interviews with musicians

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

I honestly don’t recall having a specific moment where I decided to make music my career! Both of my parents are professional instrumentalists at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, so I quite literally grew up in the Civic Opera House, learning music as my true mother tongue. I was even a little gingerbread munchkin in Lyric’s production of Hansel und Gretel when I was six! Genuinely terrified of the witch, I learned that we are able to experience the stories we tell on stage just as viscerally as our ‘real’ lives. I simply haven’t known any other way of living, so while I entertained the idea of other professions, I got hooked on always having an outlet to express myself and I can’t seem imagine doing anything else. Music is as much a lifestyle as it is a profession.

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

Most definitely my parents; there’s nothing like hearing Strauss played on the horn everyday growing up to influence a soprano! My folks started me on piano at the age of four and violin at seven before I got anywhere near singing lessons, but it became clear that voice was my calling when I began to sight-sing all my concertos, my violin conveniently resting on the lid of our piano. I must have been born with a singer’s brain because I could always learn music faster with my voice than with an instrument in hand! I was also really shaped by my time in the Chicago Children’s Choir, a boundary-busting organization dedicated to bringing kids of diverse socio-economic backgrounds together by exploring music of all genres and styles from across the globe. My time in CCC taught me that my work as an artist always has the potential to make a cultural or societal impact.

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

Something I have to consciously work at is staying grounded. I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life, often getting swept away by my extremely active imagination which is often on the train to la-la-land. When I discovered yoga, I realized that I could help myself stay in the present if I choose to do so. Dedicating myself to a consistent mindfulness practice has completely changed my life, and I love it so much that I actually completed a yoga teacher training program last spring! It can be difficult to set time aside for self-care, but the impact of even ten minutes of stillness has such a large ripple effect throughout my mind-set, relationships, singing, and general well-being that I try my best to include some quality yoga-and-meditation-time each day.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oof, I think I have two! Last summer, I was a Vocal Fellow at Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, where I spent an idyllic four-weeks completely saturated in some of my favorite art song repertoire. In one of the final performances, I got to sink my teeth into some lesser-known, extremely romantic Joseph Marx lieder in a livestreamed recital (which is now on YouTube!), the perfect end to a perfect month. The other event which stands out for me is when I was 20 and performed the North American premiere of Jesse Jones’ One Bright Morning on tour with Oberlin’s Contemporary Music Ensemble to my hometown, Chicago. Seeing all my loved ones’ faces in the audience for my first big premiere made the occasion only that much more special. We recorded the piece and it’s going to be released on the Oberlin Music label sometime soon!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Joseph Schwantner’s Two Poems of Agueda Pizarro is a favorite of mine. I have a video of the work posted online and somehow Schwantner himself found it, tracked my website down, and sent me a lovely note about my performance! I most definitely screamed when I saw that a Pulitzer-Prize winning composer had popped up in my inbox.

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

Who my audience is plays a key role in what I choose to perform. I always try to find a balance between both obscure and familiar repertoire, but the calibration of the two depends on the occasion. Sometimes I aim to create an environment where listeners can turn inward and explore themselves more intimately and other times I hope to encourage empathy and an expansion of the definition of ‘self.’ My goal, always, is to use the energy of music to connect and heal. I strive to work from these intentions outwards, using music as the medium for sharing radical honesty and generosity.

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

I’m really looking forward to my Wigmore Hall debut with The Prince Consort this March, to say the least! So many of the most influential artists in music have performed in that intimate space; it’s where history itself is made. I also love singing in Preston Bradley Hall in Chicago’s Cultural Center, one of the lesser known gems in my hometown, because of its enormous Tiffany glass dome and view of Millennium Park. It feels like home!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Hannigan, Kurt Elling, Renée Fleming, Jonas Kaufman, Robert Glasper, Karina Gauvin, Frank Sinatra, Yo-Yo Ma, Beyoncé

What is your most memorable concert experience?

While I was a student at Oberlin, I played the role of Thérèse in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias, this crazy surrealist one-act where the main character denounces her femininity and goes off to regain authority of her life. In the first scene, as she rejects the restrictions of being a woman, she grows a beard and moustache….and her breasts fly away because they’re secretly balloons! I had a blast shocking the audience each night, so much so that I even choreographed a one-handed cartwheel into my staging just for the heck of it. I felt so free in our little surrealist world, buoyant enough let go of myself and explore the absurd.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success for me comes down to honesty. Even though I am a recovering perfection addict, I still believe my best performances have been the ones where my feet were firmly planted on the ground, my head was held high, and my heart beat proudly on my sleeve, regardless of miscellaneous mistakes and mishaps. Vulnerability is often both a performer’s kryptonite and Achilles’ heal, so I call it a success when I’ve allowed myself to be entirely generous with my spirit and had a little fun while I was at it.

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

We are first and foremost human beings; our art can only be born out of our humanity.

On a more tangible level, I want to emphasize that our minds and bodies are as much our instruments as the cello, trombone, or vocal cords which vibrate to create sonic waves. The more lined up the mind-body-spirit connection is, the easier making music gets.

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

Doing it all and probably trying to find enough hours in the day to make it happen! I would love to have a balance between opera, concert, and recital work with a healthy mixture of classical and contemporary repertoire. Maybe not in 10 years’ time but in 20, I would like to have a hand in creative strategic planning to help steer how we move classical music forward. I have always envisioned myself with a family, so that’s a must for me, too.

What’s your current state of mind?

Sleepy but satisfied 🙂

 


Chicago-born soprano Olivia Boen completed her undergraduate studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in May of 2017 and will be starting her MM at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London this autumn. Olivia has been seen on the Oberlin Opera Theater stage as the title roles in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias and Händel’s Alcina, as well as the leading ladies in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Händel’s Serse with the Oberlin in Italy program in Tuscany. In January 2016, she had the distinct honor of performing the North American premiere of Jesse Jones’ One Bright Morning with the Contemporary Music Ensemble on Oberlin’s 150th Anniversary Tour to her home city. The piece will be released on the Oberlin Music record label in late 2018. Olivia has participated in masterclasses with such renowned artists as Renée Fleming, Eric Owens, and Marilyn Horne. Recent accolades include 2018 First Place Winner at the Musicians Club of Women of Chicago, 2017 First Place Winner at the Tuesday Musical Competition, and finalist in Oberlin’s Senior Concerto Competition.

Read more


If you enjoy the content of this site, please consider making a donation towards its upkeep:

Buy me a coffee

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

I’m not from a musical family. My parents and I never thought that I would become a cellist. It all started randomly as my first cello was a gift from my mom’s friend. However, we never took it too seriously and I was not especially curious to learn how to play the cello until a friend of mine came to my home to play games with me. She showed a great interest in the cello and my mom was about to give it to her but that definitely triggered something in me and it was the moment I decided to pick up the cello and learn to play it.  I perhaps would never have become a cellist if this didn’t occur and I have never stopped playing the cello ever since then.

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

Curiosity coupled with a willingness to push myself out of my comfort zone. I always strive to broaden my perspective on life as a global citizen and to be resilient.

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

As a cellist, the challenge is to reach people with my instrument who don’t necessarily know much about cello and classical music.  I hope to continue to make classical music more accessible to a wider audience and that my instrument will be appreciated as much as the piano or voice.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My first recording of French Cello Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra.  It was a dream come true as a musician.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I play everything from my heart.  Works that speak to me the most are the pieces I play so that can change with time.

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

When I choose repertoire for concerts, I do this by consensus and after discussion with the artistic director, fellow musicians and the conductor. I do always try to include some new pieces so that I can expand my repertoire and bring something new to audiences.

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

I do love playing in Seoul in particular because it’s my hometown.  It is always special to perform in my home country.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love the work of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, former chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, with whom I used to work.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It was one of my most recent concerts in the UK – a recital at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.  I was so honoured to be there to and felt privileged to play in this wonderful hall.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, I feel most rewarded when I overcome difficulties or discover new ways to interpret a piece I have been practicing. Finding my own way to play a piece means a lot to me.  It gives me a confidence and I am full of joy to play the music.

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

For myself, I always look for an inspiration so I visit art exhibitions, I travel a lot, I look for new partnerships, I seek out new repertoire…I like discovering new things.  Life is full of surprises that open up my mind and I would encourage aspiring musicians to always be curious about the world.

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

I would hopefully be in a place where I can continue to follow my passion of music-making.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I’m not sure if such perfection exists, but for me I definitely feel most happy when I can immerse myself in music.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cello

What is your present state of mind?

I live in the present

Hee-Lim Young’s recording of French Cello Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra is available now on the Sony Classical label.


Hee-Young Lim was appointed as the Principal Solo Cellist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin. She was one of the first female Asian cellists ever to lead a section in a major European orchestra. In 2018, she was invited to join the teaching faculty of the Beijing Central Conservatory, the first Korean professor ever appointed to this prestigious conservatory. Praised by the Washington Post as “a deeply gifted musician, with a full, singing tone, near- flawless technique and a natural lyricism that infused nearly every note she played,” cellist Hee- Young Lim has quickly established herself as one of the most charismatic and fast-rising cellists of her generation.

Born in Seoul, she was accepted to the Pre-College division of Korean National University of Arts and Yewon Arts School, winning prizes for Excellence in Music and the Most Distinguished Alumni Award. She entered the Korean National University at age 15, as the youngest student ever to be accepted. She moved to the United States to further her education at the New England Conservatory. Upon graduation, she went on to study at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, studying with Philippe Muller, where she graduated with ‘Highest Distinction’. She is also a graduate of Hochschule für Musik ‘Franz Liszt’ Weimar, where she earned her degree summa cum laude.

In-demand as a soloist, she has in recent years performed with distinguished ensembles including the German Berlin Chamber Orchestra, the Budapest Radio Philharmonic, the Warsaw National Philharmonic, the Jena Philharmonie, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the KBS Symphony Orchestra, the Seoul Symphony Orchestra, the Baden-Baden Philharmonie, the Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen, the Bandung Philharmonic, the Korean Chamber Orchestra, the Incheon Symphony Orchestra, the Ningbo Symphony, Zagreb Soloists and many others.

As an enthusiast advocate of contemporary music, Hee-Young Lim is privileged to champion the work of today’s composers. Most recently, Columbia University in New York commissioned her to give the European premiere of Peter Susser’s Cello Suite in Paris and in 2019 she will give the Asia premiere of Jakub Jankowski’s Aspects of Return at the Tong Yeong International Music Festival.

Teaching has been a very significant aspect of Hee-Young Lim’s career. She has held master classes at Seoul’s Ewha University, Rotterdam Conservatory, Paris Reuil-Malmaison Conservatoire and Jakarta University, among others.

She plays on a 1714 Joseph Filius Andrea Guarneri Cello graciously given by a private donor and a Dominique Peccatte bow.

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

I have a musical family and so my brother and I would hear music every day. I guess the music got into my soul and I started writing when I was at school from the age of about 12.

That said, I only started composing professionally in my mid-thirties. At that time I found that I really started to get satisfaction from creating music and particularly music that other people enjoy playing.

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

My parents warned me that the musician’s life is not easy! However, I’ve always enjoyed performing whether on piano, singing or on trumpet. It was a natural step for me to form, run and conduct a swing band at my school, and then two more bands when I went to Cambridge University.

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

I think, probably like many people, I find the marketing aspect of writing (i.e. blowing one’s own trumpet!) to be a challenge. I guess it is constantly having to judge the best use of time and money in how to reach the right people with my music.

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

It’s always a pleasure to write a new piece of music – and especially so as a special request. Coming up with an original, catchy and visual title can take time though.

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

I perform regularly with very talented UK jazz musicians in a variety of ensembles. It’s highly satisfying to try and play up to their standard and I always get ideas for new pieces after my gigs.

Of which works are you most proud?

Gosh – that’s a tricky question! I’m particularly proud of my JukeBox book series which has taken a great deal of work and seems to be popular so far. If it comes down to a particular piece, then at the moment the duet ‘Little Green Men’ makes me smile.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that it is a blend of jazz and other popular styles. As long as there is a melody and nice chord progressions, then I’m happy.

How do you work?

Ideally, I start with a title, perhaps from my growing list of potential candidates. Then I consult my spreadsheet of current compositions so that I try and avoid repeating the same combination of style, grade, key etc. I guess that’s my engineering background coming into play!

In reality, what tends to happen is that I get a melodic idea or rhythmic groove (often in the shower) and then try to find a title that works with it.

Either way, I’ll then sit down at the piano and experiment. Sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Al Jarreau, Oscar Peterson, Prince, Jamie Cullum, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Simon, James Taylor…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

If I can write and record a piece of music, then listen to it weeks or months later and think, “that sounds good!”, then that to me is a success. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s nice when it does.

Also, if I write a piece and someone, somewhere in the world plays that piece and enjoys it – then that is a success.

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

I think it is essential to love the music you’re writing or performing right now at this moment. We all have hopes and dreams of what might be in the future, but it’s probably best not to cling to those too tightly.

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

Still gigging and writing most likely in the UK.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being aware of the present moment – for example, during a gig and being in ‘the flow’.

What is your most treasured possession?

Materially, my piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Reading, watching and learning.

What is your present state of mind?

It varies, but mostly happy!


Olly Wedgwood has been playing the piano, singing, composing and performing in public since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. It all kicked off at school, many years ago in 1986 when he won a music scholarship to Hampton School and started to write for his favourite instrument – the piano

After four years of formal music training, Olly discovered Jazz and formed, conducted and managed the Hampton School 15-piece ‘Big Jazz and Blues Band’, also recruiting from the girls’ school next door ;). Hooked on jazz, he began to study jazz piano under top UK jazz pianist Roger Munns.

At Cambridge University, Olly performed in and directed ensembles ranging from pop and rock ‘n’ roll outfits, to jazz trios and big bands. He formed ‘Selwyn Jazz’ big band with his partner-in-crime, Jon Hooper, in 1993 and the band is still gigging to this day.

(Editors note: actually Olly studied an Engineering Degree, but he and his partner in crime, Jon Hooper, probably spent more time on the gig circuit than they did in the engineering lab…).

After University, Olly worked as an engineer and physics teacher by day, also conducting the Magdalen College School big band. By night, he gigged with various jazz and soul ensembles, both as a wedding pianist-vocalist and as a ‘front man’ wedding entertainer.

In 2004, he handed in his notice for his day job and went pro, playing frequently with the Oxford Jazz Quintet (one of Jamie Cullum’s previous ensembles). Olly now runs his Jazz Soul Boogie Band – an awesome wedding entertainment band on the professional gig circuit in the UK, performing a variety of music styles from jazz swing, Latin to funky 70s soul. Wherever Olly is playing, you’re guaranteed a great night’s music and dancing!

Also in 2004, Olly co-wrote ‘Wedgwood Blue’, a landmark piano collection which brings together the extraordinary talents of the Wedgwood family. Olly’s younger brother Sam Wedgwood is a talented singer/songwriter and their mother Pam Wedgwood is recognised around the world as one the UK’s most prolific and successful composers of popular repertoire for young instrumentalists.

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

I always knew I would have a career in music. I can’t remember otherwise. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew I would pursue music. Music in life and life in music has always been in me regardless of outside hurdles.

I started on electric guitar. In high school my curiosity was piqued watching the Eagles on MTV Unplugged play ‘Hotel California’ on nylon strung guitars and learning that Randy Rhodes of Ozzy Ozbourne played classical guitar. Around the same time I saw a video of Andrés Segovia performing Albéniz during my high school Spanish class, so with all of that I pretty much dropped my pick and started studying classical music. It took a bit of time for me to save up enough money to buy a nylon string guitar, but I found a teacher and started practicing. Nobody outside of my teacher played the classical/Spanish guitar and most didn’t know what it was.

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

During and after conservatory I read a lot about the musicians I looked up to: Julian Bream, Andrés Segovia, Sabicas (flamenco), Glenn Gould, Leonard Bernstein and numerous composers: Erik Satie, Heitor Villa-Lobos, George Gershwin, Manuel De Falla, John Cage, Toru Takemitsu, Serge Prokofiev, Astor Piazzolla and so many more.

I also found books on music learning and being an artist like Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner, With Your Own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch, and Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke to be extremely helpful during the many challenging times.

I was very inspired by musicians who created their own repertoire that reflected their personal artistic vision and the times in which they lived. It helped that they had such strong personalities and technical facilities that the repertoire became theirs. I am not a composer, but like them I too felt the urge to assist in creation, so I set out to collaborate with composers and hopefully inspire new works. The collection of New Dances by David Starobin (Bridge Records) opened my eyes and inspired me to do my own commissioning project: the New Lullaby Project.

If a composer had already passed, then I looked at how I could explore their music through arrangements. I have done this most recently with the music of John Cage.

Lastly, I think the fact that I have lived without much of a safety net since college has made me commit to my endeavours fully. They can’t be just novelties or something to impress others, but successful endeavours on both the artistic and business front.

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

I had a lot of health issues during my time at conservatory. Some due to sports injuries growing up, and others due to growing up. I deal with them each day and they have less of a hold on me.

Regarding my professional career as a performer and teacher, I think my naïveté about the classical music world/business was hard to swallow. I don’t come from a musical or artistic family, so I had no idea that connections mattered or that established artists could try to sabotage another’s career. It was really eye-opening and also disappointing in many ways to see behind the curtain. Thankfully, I have an amazing team of support with my wife, so I continue to make my way regardless.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oh that is so hard; I’m proud of them all. The four solo discs are quite diverse with each representing an artistic place in my life of goals, beliefs and abilities. I take great pride in that each contains a premiere.

‘Tracing a wheel on water’ (2006, Music Life Program) – my first solo endeavour and most conservative, made when I thought competitions and pleasing critics was the goal. Four premieres by Daniel Pinkham, Lior Navok and Kevin Siegfried.

‘New Lullaby’ (2010 Six String Sound) – the first recording where I really pushed the envelope with an album of all contemporary commissions by “non-famous composers” as one critic wrote. The classical guitar is known for putting people to sleep, and contemporary music is completely disconnected from normal life, so I see this album as a double-dog dare to listeners. I’m right.

‘The Legend of Hagoromo’ (2015 Stone Records) – the most technically virtuosic album. It was the first guitar album on the UK label Stone Records and I was the first American artist on the label. Atypically, it has a unifying theme of Japan – yes the guitar can do more than play Spanish repertoire(!) – and includes three commissions by Ken Ueno, Martin Schreiner and Kota Nakamura, along with only the second commercial recording of the insane title track by Keigo Fujii.

‘John. Cage. Guitar.’ (2018 Stone Records) – my latest recording released on November 2nd, 2018 by Stone Records, but more importantly it is truly home-grown and a departure for me on many levels. 1) It does not include a commission, but I made all of the arrangements myself, which are published by Edition Peters (a first for the John Cage estate & classical guitar!); 2) The music surveys a single composer, and 3) includes two collaborations with other artists: violinist Sharan Leventhal (Keplar Qt) and guitarist Adam Levin.

Regarding performances, my multiple solo and chamber concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow were life-changing. My main teacher, Dmitry Goryachev is from St Petersburg, and I heard so much about Russian audiences that I was quite intimidated by them, but I performed in the country five times in five years (2011-2016) and each time it was huge for my confidence as a player and creator. My first concert in Moscow was a 2.5-hour concert with multiple encores, following a night of trying to sleep a floor above a nightclub!

An all New Lullaby concert for 10-14 year olds at a Moscow area arts school was very special with the director telling me how in shock he was that students loved the works including 12-tone, microtonal and minimalist works. Only in Russia and Germany have I had the audience to clap together as one. These experiences stay close to my heart.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

“Best” is a big word! I think my performance of Keigo Fujii’s ‘Legend of Hagoromo’ and John Cage’s ‘In a Landscape’ are unique and unmatched, at least for now, but what does that mean? I’d love to hear others perform them, and hopefully they inspire me to revisit my own interpretations.

I perform a lot of contemporary music and people are surprised that I am able to keep audiences engaged and awake with such difficult music. I’ve brought tears to eyes performing Romantic and Spanish works, as well as Bach, so if eliciting such emotion is the measure then there we go.

I have a very hard time playing the same music or style of music for a long period of time, so I think I’m quite good at varying my repertoire and presenting it to audiences in a way that makes them part of the creation.

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

Much of it depends what gets booked. Of course a Bach series will feature Bach with music related to him, a performance of my Spanish music and dance ensemble ¡Con Fuego! will feature Spanish music, and a contemporary series will feature contemporary music. On tour I will often have a chamber concert or song recital mixed into a series of solo shows. I try to work with each venue to find the right theme for them.

When I have free choice of the program I try to balance a few standards into my programs, as guitar audiences are fairly conservative, alongside more challenging works for a new listening experience. Now that I have the new Cage release and publications I will include one or two pieces from it whenever possible.

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

Jordan Hall in Boston is very special to me because I sat in it repeatedly as a student and heard my idols dance their music through the space. The sound is luscious!

Salon dei Giganti in Palazzo Te, Mantova, Italy – Such inspiration all around me through the mosaics made for easy music making, and the audience gathered at my feet made for an overwhelming experience.

El Palacio de Linares in Madrid, Spain holds a special place in my heart as my first professional performance in Spain.

Yelegin Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia is amazing!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have so many! Most of the people I find inspiration from now are composers: I love experiencing their creations and hearing how they manipulate these black dots on paper to be so amazing and full of life.

I love players and ensembles that are not afraid of exploring new sounds, but are also able to make standards sound fresh and exciting. I love virtuosity, but only if it is multi-dimensional in personality, technique, artistry, and presentation.

There are musicians who have wonderful presentation and repertoire ideas, but not amazing technique, whom I adore, and there are players I only listen to for their technique, usually in very short bursts.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Easy: Ali Akabar Kahn in Jordan Hall in the late 90s. Blew my mind that such a musician could exist. Fist half was just under 90min, and it felt like 25! A true magician.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a daily scale: Having music in my life each day with good health, family, friends, and great food.

On a yearly scale:

A project completed. A new arrangement published. New works commissioned and premiered. Higher pay scale.

On a life scale:

Recordings devoted to Bach, Mussorgsky, contemporary composers, regular national and international tours.

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

Copy to learn about others and yourself, but in the end you must be yourself. A career as a musician is possible if you are consistent, patient and creative.

Take care of your health all of the time. We cannot be messengers of sound if our bodies are injured and worn out.

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

Performing full-time. In a castle with the time and money to maintain and enjoy it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Breaking bread, sharing music, solitude with my studies, and recognition for my creations.

What is your most treasured possession?

My guitar

My relationship with my wife, though I do not posses her anymore than she possesses me.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious and positive in my goals and ambitions, which is a first.

Aaron Larget-Caplan’s latest album John. Cage. Guitar. is the first classical guitar recording dedicated to the music of John Cage, and features seven early and mid-career compositions, dating from 1933 through 1950 for solo guitar, violin and guitar, and prepared guitar duo. Now available on the Stone Records Ltd label


alcguitar.com

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

A series of unfortunate accidents! As a fairly straightforwardly academic child I stumbled into an open evening given by the brass teachers of the local peripatetic service. I really can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea, but there was a tuba lying on a classroom table and it chose me there and then.

As a tuba player in youth orchestra I had a lot of bars rest – often whole movements or pieces. To relieve the boredom (and if I’m honest to try to stop myself being a nuisance to people with actual notes to play), I started bringing the scores to rehearsals and following those. It didn’t take long for me to start wanting to hear more of different sections of the orchestra, or wonder how it would work at a different tempo, it was then a short step to formal study, though I don’t think even then that I had any thought of doing it for a living.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

The two most significant early experiences were that of my youth orchestra, but possibly more importantly playing in a very high-level brass band. The culture of dedication, discipline and excellence there was something I shall never forget. Punctuality, alertness and concentration were taken absolutely for granted, and the precision of ensemble and intonation was astonishing. It set standards for me.

After that, three teachers had an enormous influence. My first conducting teacher was Michael Trowski, who was also the conductor of my youth orchestra. He is a wonderful all-round musician, and a very supportive friend who I learnt from as much playing under him as in our lessons. After university I studied with Alan Hazeldine, who pushed me hard to keep focused and to treat conducting as an all-round set of skills that encompassed not only physical technique and score-reading but also mastery of the psychology of orchestras and managements. He also arranged for me to watch and meet Sir Colin Davies who offered several gems of insight that I will always treasure.

But by far the most profound influence on my career in the past decade has been working with David Parry. As his assistant and colleague at Garsington, I was given the most incredible insights into the wonderful world of opera where I have spent much of the last decade. In particular, his peerless facility in the bel canto repertoire has led that to become something of a specialism for me, although I undoubtedly conduct it very differently from him and this ability to nurture conductors without turning out carbon copies of himself is what makes him such a great colleague and mentor.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

As the question implies, this is often the same thing. Every room is different and every person in that room is different. They all want and need something different from you and that will vary ensemble to ensemble, piece to piece and week to week. One of Colin Davis’ brilliant insights was that our job is not to conduct the piece, but to conduct the people who are playing the piece. The fact that the same gestures, explanations, ideas will communicate in one setting but not another is an endless challenge, but the satisfaction of finding a way to let a group of brilliant and talented people make music together to their maximum potential is one of the most fulfilling experiences imaginable.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Very simply! A wonderful colleague once advised me never to say anything in rehearsal that I couldn’t express in my third language. If I couldn’t say it in German or Italian it was probably too complicated. I think this is wonderful advice. Whilst I have complicated poetic and metaphysical ideas in my head, they are only allowed out through my hands, eyes and body. If you heard me speaking to an orchestra, 99% of the time it would be about the practicalities of note-lengths, balance, intonation, and tempo.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

I am definitely the composer’s representative in the room, and I feel very strongly that it’s my job to bring not only the composer’s ideas but their historical context, assumptions, faith, politics and personality to the rehearsal (though as per above, this generally stays in my head unless really interesting to anyone else!).

Following from that, I think that it is my job to have the whole picture in my mind, whether that be an opera or a symphony, and to be responsibility for the integrity of that. Each singer in an opera needs to be focused on their character, motivations, and emotional arc. My job is to make sure that these knit together into a story. This is why it is often a good sign if we disagree, or at the least have different emphases. Likewise in an orchestra, any given player (or section) has to concentrate on phrasing, articulation, intonation. To let them do that, and to mesh all of those individual lines into a coherent whole, I take charge of the balance, tempo and ensemble so that they focus on making music.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Too many! I’ve been very very lucky and been allowed to conduct a huge range of repertoire from the 13th century to the present so have no complaints. But having gained a reputation for English music and the Italian bel canto I wouldn’t protest if someone booked me to do Walküre…. or Boris….

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I am a huge fan of the various Frank Matcham theatres around the country. The Hackney Empire is my home turf and I feel a special affection for that space, but Buxton, Cheltenham and Wolverhampton are all glorious venues to make music in. That said, I’m looking forward to making my Bridgewater Hall debut next year which may change that…

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

No favourites! Verboten!

Though more seriously I have never failed to fall in love with a piece I’m working on.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Cynically, it’s the moment when you’re spending more time and energy on doing the work that looking for it.

But fortunately success comes daily when we bring music off the page and through our performance into people’s lives. Every single audience member whose soul goes home lighter after a show is the reason that we’re here.

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

They need to have an absolute clarity of purpose. They need to have addressed the big questions: Why do we do what we do, who is it for? Why is it important? They need to have this core of confidence in order to develop resilience to the thousand natural shocks that anyone in the performing arts faces daily.

I think they need to come to these conclusions for themselves and we don’t need to agree. In fact for the continued development and evolution of our profession it’s better if we don’t! It’s very unclear to me what our world and profession will look like in ten years’ time, let alone twenty. Anyone entering now needs to know why and bring with them a readiness to make music in different ways and in different places, so that we continue to touch audiences.

Arthur Sullivan’s complete incidental music to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and The Tempest with his concert overture, Marmion, performed by sopranos Mary Bevan and Fllur Wyn, Simon Callow (speaker), the BBC Singer and BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by John Andrews, is available now on the Dutton Epoch label


John Andrews is Principal Guest Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, Conductor-in-Assocation with the English Symphony Orchestra, whom he conducts regularly at the English Music Festival. He has conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and concerts in 2018-19 include the 2018 International Composers Festival, the Bridgewater Hall with the Manchester Concert Orchestra, and the London Handel Festival with the Brook Street Band, the Malcolm Arnold Festival and Baroquestock.

His performances of Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei for English Touring Opera, were praised for his ‘highly cultured, shapely and pressing direction… ’ whilst Bachtrack described his interpretation of Lucia di Lammermoor as ‘faultless’. Recent credits include Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel with the Young Artists of Garsington Opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail for the Rostock Volkstheater, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for Opera Holland Park. In 2018 and 2019 he returns to English Touring Opera for Rossini’s Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, and Il segreto di Susanna for Opera Holland Park.

John is currently making a series of world-premiere recordings with the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and The Brook Street Band for Dutton Epoch and EM-Records. The first of these – Sullivan’s Music for Macbeth and The Tempest – was named a Disc of the Year in The Sunday Times, described by Hugh Canning as ‘pure delight’. Future releases include Arne’s The Judgment of Paris, and Sullivan’s Haddon Hall and The Martyr of Antioch.

His gift for combining empathy and feel for both music and musicians with an ability to directly and powerfully communicate his ideas, together with his passion for locating music in its social and historical context, brings dynamism and warmth to his interpretations of both rare and classic repertoire.

johnkandrews.com

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

My grandmother owned an upright piano and used it to play simplified arrangements of jazz standards. As a young child, I used to live in the flat above and enjoyed visits during her morning ritual, which consisted of drinking Turkish/Arabic coffee, cigarette in hand, and listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie and Billie Holiday amongst other jazz artists from the Golden Era. She almost certainly passed on her pure love of music to my father, who had similar recordings playing on cassettes, LPs and CDs in our own flat most of the time.

I’m not sure that this led to me becoming a professional classical pianist though. I believe the joy experienced by amateurs while listening to or playing music is often lost on professionals (especially within the classical music industry) who often use music to serve rather personal goals in their lives, such as becoming the very best at something – a very questionable goal to aspire to in the subjective world of the fine arts, in my opinion. My family’s love of jazz certainly made me want to have music all around me and led to drum kit lessons with my father at the age of three and piano lessons at the age of five with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva – an exceptional teacher and composer who was based in Amman at the time. I moved to the UK as an eleven year old to pursue my professional training and education. This was probably what actually placed me on the path to becoming a professional, having received a solid technical foundation in the Russian School of piano playing from Agnes, a Georgian educated in Moscow.

My grandmother gave me her piano about a year after I started lessons because she felt that my electric keyboard had surpassed its usefulness. This will always be one of the most precious gifts anyone has ever offered me.

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

I’ve been very fortunate indeed to have received input from quite a few extraordinary musicians; I met Yo-Yo Ma as a ten year old during the first West Eastern Divan workshop, which was directed by Daniel Barenboim who has mentored me on many occasions since. He has also invited me to tour with him and the West Eastern Divan as a soloist, playing works that include Berg’s Chamber Concerto which certainly shaped my interest in the Second Viennese School. I am privileged to have been introduced to a genre by one of its top authorities.

I will certainly never forget the late Sir Colin Davis’ advice on how to start the angelic ‘Siciliana’ movement (II) as I prepared for our performance of Mozart’s Concerto no. 23 in A major with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Barbican Centre. Furthermore, my lesson with the late Pierre Boulez on his own ‘12 Notations’ for solo piano at the Royal Academy will remain one of the most important and cherished musical experiences of my life, of course.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that my piano, theory, composition and conducting teachers had the biggest influences on my development, as they helped shape my musicianship very directly. Since leaving Jordan, I have studied piano with Tatiana Sarkissova (who was my main professor in the UK), Hinrich Alpers and Tessa Nicholson, composition with Jonathan Cole and Graham Williams, conducting with Paul Brough, Denise Ham, Quentin Poole and Peter Stark. Though I have had many fantastic theory teachers over the years, the Chicago-based conductor and arranger Cliff Colnot was one of the best pedagogues one could ask for, as I discovered during the many hours I spent analysing full scores of the symphonic repertoire with him. We met during summer West Eastern Divan workshops Seville, Spain and during visits that I made to Chicago for intensive courses as a teenager.

Since moving to Berlin, I have spent a lot of time learning about early music from the renowned scholar, viol player and director of Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus. I remember attending one of his lectures during his visit to the Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and subsequently reading his essay ‘Beyond the Interpretation of Music’ which, I can safely say, forced me to reconsider everything I had learned about studying and preparing repertoire of any genre.

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

Remaining moderately sane.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m quite concerned about the levels of narcissism within our industry – especially since the onset of social media – so I’m careful to avoid pride, as much as I can. For clarity, I do use social media but try my best to be as pragmatic about it as possible. Focusing on the experience of performing is more of a priority for me, rather than the many emotions and thoughts that follow. They are after all pretty useless unless they help me improve.

However, if I had to choose one memorable performance to discuss, I would say that it was particularly interesting to play Schoenberg’s op. 11 to a group of students at the Hind Al–Husseini College in occupied East Jerusalem, Palestine. It is very likely that some of these students had never been exposed to any classical music at all until then (within the frame of attending live concerts). So the discussion about ‘Drei Klavierstuecke op. 11’ that followed my performance was fascinating, particularly as they had the advantage, as listeners, of having no strong standard to compare atonality to.* I remember one student saying that she imagined a scene from a horror movie while I was playing. Considering the fact that Schoenberg moved to Hollywood in 1934, I thought that this was very perceptive indeed. After all he must have influenced a whole generation of film composers as one of the University of Southern California’s and University of California, Los Angeles’ most valued pedagogues.

I’m very pleased that this event took place.

*Arabic music is mainly monophonic, with intricacy and complexity in the melodic ornamentation and rhythm rather than the homophonic movement of parts – in other words it’s more of a horizontal tradition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Not sure, tough one. Sorry!

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

I am naturally quite a curious person, so my approach to music has always been interest-driven. What I offer in recitals is usually linked to what I have been exploring as a listener, these days, now that I am no longer a studying in a traditional sense. Certainly my engagement with English Renaissance music developed because of my interest in Renaissance music in general. I was exposed to it at the Purcell School – we had to sing a fair amount of Palestrina, Lassus and Byrd in choir – and really enjoyed the counterpoint and modality back then, although I was probably too young to fully appreciate its beauty. However, it was a performance of Monteverdi’s ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’ at the English National Opera (especially the final duet) that really got me hooked as a listener. So by the time I met Laurence Dreyfus, I was ready to start working on and studying the genre more extensively.

There is no rich tradition of performing Renaissance keyboard music on the modern piano, (Sokolov and Gould are both true heroes of mine, as different as they are, but there aren’t many others who venture out into this territory) so the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s survey of John Bull’s keyboard works was a very important and revelatory recording to listen to. Thankfully, he was very generous when I emailed him with questions, and invited me to Prague for some coaching. It was heart-warming to see how very encouraging he was about playing this music on the modern piano and using the instrument idiomatically to serve it. He had many suggestions for further keyboard repertoire that I should explore.

In general, I avoid chronological programming, so called well-balanced programming where one tries to tick boxes across genres that are limited to music written between about 1750 and 1950, exclusively nineteenth century programmes and single composer programmes (unless it’s a performance of the Goldberg Variations, which I sometimes play on it’s own, but usually start the concert with some Boulez or Schoenberg).

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

Not really, but playing at Luzern’s KKL and the new Philharmonie de Paris, both with Daniel Barenboim, were exceptional experiences – the acoustics really allow you to take risks with soft dynamics. Both halls were designed by the architect Jean Nouvel.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Mozart’s K467 in Petra, Jordan as an 11 year old. Nothing quite beats Mozart in the middle of the desert, in front of a World Heritage Site as far as memorability goes!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Artistic fulfilment and paying all the bills simultaneously.

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

1) Constantly listening to and studying (not only practising) music with child-like curiosity.

2) Keeping a healthy check on one’s ego – it’s important to know when it’s appropriate to be the centre of attention (i.e on stage) and when it’s in one’s best interest to be a more generous spirit (backstage and everywhere outside the concert hall).

Karim Said’s new album ‘Legacy’ is available now on the Rubicon Classics label. Further information


Karim Said came to the public’s attention in 2009, playing concertos with the late Sir Colin Davis and the English Chamber Orchestra in London’s Barbican Centre and at the BBC PROMS with Daniel Barenboim and his West Eastern Divan. Karim has regularly toured with the Divan orchestra as a soloist, under Maestro Barenboim’s baton, performing at such halls as the Philharmonie in Berlin, Musikverein in Vienna and the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Mostly recently, Karim appeared with the Maestro as a soloist in the opening night of the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, playing the Berg Chamber Concerto.

Karim’s debut album ‘Echoes from an Empire’ (Opus Arte – 2015) was one of Gramphone’s ‘Top Ten recordings of Janacek’ (2016). The repertoire on this album was inspired by his London recital debut series at the Southbank Centre in 2013, where he played the complete solo works by Arnold Schoenberg over three recitals as part of the ‘International Piano Series’ and ‘The Rest Is Noise’ festival. As a chamber musician and song accompanist, Karim has collaborated with artists including Waltraud Meier, Dorothea Röschmann, Gabriel Croitoru, Adrian Brendel, and the Utrecht String Quartet.

Earlier this year, Karim launched the Etihad String Orchestra in his native Jordan as its first Music Director and performed with the European Youth Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko at the Dubai Opera House.

Born in Amman, Jordan in 1988, Karim commenced his piano with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva before moving to the UK in 2000, aged eleven. He studied piano, composition and conducting at the renowned Purcell School of Music and later at the Royal Academy of Music, both on full scholarships. At the Academy he studied with Prof Tatiana Sarkissova. In more recent years, Karim was coached by Hinrich Alpers in Berlin, where he is currently based. As a conductor, Karim attended masterclasses with Bernard Haitink at the Royal College of Music during his studies in the UK.

Karim Said was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, London in 2017.

karimsaid.com


If you enjoy these interviews and articles on The Cross-Eyed Pianist, please consider making a donation for the continuance of this site:

Buy me a coffee