot of inspiration and ideas from Andras Schiff, for example, and Alexis Weissenberg, who, when he was still alive, gave me some very important impulses. Then there are conductors, like Semyon Bychkov, who have given me a lot of inspiration and advice, so I must say I feel very fortunate. It’s always been purposeful, because I seek out these people to learn something from them and that has been incredibly fruitful and stimulating. But when thinking about music and playing music, Bashkirov and Rados have been the most significant.

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

Well let’s start with the fact that music is difficult and the piano is a bloody difficult instrument to play! On the one hand it’s challenging, but on the other hand, it’s what keeps it so incredibly interesting and vital to continue, otherwise life would be terribly boring. Playing music on an instrument with one’s body is an extremely challenging occupation. Then there’s the fact that as an instrumentalist, you are forced to reflect on everything inside yourself – psychological limitations, fears, advantages, disadvantages. So staring at your reflection day in day out with such great intimacy and with the purpose of self-improving is also a challenge but is one that I nevertheless love and think is a great way of reaching a better understanding of oneself.

Other challenges include not allowing oneself to be distracted by the so-called “business” of a musical career and everything that that entails, to maintain a good level of mental and spiritual energy, trying to improve every day, learning new repertoire, getting better, and so on.

I think this balancing act is quite hard. And as everybody knows, the so-called “music business” is challenging because it comes with a lot of hurdles, but at the end of the day, it’s not the most significant thing in the world. To keep the soul in balance is a challenge, but generally balance is difficult to find in life! And what is important to know is that this balance is ever-changing.

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

Eclectically (!) which I think is important and also in some ways purposeful. It has to start with something that deeply interests me: for example, the Transcendental Études are an interesting challenge for myself but one that I hope I can make interesting for audiences too because it’s not just for me.

It also comes from particular personal interests. I hate programming that looks like “Oh here’s another piece I learnt so let me play that for you”, so eventually there needs to be some kind of coherence or connection or inner logic which isn’t necessarily musicological or historical. This then influences what I choose, what goes well with what, a bit like making a menu… Alexis Weissenberg once said to me, “nothing betrays the personality of the pianist better than the way he puts together his recital programmes and the height of his stool at the instrument” and I think there is some witty wisdom in that comment. Especially in the case of concertos, less so with recital repertoire, I’ve been quite open to external impulses or suggestions from a conductor. There are a number of concertos I would not necessarily have thought of learning but then you fall in love or become intimately associated with the piece. So I enjoy external influences in that sense. But essentially I don’t agree to do anything that I don’t like or can’t believe in.

What is the special fascination of Liszt’s Transcendental Études for you?

It’s multi-faceted: I think Liszt is a great fascination because as modern pianists we owe the majority of our musical and pianistic lives to him in the sense that he has shaped our hands through the pianistic advice he has created, and he influenced the majority of what is played since his time. Everything that came later – Busoni, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Prokofiev – is the result of everything that Liszt came up with during the 20-25 years he was occupied with the Transcendental Études in their various incarnations. So the Transcendental Études are the Everest of piano literature, but also a distillation of Liszt as a pianistic experience. But obviously we owe him far more than the pianistic experience: there are the musical inventions, without which we would not have Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Debussy, Busoni etc. There’s also the whole business of performing recitals as a soloist which we owe largely to Liszt – as Busoni said, “Liszt is the tree and we are all branches of that tree.”

It’s also a personal project. I wanted to take the “Transcendental Études journey” in order to self-improve through working on it and pursuing it as a cycle as I don’t think it is a random collection of 12 studies. It’s also of course so much more than a technical journey. Arthur Friedheim, an important student of Liszt, said something like “I had the privilege and honour of walking in the footsteps of the great” and I think the sentiment relates to Liszt, and essentially all the other great composers that we play. We get to follow in the “finger steps” of these great minds and spirits that have walked the keyboard, and in that sense it’s really a tremendous experience to be in touch with history in this way. But it’s not just a question of digging archaeologically; it’s about making the music, and therefore history, alive again so it can be felt in the air until it dissipates. This is one of the great privileges of being a performer. When playing Liszt, it’s the most amazing experience when you let him take over your hands, body and mind.

Having said that though, this wasn’t the intended outcome. When I started studying the Transcendental Études a year before I recorded them, I wasn’t certain whether I would be able to play them let alone very well. Everything began to emerge as I went further along the journey.

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

There are very divergent styles of concert venues – old concert halls, such as the Musikverein, are incredible. Boston Symphony Hall is also of this kind. Those two could easily be named as favourites. Then there are the great American halls of the turn of 20th-century and the 1920s – Carnegie, Severance Hall (Cleveland), Orchestra Hall (Chicago). There are also some really excellent new venues, but they are hard to compare to the old ones because of the different mentality towards sound.

Symphony Hall in Birmingham is also wonderful, and I quite like the hall in Copenhagen and the KKL in Luzern … but it would be hard to say if I prefer a particular hall. They are all different animals and it’s wonderful to have the variety.

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

Generally, at the risk of sounding condescending, I do feel it’s important to share one’s experiences because they may resonate with a person who is on an earlier but similar path to yourself – and this is one of the reasons why I started teaching relatively early at the age of 26. I am not sure whether it’s possible to “impart” curiosity but it’s important to stimulate it along with a love of what we do. Love and curiosity are almost one and the same thing or at least are closely related.

The curiosity about the big and small aspects of we do – how your index finger may depress that one key, curiosity about the repertoire, the culture, what role music and art can play in our lives – these are all a big part of that. If someone is not curious, you cannot impart curiosity. But when someone is curious, I think it is our responsibility to nourish and stimulate it.

Kirill Gerstein performs Liszt’s Trancendental Etudes, together with music by Brahms and Bach on Sunday 12th February at St George’s Hall Concert Room in Liverpool. Further details here

The multifaceted pianist Kirill Gerstein has rapidly ascended into classical music’s highest ranks.  With a masterful technique, discerning intelligence, and a musical curiosity that has led him to explore repertoire spanning centuries and styles, he has proven to be one of today’s most intriguing and versatile musicians. His early training and experience in jazz has contributed an important element to his interpretive style, inspiring an energetic and expressive musical personality that distinguishes his playing.

Mr. Gerstein is the sixth recipient of the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, presented every four years to an exceptional pianist who, regardless of age or nationality, possesses broad and profound musicianship and charisma and who desires and can sustain a career as a major international concert artist. Since receiving the award in 2010, Mr. Gerstein has shared his prize through the commissioning of boundary-crossing works by Timo Andres, Chick Corea, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen, and Brad Mehldau, with additional commissions scheduled for future seasons. Mr. Gerstein was awarded First Prize at the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, received a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and a 2010 Avery Fisher Grant.

Kirill Gerstein’s full biography


(photo: Marco Borggreve)

Meet the Artist…… Olga Jegunova, pianist

© Gerard Uferas Olga Jegunova 12_02_15

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

My grandfather who had a natural musical talent and could not imagine his life without his violin. He was played it passionately at every family gathering. He also bought our piano. Later, my mother taught me how to play a C major scale. Since then, I am still learning how to play it….

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

Musically, it is J.S.Bach. He has always moved me, paralyzed any fear or disbelief. Later, recordings of great Rubinstein, Horowitz, Gilels, Gould, Richter, Michelangeli, Karajan, Callas, Oistrakh, Rostropovich. Then live concerts of Zacharias, Zimerman, Schiff, Argerich, Perahia, Maazel, Bartoli, Rattle and many others. They all form my musical taste and repertoire.

As per career, I should be influenced by the PR company of Lang Lang but sadly I am not!

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

To actually have a career.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ibert – Le petit ane (avalable on YouTube) when I was 10 years old because it made my mum proud.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

4’33” by John Cage.

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

Concert promoters always want a Moonlight sonata but I try to spice it up with some Bach & Ligeti (this season).

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

There are so many of them. I am not so obsessed with venue what worries me is no audience, empty hall or just a few people with ringing mobile phones.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It is great to share great music with good audience. Yet the most non-judgemental experience was when I was playing “Peter and the wolf” to the 5-year old kids.

I like to listen to all sorts of music, I have my Ramstein moments, yet I listen to a lot of classical music, often jazz and some good pop/rock.

Who are your favourite musicians?


What is your most memorable concert experience?

My very first concert at the age of 5 or 6 – very scary but I loved the applause.

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

Being a musician is a life-long service. It is hard, non-profitable and lonely. But it is a very important input into people’s minds and hearts. It gives another dimension to our being. And without this dimension it would be too miserable and too technical.

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

At the piano, safe, warm and loved.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

See above.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being happily quiet.

Olga Jegunova’s disc ‘Poetic Piano Sonatas’ is available now


(photo © Gerard Uferas)