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

My mother sent my father to the American G.I. flea market to buy a western suit in order to attend a cousin’s wedding. My father came home without a suit; instead, he returned with an old turntable and a stack of LP records. In the stack of LPs were all of the most important works from Mozart’s violin sonatas, to Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony, Beethoven’s piano concerti and symphonies, as well as Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade. My father wanted all of his children to learn how to make music, so he forced me to take up the piano. He took me to live concerts where I found the experience took me to the most beautiful world that humans can experience. I remember those blissful hours in concert halls watching artists strive to achieve something that seemed so impossible from a child’s point of view, and that inspired me to want to be one of them. I am always trying to achieve something that is beautiful and inspiring. 

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

I have to say it is my husband David Finckel, who is one of the most disciplined and imaginative musicians. To have a lifetime partner that is committed so deeply to an unwavering belief in the power of music, is so determined to uphold the highest standard, and is in constant quest for excellence in his musical life has influenced and affected me every single day. It is a blessing to have a lifetime partner who is in the same pursuit as a musician and artist.

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

I am a very optimistic person. I love to be challenged, so I don’t really remember meeting any challenges, I only remember seeing opportunities. 

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My recordings are like my children, I cannot possibly tell you which one I like more than the others. And I rarely have a performance that I am completely satisfied with, but I am always proud of the concert as long as my audience seems happy. 

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love Schubert, Chopin, Dvorak and Beethoven. That doesn’t mean I play them best, but I know that I always try my best when I perform any works.

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

I carry a large repertoire each season, between 40 to 60 pieces. My repertoire choice usually comes from the design of specific program. In the program, you need to find balance and variety. It is a combination of my passion that particular season and my program design where I find that magic formula that provides audiences with the most satisfying musical experience. 

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

Alice Tully Hall in New York City, one of the greatest halls, with its warmth and beauty of sound, as well as its complete silence. Alice Tully Hall also has the greatest piano in the world. It is an oasis for any musician to make music in such a beautiful space with such perfect acoustics. The color of the wood is modeled after the most gorgeous Italian string instruments, and the intimacy between the audience and the performers provides all the inspiration one would need. 

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favorite musicians are Vladimir Horowitz, Martha Argerich, Mstislav Rostropovich, Jascha Heifetz…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I played three concerts the week after September 11, 2001 for the most attentive audience. In all of the slow movements I could hear the sobs of the audience, as well as my own. Those were the most important concerts that I ever played in my life. 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

My definition of success is that I improve everyday, I try my best all of the time, and I make music that hopefully touches people’s hearts. 

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

I tell young musicians to be truthful to the score, always work hard, and be ready to be a strong advocate on behalf of great music, the music you truly believe in. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is to play a great concert, have a great martini and a great meal afterwards, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up in time to catch my next flight.

 

Wu Han LIVE III is the third collaborative release between the ArtistLed and Music@Menlo LIVE labels, featuring pianist Wu Han’s recordings of Fauré’s magnificent piano quartets from past Music@Menlo festivals.

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Wu Han is a Taiwanese-American pianist and influential figure in the classical music world. Leading an unusually multifaceted career, she has risen to international prominence through her wide-ranging activities as a concert performer, recording artist, educator, arts administrator, and cultural entrepreneur

 

(Artist photo: Liza-Marie Mazzucco)

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

As I was born into a family of musicians, I literally breathed music from my early childhood. It was just natural to me, and when I grew up that natural feeling turned into a passion that has not left me.

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

My father was my first mentor and definitely shaped my vision of music. Later on, I had the great luck to work with very inspiring pianists, each of them leaving their mark on my musical understanding. Today I feel that the great composers I listen to have shaped my musical world the most, and are virtually always on my mind: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt.

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

To avoid distractions and focus all my efforts on my main goal: making music.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I do not like looking back so much and am always most excited about my next project rather than my last.

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

I learn what I feel I have to learn, and nowadays I compose my concert programmes like a gastronomical menu, avoiding excess and trying to delight with the unexpected and surprise with the well-known.

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

I have been blessed to play in many wonderful venues, I liked many of them very much, however it is always the audience that makes a concert experience truly special.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Whenever my excitement for the music reaches the audience, and people leave the concert noticeably happier then when they arrived, I am happy. As for anecdotes I definitely experienced a lot of funny and less funny situations, from being obliged to repair a pedal by crawling under the piano, to a member of the audience falling from his chair. Luckily it turned out it was only dehydration, and I came to meet him the next day and we shared a great laugh, making it a wonderful memory as well.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Making music an equally emotional, intellectual and spiritual experience.

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

Reflecting on Edwin Fischer’s quote: “Nicht ich spiele – es spielt” (I am not playing – it plays).

Jean  Muller’s second volume of Mozart Piano Sonatas is released on 29 November on the Hãnssler Classic label.


Hailed as a “major talent“ by Gramophone, Jean Muller has shown exceptional musical talent since his earliest childhood. At age seven, he assembled his first Chopin Etude and has been performing on stage ever since. Following his initial training at the Conservatoire of Luxembourg in Marie-José Hengesch’s class, he was exposed to varied pianistic schools in Brussels, Munich, Paris and Riga under the guidance of, among others, Teofils Bikis, Eugen Indjic, Evgeny Moguilevsky, Gerhard Oppitz and Michael Schäfer. Having received further advice by distinguished artists Anne Queffélec, Leon Fleisher, Janos Starker and Fou T’song to quote but a few, Jean Muller became a master craftsmen who combines “savage technical voltage” (Gramophone) with a capacity for bold and interpretive risk. He thus achieved the rare stacked-deck of every pianist’s dreamed triple-threat ability: “Everything is there: fingers, head and heart” (Jean-Claude Pennetier).

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(Artist photo: Kaupo Kikkas)

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

I loved to sing as a child and wanted to imitate my voice through an instrument: the clarinet was an obvious choice.

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

Every note that I played and that brought me closer towards what I felt and heard inside.

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

Performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on a brand new bassett clarinet at the BBC Proms. The instrument was designed for me and ready only three weeks before the performance.

The ARD competition in Munich in 2012 was also quite a challenge!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

My latest recording: Belle époque with the Orchestre National de Lille under Alexandre Bloch (Pentatone).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

As I love Mozart (Quintet, Concerto, Trio) and French music (Debussy, Poulenc, Widor, ..) most; I guess those are the pieces people like to hear most from me.

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

Intuïtion and a sense of challenge and creativity.

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

My favourite halls are the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the Tonhalle Zürich. Both halls have a magical acoustic.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I do not have a favourite musicians, but I love many: Martha Argerich, Liisa Batiashvili, Truls Mörk, Hagen Quartet, Belcea Quartet, Francesco Piemontesi, Tabea Zimmerman, François Leleux…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A performance of Brahms Clarinet Quintet in a small church in Belgium. There was a special atmosphere that evening. It felt almost like a healing experience, both for me and the audience. Many listeners started to cry during the slow movement.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Serving the music, reaching perfection and leaving ego at the doorstep.

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

Practice hard, stay yourself, ask yourself why you make music and embrace challenges with a smile.

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

Even closer to my clarinet

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having the impression that life flows by itself.

Belle Époque – music for clarinet from Brahms, Debussy, Pierné, Trojahn and Widor
(Pentatone SA-CD PTC 5186808) is available now.


Belgian clarinettist Annelien Van Wauwe, former BBC New Generation Artist and winner of the renowned Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award 2018, is known for her expressive, intensive, lyrical and honest performances. She is considered to be one of the most fascinating and original clarinettists of her generation.

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

My second singing teacher at Salo Music College. I was 14 or 15. Not particularly sure if I liked music as hobby. Parents were pushing.  Opera was in no way on my list of things I liked.

Then came this lovely teacher. Matti Pelo. He understood, had a good sense of psychology, was a good teacher. I started making progress with him.

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

My two teachers. In the beginning Liisa Linko-Malmio at Sibelius Academy, and since 1984, Vera Rozsa in London.

Later my first agent Diana Mulgan, a wise lady and a perfect manager for this young singer. At the start she concentrated on mostly turning down crazy offers that would have definitely ruined me.

Later still, some conductors and some stage directors who taught me so much.

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

“My own own worst enemy”, meaning mostly struggling with myself – confidence and not believing in myself. I have been lucky to have had a lot of support from people around me.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My 3 favourites will probably always be:
German Arias with Sir Colin Davis with Dresdner Staatskapelle
Four Last Songs (live rec) with Claudio Abbado
My 40th Birthday Recording with Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Finnish Radio Orchestra.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Slavic repertoire feels my stuff, Janáček particularly. Wagner feels right and gives me sheer pleasure to sing it. Also Richard Strauss.
Finnish repertoire remains my speciality: Sibelius, Madetoja, Kuula. Saariaho.

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

It depends on what is offered to me. Singer needs to work; I need to sing. So I choose from what I am offered. Opera houses of course know my repertoire. So it works smoothly. For example, switching to new roles is possible when the organizers are kept informed about changes I’m making.  My management does that.

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

Oh, there are so many. Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Gulbenkian, Royal Albert Hall, Palais Garnier, Rudolfinum, Tampere-talo. Love my ”home hall” in Naples, Florida; Artis—Naples.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

So many. All concerts with Claudio Abbado. Jiří Bělohlávek.
Maybe my 40th Birthday concert at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. The concerts in my native Finland feel always special. The audience there knows me, has followed my career the longest.

Impossible question!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When I feel I connect with my audience. When I find the ”zone” and the audience comes along. Time stops.

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

Home. Lots.
Giving master classes occasionally. Maybe giving private lessons. Coaching young singers.
Maybe still singing the Countess of Pique Dame.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Every day is different. But one thing is above all else: health.

Keeping loving people. Giving love. I feel I have plenty. Gratitude.

What is your most treasured possession?

My health.

What is your present state of mind?

All over the place. (Post divorce state. Temporary, I hope.) Work is my blessing.


In demand by every major opera house and festival, the lyric beauty of Karita Mattila’s voice and her innate sense of theatre set her apart as one of the most sought-after dramatic sopranos in the world today.

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(artist photo: Harrison Parrott)

 

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

There was always music being heard at home because both my parents are music lovers but actually playing the piano was introduced relatively late to me. I had many friends my age (8 at the time) who were playing an instrument and so my parents simply thought, why not?

It wasn’t until much later that I realised just what it might mean to be a concert pianist which was when I went to hear the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto at the Royal Festival Hall. The concerto captures your attention from start to finish and you can imagine how impressive it was to a child aged eleven. Of course my reaction then and what thoughts whirled in my head would not be how I hear the concerto now, but I learnt at that moment about the communication of music.

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

My many professors, of course, have all had an impact to my music making. One of my first professors was Christopher Elton. I was at the Purcell School and searching for a new teacher. I was introduced to Christopher and he accepted me in his class but I was this incredibly shy child who didn’t talk much to adults but was determined to make efforts through playing. Christopher was incredibly patient with me, and has, in in a way, been a musical father to me, as he has seen through all my career phases. Many, many years later, we still keep in touch and a friendship has developed since, which is always one of the nicer aspects of a musical relationship.

Then there is Maria Curcio-Diamond, who transmitted so many pearls of wisdom but I was too young to fully appreciate when I studied with her and now refer back to constantly today.

Lev Naumov was just a brilliant mind and musician and I was immensely fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate regularly in his classes.

John Lill has also been influential but I would say that however, it was the years I spent alongside Ruggiero Ricci that has had the most impact with my approach to music making today. He was heralded as a prodigy as a youth, a virtuoso as an adult violinist (a term he disliked) and the first violinist to have recorded all the Paganini Caprices. He was so modest and lived through so many experiences. I would often accompany his students in masterclasses and I learnt so much from watching him teach and from when we played together. There was something so natural and straightforward in his music making. It’s something I have tried to transmit in my own performances. It was also these years spent with Ricci that opened many doors for me, notably by meeting other musicians, some very well known, others less, as well as non-musicians but music lovers who have all had an influence into my approach to performing and life today on and off the concert circuit.

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

Juggling between raising two small children and keeping up with the rhythm of giving concerts have been challenging but extremely rewarding. Before my children, my focus before and during performances would hinge entirely around the concert, but today, now with my children, I am somewhere in the back of mind, thinking, “I hope they had a good day at school, I hope they have eaten well, I hope they are sleeping well”. The usual worries all parents have!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Always wanting to improve on the last performance/recording is a common trait in performers and I share this!

Of course there have been certain performances that have been more satisfying than others, not only in terms of my particular performance, but also when the audience is so reactive and appreciative, it is a very special moment. I really appreciate also when sometimes members of the public write to me following a performance to let me know how much they enjoyed that particular concert or how much they enjoyed the last album.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

In giving an interpretation to any one work, I really try to show what might be new to discover in the piece. In this sense, I think I convey Beethoven quite well. The French composers also seem to suit me; maybe it’s being married to someone French!

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

What’s great about mixing chamber, duo and solo repertoire in a season is that there is an abundance of choice! It’s common these days to link a theme to a programme so that gives me a certain guideline. Otherwise for concerto dates, it’s quite often what the promoter has in mind for the season alongside the choice from the conductor so I need to be quite flexible for these dates.

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

Of the more well known venues, like many other performers, I would have to say the Wigmore Hall. Its reputation precedes it and the hall doesn’t disappoint. That said, there is a venue in France called Prieuré Sainte-Marie du Vilar that has to be included. It is a restored Romanian Orthodox Church, lost in the middle of the Pyrénées Orientales, and each year the monks and nuns organise a music festival for the community. The rawness of the venue and being surrounded by the stones impregnated with history gives a very unique atmosphere.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I gave a series of concerts in Greece and one of the venues was in Patras. What was most striking about the make-up of this audience was that it was treated as a family outing. The children were all placed in the front rows, some not abiding by the ‘silence code’ of a concert, but it didn’t matter. At the end of each work, they applauded enthusiastically and seemed to enjoy the concert as much as the adults. It reminded me of my first impressions of attending performances and I hope I was able to communicate something to them with the Mozart concerto that I performed at the time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you feel you have found your voice and you have the opportunities to express this.

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

Never be afraid to be wrong and learn from everyone. Watch and watch and listen and listen again. There is so much archive available on the internet today. It’s important, I think, to be open to all interpretations and techniques of playing before creating and defining your own.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Two answers to this question. It would be either to find the time between concerts and practice for a good dance session with my husband and children because we always end up by collapsing in laughter. Otherwise it would be to take time out from playing to be by the sea with the family and catch up reading and a good glass of wine to hand.


Min-Jung Kym’s debut recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto is available now. Further information

Min-Jung Kym is establishing herself as an artist bringing fresh quality and musicianship to her performances. Since her London solo concert debut at the age of just 12, she has performed at the Barbican Centre, Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, UNESCO in Paris, the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea and many, many other venues.

www.minjungkym.com


(artist photo: Arno MiseEnavant)

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

It was mainly the incredible Dizzy Gillespie who taught me how fantastic the trumpet can be! 

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

Definitely Dizzy, but also many other musicians – Queen,  also Trevor Pinnock, and many violin virtuosos who helped me understand song-like communication through an instrument 

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

The lack of Classical repertoire for the solo trumpet… and finding adequate time to mindfully practice and the courage to perform in front of audiences and at the front of symphony orchestras. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I was so proud of creating GABRIEL at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013. It was everything I adore about music: the greatest material one can imagine in the music of Purcell and Handel, the delightful opportunity to work for an extended period with the English Concert,  also to work for the first tine with very fine actors and explore a different kind of attitude and camaraderie on stage than anything I’d experienced before. Happily we’re restarting it as a concert performance at Saffron Hall and the Barbican later this month. 

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That’s not really for me to say! But I think over the years and over many many performances I finally know what I’m doing – or ideally would like to be doing with the two mainstays of the repertoire: Haydn’s and Hummel’s trumpet concertos. They are less of a display of short term technique and more of a vehicle of expression of who you are as a person through the instrument. 

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

It’s pretty organic – it’s a mixture of conversations that rapidly take off (or don’t, and go on a slow burn!) and long standing relationships with beloved orchestras and conductors. Inspiration taken from all over the place too which is where the next album starts. 

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

I’m quite keen on all the main UK venues as I have such a long history with them, and they bring back fond memories each time I visit, but I do love magical settings such as the Hollywood Bowl and Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The last night of the Proms will always be a big personal highlight 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being totally inside the music and living each moment in the present, with nothing hampering what you want to say – technique, distractions, doubts, random sticky valves etc. ! 

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

Keep listening to live music and going to concerts to remind you why this is such a brilliant, powerful, relevant, important, beautiful thing in a human’s life and why you should keep on searching for those memorable, spine tingling occurrences. 

Alison Balsom performs in Gabriel at London’s Barbican Hall on 21 October as part of her Artist-in-Residence series. Further information

Her new album Royal Fireworks is released worldwide on 8 November on Warner Classics


Alison Balsom has performed with some of the greatest conductors and orchestras of our time including Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel, Sir Roger Norrington, l’Orchestre de Paris, San Francisco and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York and London Philharmonic orchestras, and has appeared as soloist at the Last Night of the BBC Proms. She regularly collaborates with some of the world’s leading chamber ensembles including the Academy of Ancient Music, Il Pomo d’Oro, The English Concert and most recently The Balsom Ensemble (a handpicked group of leading Baroque soloists). Alison is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including Gramophone Artist of the Year, the Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Award, three Echo Klassik Awards and three Classic BRIT awards (two of which as Female Artist of the Year).

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