Tag Archives: interviews with musicians

“Every performance is a challenge”

Julian Lloyd Webber, acclaimed cellist and Principal of the newly rebuilt Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, on inspiration, passion and the importance of music education

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

I always loved the sound of the cello and I found it a very natural instrument to play – unlike the piano which my mother attempted to teach me. Therein lies a lesson: never learn an instrument from your parents!

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

I wanted to play the cello professionally after I heard the great Russian cellist Rostropovich in concert.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career?

Every performance is a challenge.

You are a passionate advocate of music education? Why do you feel we need proper provision for music education in our schools?

Children deserve a wider education than just a few narrow subjects. They should leave school knowing a lot about the world – and that includes its culture.

As Principal of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, how do you see this institution’s role in the context of music education in the UK and beyond, and the wider society of the city of Birmingham and the UK in general?

Birmingham is a fantastic city with a great future – soon Londoners will realise that they can have a far better lifestyle for much less cost in Birmingham. Unfortunately that will be the end of the city’s comparatively low property prices. The Royal Conservatoire will be at the heart of the city. We have five performance spaces and we will be running an extensive programme of concerts of every kind of music.

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

Keep thinking for yourself and never lose your passion for what you do.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Bringing music to as many people as possible.
Professor Julian Lloyd Webber is the Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire. Widely regarded as one of the finest musicians of his generation and described by Strad magazine as ‘the doyen of British cellists’, Julian Lloyd Webber has enjoyed one of the most creative and successful careers in classical music today. As founder of the British Government’s In Harmony programme and the Chair of Sistema England, he continues to promote personal and community development in some of England’s most deprived areas. He was elected Fellow of the Royal College of Music in 1994 and – in recognition of his lifelong devotion to the music of Elgar – he was elected President of the Elgar Society in 2009.

At the age of sixteen Julian Lloyd Webber won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and he completed his studies in Geneva with the renowned cellist, Pierre Fournier. Since then he has collaborated with an extraordinary array of musicians from Lord Yehudi Menuhin, Lorin Maazel and Sir Georg Solti to Elton John and Stephane Grappelli.

Julian Lloyd Webber has premiered more than sixty works for cello and he has inspired new compositions from composers as diverse as Joaquin Rodrigo and Malcolm Arnold to Philip Glass, James MacMillan and – most recently – Eric Whitacre. His many recordings have received worldwide acclaim: his Brit-award winning Elgar Concerto conducted by Lord Menuhin was chosen as the finest ever version by BBC Music Magazine and his coupling of Britten’s Cello Symphony and Walton’s Concerto with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Sir Neville Marriner was described by Gramophone magazine as being “beyond any rival”. He has also recorded several highly successful CDs of shorter pieces including Cello Song, Unexpected Songs and – together with Jiaxin Lloyd Webber – A Tale of Two Cellos: “It would be difficult to find better performances of this kind of repertoire anywhere on records of today or yesterday” – Gramophone.

Julian is married to fellow cellist Jiaxin Cheng. He was the London Underground’s first official busker and he was the only classical musician chosen to perform at the Closing Ceremony of Olympics 2012. In April 2014 Julian received the Incorporated Society of Musician’s annual Distinguished Musician Award.

www.julianlloydwebber.com

Meet the Artist……Danny Driver, pianist

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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

I remember sitting in a school assembly at the age of five, hearing schoolmates perform little piano pieces, and thinking to myself quite definitely, as other children of that age surely do in their inimitable fashion: ‘I want to do that too’! It used to bother me that this initial self-generated impulse to play music was ‘sociological’ rather than ‘musical’, motivated more by the situation and ritual of musical performance than by its content. But much later I realised that what I love doing is to commune and communicate with people through the beautiful world of sound and sound structures. Thus the original ‘sociological’ motivation makes very good sense to me.

The point at which I decided to attempt a professional career in music did not come until the age of eighteen. This resolve came to me a few days after arriving at university to start a degree in Natural Sciences. As I had combined various interests for years throughout my school life, this more serious commitment to music didn’t need to divert me from my scientific studies. In fact, I found the university environment to be ideal in terms of the opportunities it offered for making music with others, broadening my study skills, and meeting colleagues with a wide range of interests. Perhaps not studying music for my degree helped avoid some potentially constraining burdens of expectation.

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

I was fortunate to have an outstanding music teacher at primary school. She brimmed with enthusiasm and energy, quickly making music a favourite topic for me. She taught me the piano until I was ten, and as I recall, more than ‘just’ the piano – there was basic theory too right from the start. Her talents extended to composing dramatic works for children – I remember taking part in one, aged eight, as an auxiliary percussionist among a small group of professional freelancers, on one occasion playing a mark tree in an inappropriate improvised manner and far too loudly.

As I became more serious about the piano, several pianists became a great source of inspiration and support, each in their own way. Alexander Kelly, Piers Lane, Irina Zaritskaya, and lastly Maria Curcio, all oversaw and supported my pianistic development. But that development was also brought on by wider musical experience. I played the clarinet, french horn, and composed enthusiastically. At the Junior Royal Academy of Music I joined a piano quartet that rehearsed and performed together for a period of four years. During the summer holidays I would often find myself at semi-staged opera performances and observing voice masterclasses. I can’t unpick what was most important and why, at least not yet.

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

Without doubt it is juggling the demands of performance with those of teaching and of family life. In addition, as someone who is curious about new, neglected, and forgotten works as well as ‘mainstream’ classical repertoire, I need to spend a lot of time learning pieces, and this can be more exhausting than the travel and performance schedule itself. Last year I was preparing Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and at the same time practising the first two books of Ligeti’s Piano Études – I should probably avoid allowing those two worlds to collide again in order to preserve my sanity.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

With regard to recordings, I don’t know how to answer as I rarely listen to my recordings once they have been released. Perhaps I should, but I am inevitably more concerned with the journey ahead, asking myself how can I improve my performances and deepen my interpretative insights rather than patting myself on the back. This isn’t to say that I don’t take pride in my work, especially if I feel a concert performance or recording session has gone well, but anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t indulge myself.

One performance does come to mind: some years ago I decided to accept an engagement to play Saint-Saens Fifth Concerto at three weeks’ notice. I hadn’t played a note of the work before, but rightly calculated that it was possible to learn and memorise this piece in time. I worked very methodically to ensure I did so. The concert went very well and the performance was released as an unedited live recording.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I don’t know the answer – that’s up to my listeners to decide, and I trust them. I have to trust them as much as they trust me.

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

There is no set formula, and I must admit that I am reluctant to make decisions very far ahead. My guiding principles are firstly that I have to be passionate about and deeply involved with the music I am to play, so that I can share it with others effectively; secondly, I like to construct programmes that can feel like a kind of journey, even though they often traverse a huge range of music written over at least two centuries.

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

I am fortunate to perform in some beautiful halls with very good acoustics, but I love the way that each venue (even a dry speech theatre, as occasionally happens) creates a particular set of challenges that demand engagement from performers and listeners alike. For me the moment of communication and the content of the music are much more important than the venue, even though a comfortable venue helps performers and listeners alike.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are several: Krystian Zimerman at the Royal Festival Hall performing Ravel’s Valse Nobles et Sentimentales, Chopin’s Ballade no 4 and the Sonata in B flat minor incomparably; Yo-Yo Ma playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the Houston Symphony; Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony at the Barbican; Simon Rattle and the Rotterdam Philharmonic performing Parsifal at the Proms (yes, I stood up for the entire opera, and didn’t feel even a slight ache); Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting a small ensemble in Franco Donatoni’s Hot.

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

Live your life to the full and never stop searching. You can never know enough, be experienced enough, ‘finish the work’, or be truly satisfied! This is potentially frustrating but also liberating because the process leading up to each performance is what becomes important and enriching. Aspiring musicians should gain the widest possible musical experience, get to know and engage with other art forms, read widely…. You never know where an idea or an inspiration might be lurking, and behind every seemingly simple answer lies a multitude of questions.

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

Doing what I do now, hopefully quite a lot better.

 

British pianist Danny Driver trained with Alexander Kelly and Piers Lane whilst studying at Cambridge University, with Irina Zaritskaya at the Royal College of Music in London, and completed his studies privately with Maria Curcio. As a student he won numerous awards including the Royal Over-Seas League Keyboard Competition and the title of BBC Radio 2 Young Musician of the Year.

Read Danny Driver’s full biography

Meet the Artist……Melvyn Tan, pianist

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

No one. My sister 10 years my senior played the piano so I followed in her footsteps, and it sort of developed from there. I did already realise when I was quite young that music would play a huge part of my life.

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

I was fortunate enough to earn a place at the Yehudi Menuhin School and there teachers came and went, but were many of Yehudi’s friends and colleagues. Amongst them was the great Nadia Boulanger who gave classes when I was a student there, and Vlado Perlemuter who inspired my love for Ravel, as did the even more elderly Marcel Ciampi, my love of Debussy.

You are performing in the London Piano Festival this October – tell us more about this?

This is my first appearance at the Festival and I am looking forward to it immensely. One of the highlights for me is the world premiere of Kevin Volans’s piece L’Africaine for Piano solo. I have known Kevin for years but this is the first piece I am performing by him. The programme will also comprise Ravel’s great set of 5 pieces Miroirs, as well as his Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and Weber Invitation to the Dance.

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

There have been many, but a few are etched firmly in my memory. Spitalfields Festival invited me to perform Messiaen’s great piece the Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus a few years back, and after much deliberation I decided to go for it. Learning that piece changed my life, not just musically, but as a person. Its one of the strongest pieces of music I know.

Another occasion was my coming back recital in Singapore after an absence of nearly 34 years, and I simply did not know how the audience would respond and react. It proved to be a memorable occasion, not least for my parents who waited so long for that day to happen.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I have fond memories of everything I have done. But I would specially mention my latest CD ‘Master and Pupil’ which traces Liszt’s influences back to Beethoven and especially Czerny, who was devoted to his talented pupil and continued to be an inspiration all through Liszt’s life.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

My performing range has widened significantly over the years. From Beethoven and Mozart through the French Impressionists and the 21st century. It would be very difficult to choose a period or type. I really do feel at home in everything I do.

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

Depending on the engagements that come up. Sometimes one does not have a choice. I tend to keep or try to keep a nice balance between concertos and solos, but there is always a new solo repertoire each season which I like to try out.

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

The concert halls in Asia are superb, and I am very proud to go back to Singapore to perform in the wonderful halls there, particularly the Esplanade and the Hall at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of music. Having said that the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is wonderful as is the Wigmore Hall and Kings Place in London.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love the golden oldies – Schnabel, the Busch Quartet, Arrau, and many many more – too many to mention here.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The occasion when I first performed Weber’s wonderfully funny witty piece the Konzertstuck with Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players at St John’s Smith Square many many years ago. It was the one of the most exhilarating evenings I can remember and on the strength of that concert EMI eventually invited me to record with them and Sir Roger.

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

To believe in what you are doing. To take the rough with the smooth. We can’t always have success. Sometimes failure can teach us more about something than success ever can.

Humility. Nothing I detest more than diva-ish behaviour. We are all human.

 

What is your most treasured possession?

My 60th birthday present from my partner Paul by sculptor Geoffrey Clarke and his son, who designed the altarpiece at Coventry Cathedral. It’s of a phoenix about to take flight… Maybe quite appropriate at this stage in life!

 

Melvyn Tan performs music by Weber and Ravel and premieres a new work by Kevin Volans at King’s Place on Saturday 7 October as part of the 2017 London Piano Festival

www.melvyntan.com

Meet the Artist……Jason Rebello, pianist

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

Seeing Herbie Hancock perform in 1983

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

Herbie Hancock, Julian Joseph, John Coltrane.

You are performing in the London Piano Festival this October – tell us more about this? 

I’ll be performing material from my latest solo piano album ‘Held’. Also I’ll be playing my versions of music by Paul Mcartney, Sting and Errol Garner

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

Playing ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with the Hallé Orchestra and arranging for them too.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

‘Enter the Fire’ – Tim Garland, ‘Make it real’ – me, and ‘Anything but look’ -me.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Hard to say, I enjoy many styles of jazz.

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

I go with what feels right to me.

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

Anywhere with a nice piano and a nice sounding room is fine with me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I like Ivo Neame, Julian Joseph, Gwlym Simcock and Wayne Shorter at the moment…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing at the Albert Hall with Sting.

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

To never forget that music is for enjoyment and communication.

 

For the closing concert of the London Piano Festival, Jason will perform material from Held as well as music from Sting to Errol Garner and beyond. Full details here

 

Meet the Artist……Francesco Tristiano, pianist

Francesco-032 by Marie Staggat

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

There has always been a piano at my house, perhaps a strategic move by my mother. Soon I found myself curious about which sounds I could trigger out of the instrument. Then I realized the piano is itself a world.

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

Growing up I found the most inspiration in three musicians of the twentieth century: Paco de Lucia, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Joe Zawinul. And the discovery of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

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

Not to repeat myself, not to fall into a routine.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Pride is not a feeling I measure I measure my achievements with. Perhaps my album ‘Idioynkrasia’ (inFine, 2011) is my most personal, and ‘Piano Circle Songs’ (Sony, 2017) the most challenging.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

When I was 5 years old, I said to my piano teacher: “I only want to play the music of Bach, and my own music” She thought I was a cute little boy, and taught me how to play the piano.

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

The complete works for keyboard of J S Bach is a project for a lifetime, not necessarily a season.

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

I like a variety of venues, and also alternating them. There are some fantastic concert halls in Japan for instance, really pristine acoustics. D-Edge, a club in Sao Paulo, Brazil, has a great sound system and vibe.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably a show at Jeita Grotto in Lebanon. Stalactites and stalagmites, plus a 7-second reverb.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be in line with what you do artistically. (Whether this works out commercially speaking is another question)

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

Wake up, listen up, be yourself.

What is your present state of mind?

Aspiring serenity.

 

 

Francesco Tristiano’s ‘Piano Circle Songs’ is released on the Sony label. Francesco performs music from his new album, with Canadian pianist and songwriter Chilly Gonzales with whom the project was developed, at the Southbank Centre on 20 September 2017 – details here

Francesco Tristiano’s biography

 

Artist photo by Marie Staggat

Meet the Artist……Lisa Smirnova, pianist

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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
It was an coincidence that I took up the piano. But later I chose independently to pursue a career as a musician, because I noticed that nothing other than making
music made me feel great.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Practically, it was my teacher Karl Heinz Kaemmerling, and my wonderful colleague, the violinist Benjamin Schmid – both during my studies at Mozarteum in Salzburg. Exposure to Friedrich Gulda and Nikolaus Harnoncourt were turning
points and led to greater inspiration for my musical understanding.

You are performing in the London Piano Festival this October – tell us more about this?
I loved Katya and Charles’ idea of performing what one likes most, and immediately said “yes”. Repertoire from the baroque and classical periods is my best repertoire. My interests and performing style have nothing to do with the “Russian piano school”, and I am deeply convinced that the modern piano offers the widest range of possibilities to create the sound appropriate for these works.
So I chose three composers: Scarlatti – his sonatas, of which there are so many, are one better than the next and always perfect for a discovery. Mozart is simply my favourite composer – I feel very close not only to his music, but to his entire personality. And Handel’s Suite is part of my award winning recording project for ECM.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
To start up from absolute zero with no money whatsoever. And to realize later on, that it is not only the musicianship, but Marketing and PR that you have to put your efforts in – a very disappointing discovery.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
The already mentioned Handel Suites for ECM, and the brand new Mozart Piano Concerti with my New Classic Ensemble Vienna – we just recorded and produced them for the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Mozart Piano Concerti

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
It is a mixture between requests from promoters and the works I would like to study or perform again – I try to find challenging combinations.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
The Concertgebouw Amsterdam. Everything feels perfect to me: The size, the acoustics, they always had a wonderful piano when I played…. and the red carpet on the stairs when you come down on stage feels like Hollywood….

Who are your favourite musicians?
Glenn Gould, Maria Callas, Friedrich Gulda, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Andras Schiff

What is your most memorable concert experience?
The one when my “plan” with a certain piece of music worked out, and fortunately there have been many.


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

To be honest, I don’t know, as I am still learning something new myself each day.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness is the flow to be so entirely occupied with what you do at the moment that nothing else exists. Naturally this cannot last your whole life, but also happiness cannot.

What is your most treasured possession?
My time.

Lisa Smirnova performs in the 2017 London Piano Festival at Kings Place in two concerts on 7 October. Further information and tickets here


Austrian-Russian pianist Lisa Smirnova is an internationally recognized concert artist renowned for her interpretations of baroque and Classical repertoire. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recently remarked that her “sense of style, use of phrasing and ornamentation and tempi, that make the piano an instrument of harmony of vibrating strings, gave her performance its transcendent and unmistakable character.”
(picture © Lisa Smirnova)