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

I come from a very musical family of parents who are professional musicians, two sisters who are professional musicians, and one brother who used to play the violin. As you can imagine, growing up surrounded by music was incredibly inspiring and stimulating! I started playing violin at age 3 and piano at 5, and I remember making the decision around 11 years of age to become a professional pianist. At that time, I had attended an international summer institute for young pianists, and something just “clicked” with being surrounded by so many wonderful musicians. I thought something to the effect of “I have to do this!” and I’ve been devoted to the profession ever since.

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

I have been blessed with fantastic teachers throughout my life, teachers who not only gave me a foundation of musicianship and technique at the piano, but who also supported me as a person (and continue to do so). In this business, I think it is so important to have teachers who care about students in their development as musicians AND human beings. One person in particular who has had an extraordinary influence in my life is a Brazilian pianist named Luiz de Moura Castro. He also taught my eldest sister, and from the time I was ten, he has had a great impact on my approach to music. In addition, I come from a lineage of Russian teachers including a wonderful woman by the name of Zena Ilyashov (whom I studied with as a young pianist) and the well-known pianist and pedagogue Boris Berman (while at Yale School of Music). Both teachers gave me imperative tools for approaching the keyboard, perhaps most specifically in how I create “sound.”

As for performers who influenced me, I remember being spellbound at a young age by violinist Jascha Heifetz. There was something about the electricity of his playing which enamored me, and he’s one of the performers who still gives me goosebumps every time I hear one of his recordings. Likewise, Vladimir Horowitz has always been close to my musical heart; there’s a similar electricity and emotional impact when listening to him. I always try to tap into this kind of excitement/fire when performing.

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

I’ve done quite a lot of competitions, and that can be a brutal part of the learning process for any young pianist. As so many people know, there are variables quite often out of one’s control (politics, personal preferences, etc.), which can be disheartening. I did very well in some and less well in others, but at the end of the day, I learned about myself in the process: not just about playing at a consistent, high level, but what it means to believe in one’s self as a musician.

As with any profession, people can be dismissive, and especially when something is as personal as art. Therefore, it is imperative one believes in one’s worth and what one has have to offer as a musician. As clichéd as it may sound, I do what I do because I believe music needs to be shared with people; to me, being a performer is not about my ego or another person’s ego, but rather being a conduit for great music. This gives me the confidence to believe in what I am doing.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I absolutely love performing with orchestras, and my first performance of Brahms’ D minor concerto will always stand out in my memory. There’s something about that piece that requires extreme vulnerability and strength, and performing it was powerful beyond what I expected. The way Brahms conceived of the orchestral writing is stunning, and it truly feels chamber music when performing it.

It seems my most memorable performances are with orchestra, but another one was performing Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto a few years back. Of course it is a powerhouse of a piece, but there was a particular performance which felt like the highest energy I’ve ever had onstage, both in how I felt with the piano part as well as the interaction with orchestra. Both the Brahms and Prokofiev are extraordinarily powerful pieces, but the Prokofiev is powerful in a way that’s primal.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That’s a great question, as I think I’ve “evolved” over the years in both my tastes and what I’ve excelled at. I used to gravitate primarily toward Russian repertoire, but in the past few years, I’ve come to adore J.S. Bach (even more than I used to) and much of the Spanish repertoire. Perhaps that’s an odd combination, but I would like to explore more of Bach in performance (although it can feel scary/exposed!) as well as the Spanish repertoire (would like to finally perform Granados’ Goyescas in its entirety).

I would be remiss not to mention the works of Australian composer Carl Vine, as I have recently released an album of his solo piano music including the world premiere recording of his Piano Sonata No. 4, a work written for me this past year. I adore his music, and much of the last year has been devoted to performing and recording Vine. In particular, the sound-world he creates is fascinating to explore, and there’s also an aspect of virtuosity that makes performing his music incredibly exciting (his writing is challenging yet idiomatic to the instrument).

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

Well as I mentioned, the past year has been greatly focused on Carl Vine, in particular because I commissioned a piece from him and knew I would be giving several premieres internationally. Usually, I make repertoire choices based on particular pieces I would like to play or composers I would like to explore more of. There are also times where presenters will request a particular piece(s), so it can be a combination of reasons.

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

I recently gave a solo recital at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, and it was a pure delight. The acoustics are fantastic, and there’s an intimacy to the hall that I much prefer in a solo piano recital rather than a hall which seats 4,000. I had a similar impression performing at the Salzburg Mozarteum, having a beautiful intimacy to the hall. That said, I performed with the Montreal Orchestre de Metropolitain in Montreal’s Place des Arts, and that was a fantastic hall and huge space. So, it also depends on the context of what and with whom I’m performing!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a superficial level, one could say success is defined by how many prestigious halls one plays in, how many recordings one sells, how many successful musicians one performs with. While those are all wonderful and important things to use as professional goals, I think they are also things which can be distracting to leading a fulfilled life as a musician. There are so many times when a musician will come to a crossroads in their career, asking themselves why they do what they do. I’ve come to realize that success as a musician can only truly be measured by how much one is enjoying what one does and how genuinely one is connecting with the audience, no matter the size or prestige. If I give a performance where even just one person has found inspiration or comfort through the music, or I’ve managed to inspire a young musician to get excited about classical music, that to me is true success as a musician.

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

Follow this career path because you love it and will do it no matter what difficulties come your way! It’s a very difficult career to choose, but one that can bring incredible good and beauty to the world.

What is your most treasured possession?

If I can count my cats as possessions, then I’ll say my cats!

What is your present state of mind?

Honestly, I’m grateful to be a musician. Without it, life would make a lot less sense!

Aphorisms: The Piano Music of Carl Vine is available now


Pianist Lindsay Garritson has performed throughout the United States and abroad since the age of four. She has appeared on stages such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and Place des Arts (Montreal), and has been featured as soloist with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra (Texas), Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), Atlantic Classical Orchestra, Orquestra Sinfônica Barra Mansa (Brazil), the Yale Philharmonic Orchestra, and the European Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.

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

My family loves music, although none of them are professional musicians. But they enjoy having friends over, having fun playing accordion and singing songs together, so I grew up in a music loving atmosphere. When I was four, my mother bought me a piano as she thought musical training would be beneficial for me. I was a quiet girl and could easily sit in front of the piano for a long period of time, definitely longer than the other kids could I suppose! I guess I was quite attracted to the sound of piano without knowing what it would mean to my life. Later, I won first prize at a number of piano competitions held in my home city Chongqing when I was between the ages of six to nine. My parents were encouraged by the professors from the best conservatory in China, and decided to send me for professional music study. So, I moved to Beijing at the age of ten, and “officially” started to pursue a professional career at the Central Conservatory of Music. Once I started to understand music and gradually build up a genuine connection with it along the path, I became more certain about choosing a career in music.

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

My piano teachers. I wouldn’t have gone this far without them. I’ve always been lucky to work with teachers who have helped me tremendously in different stages of my career. Professor Huiqiao Bao was my teacher for twelve years in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She laid a solid foundation for my career, as a respectable female musician, she is most certainly my role model. Her lessons have extended beyond the scope of music and spilled over into my life, learning better how to navigate through difficult periods. I studied with Professor Alexander Korsantia during my time in New England Conservatory in Boston; his passionate attitude to music and bold approach to life constantly encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and break my limits. My current teacher at the Royal College of Music in London, Professor Norma Fisher, is bringing my understanding of music to another level. These teachers have always been by my side and have guided me to be a better pianist. Their attitude towards music has inspired me to pursue the ultimate goal to become a better artist.

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

The greatest challenge I have faced was to hold on to the passion and belief in the music I perform, regardless of any dilemma and obstacles that came my way. I believe all the greatest artists have experienced the same challenges and overcame them.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

All of the performances I have given were meaningful for me; I keep learning from every performance, also getting to understand the pieces and myself better. Thus, I would say I am proud of every step I have taken.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It depends on the time being. However, it would definitely be the pieces that I feel connected to the most at that time. Lately, I feel a deep connection with the music of Scriabin and Rachmaninov.

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

I think it’s important for young artists, including me, to try to add variety into their repertoire. I would not want to limit myself to a certain style, or certain composers. Instead, I love challenging myself by selecting pieces that cover a wide range of styles, and pushing myself to play pieces that I don’t feel most comfortable with.

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

It’s really hard for me to pinpoint a favourite because I’ve enjoyed playing in different ones. Some are grand concert halls, some are intimate salon venues. I think each venue has a unique character and my adjusting to it can certainly be a fun part of the performance.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many extraordinary musicians I’d like to mention, but Radu Lupu and Martha Argerich are the two living musicians I admire the most. Radu Lupu’s playing always flowed with the genuineness and the simplicity which held deep thoughts behind the musical language; his interpretation of the works by Schubert simply blows me away. Martha Argerich is a female musician who has a strong character; her boldness and fearlessness makes her music so unique and effective.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was attending a music festival in Kiev Ukraine in February 2014, and was scheduled to play Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 in a concert. At this time the Ukrainian Revolution broke out, there was violence involving riot police, shooters, and protesters in Independence Square. I was very frightened being in the city. However, the concert went on as planned, and I was deeply touched when I saw so many people in the audience At that moment, there was no doubt that music can heal great divisions. It was the most unique concert experience in my career so far, and it reminds me the meaning that music can bring to everyone.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Despite all the obstacles, keep playing, pursuing and sharing music for a lifetime!

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

Always be genuine to the music and the composers, learn the background and history of the music and composer, try to understand the true meaning that the composers wanted to convey and interpret their works with your own voice. To build up a career as a musician, our persistence and love for music are always the backbone to support our dreams.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Doing the things I love to do for life and could have others benefit from it.


Born in 1992, Chinese pianist Siqian Li started her musical education at the age of four. She studied with Madame Huiqiao Bao, received her Bachelor of Music Degree at the Central Conservatory of Music (Beijing) and became the first pianist to be awarded the “Best of the Best – Top and Innovative Talent” diploma and scholarship from China’s Ministry of Culture. As a student of Professor Alexander Korsantia, she obtained a Master of Music Degree with Academic Honors and a Graduate Diploma at the New England Conservatory (Boston). She continues to pursue an Artist Diploma at the Royal College of Music (London) under the tutelage of Professor Norma Fisher.

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

When I was 14 my violin teacher gave me the chance to conduct a string orchestra I was playing in. I remember vividly the experience standing there with the music flowing around and through me as I tried to communicate with the players. I didn’t have any technique at all and it was probably terrible! But in that moment I had a very strong sense that this was an extraordinary feeling and something I wanted to explore deeply.

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

I’m not sure I can judge this myself fully. However, without a doubt conductor Sian Edwards who is the most wonderful human being and has taught me a huge amount about the relation between music and conducting technique. Michael Dussek, my piano teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, was also a strong influence in helping me develop my own artistic ethos in service of the music. Working as an assistant to several conductors provided opportunities to see at first hand what works, what doesn’t and what kind of musical leader I would like to be.

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

Mastering a huge range of repertoire in the depth required is a never-ending challenge, particularly as a young conductor starting out. There is almost no amount of preparation that will enable you to feel fully confident with a symphony when standing in front of a great orchestra that has played it hundreds of times before. How to deal with this is an important milestone. The most fulfilling thing is when everything clicks within the orchestra, and the music seems to unfold naturally. When I feel as if I have to do very little on the podium this is wonderfully satisfying.

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

I try to show everything with my baton, and occasionally where appropriate use a mental image or piece of historical context to frame a particular sound world or effect. It’s important to realise quickly what works best with a certain orchestra: some players prefer to avoid verbal communication, others are drawn in by a bit more context or personal imagery.

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

The position of the conductor is often anachronistic – it is only from the time of Beethoven onwards that musicians would have expected someone to direct the performance this way. In Mozart you need to get out of the way; in Mahler it almost seems as if the music was written for a single music interpreter to shape; in much contemporary repertoire you are akin to a sophisticated metronome. So the role varies, but the conductor must always bring his/her personal energy to the ensemble and a love for the letter and spirit of the music.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Elgar Symphony no. 2. I find Elgar’s English character combined with his Austro-Germanic style of composition irresistible.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I’ve only performed there once but the Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre has the most exceptional acoustic: crystal clear yet warm enough to create any sound world you could possibly want.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My all-time No. 1 conductor would be Claudio Abbado, whose flair, intellectual rigour and versatility across all repertoire seem unparalleled to me. If I had to choose one composer it would be Beethoven. At the moment I’m realising what a limited picture we get of him as orchestral musicians if we don’t explore the piano sonatas and chamber music. His symphonies and concerti alone give a misleading sense of his musical personality.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Very, very rarely we feel we have done justice to the music. It is gratifying when this feeling is shared by respected colleagues and listeners, and of course sometimes this can lead to career progression which plays a part in ‘success’ too.

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

An ethos of constant self-sacrificing exploration. And a passion to learn why and in what situation a piece was composed as this can really help recapture its spirit in the present moment.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To maintain a fulfilling balance between desire and satisfaction over a lifetime.


Mark Austin’s performances of orchestral and operatic repertoire have been praised for their “eloquent intensity” (Guardian).

Recent highlights include Mark’s debut at Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, and the final of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Solti Conducting Competition. He has been shortlisted for the ENO Mackerras Conducting Fellowship 2020-22. In 2019 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music and worked in masterclass with Riccardo Muti. He collaborated with soloists including Guy Johnston, Kristine Balanas, Julien van Mellaerts and Siobhan Stagg. As assistant conductor he worked at Garsington Opera and with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. 2020 includes work at Folkoperan in Sweden, a return to Garsington and concerts at Oundle International Music Festival and Cambridge Summer Music Festival.

Other projects have included ‘Le nozze di Figaro’ (Dartington International Festival), ‘Goyescas’ (The Grange Festival), ‘Tosca’ (Musique Cordiale International Festival) and a two-concert Brahms residency with Guy Johnston and Faust Chamber Orchestra at Hatfield House. Mark was assistant conductor for the world première production of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Coraline’ (Royal Opera). He has worked with figures including Vasily Petrenko, Sian Edwards, Marin Alsop, David Parry, David Hill, Steuart Bedford, and the late Sir Colin Davis, and conducted orchestras including Aurora, Britten Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Orchestra of St John’s and the Hangzhou Philharmonic, China. Mark was awarded a Bayreuth Festival Young Artist Bursary in 2018 and recorded the world première of Alex Woolf’s ‘NHS Symphony’ for BBC Radio 3, which won a Prix Europa. He studies with Sian Edwards and was awarded an International Opera Awards Bursary in 2017. 

An accomplished pianist, Mark has performed at venues including Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, St John’s Smith Square, Holywell Music Room, Opera Bastille (Paris) and the Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre. He is musical assistant to The Bach Choir and regularly conducts the choir in concert and the recording studio, including live on BBC1 for the Andrew Marr Show.

Born in London, Mark had lessons in violin and piano from an early age. He played in the National Youth Orchestra, and studied at Cambridge University and Royal Academy of Music, where he received numerous prizes and was appointed a Junior Fellow. Mark contributed a chapter on Wagner, Beethoven and Faust to the recently published ‘Music in Goethe’s Faust’. You can read more about Mark on http://www.mark-austin.net and follow him on Twitter @mark_aus_tin.

mark-austin.net

 

 

 

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

I started my musical journey by having group trombone lessons at school ran by my local music service in Wolverhampton and then soon took up the clarinet, too. Unusually, I did not grow up in a home filled with music, as my parents and wider family have no musical training and there was certainly no music playing in my house at all. Therefore, my formative musical experiences rely mostly on my involvement with my city youth orchestra. My parents have always been extraordinarily supportive of my ideas so at age 14 they bought me a piano and then I began improvising on it and then notating it down. This became something I did rather frequently, although my motivation for doing so was purely just for the enjoyment of it; I didn’t really consider it the act of ‘composing’ as such. A few years later I attended a BBC Proms Inspire workshop in Birmingham and there, due to a chance encounter, I found out that conservatoires existed. I then applied to and attended the Junior Royal Northern College of Music and won the BBC Proms Young Composer’s competition in the following year, which had a large influence on my decision to take composing seriously. Since then, my career has expanded in directions that I could never have imagined or dreamed of. I, therefore, can’t recall the exact moment that I decided to become a composer and pursue a career in music, as I just simply followed the path of what I loved doing. I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities and experiences that it has afforded me so far.

Which composers have most influenced the development of your music?

When I first started listening to classical music it was mostly Russian composers from the classical canon! Since then, however, the composers that I’m interested in do change frequently and vary widely. I think that the people that have had the most influence on my development would probably be those immediately around me, such as those that I meet, the musicians I write for, and the composers I interact with.

You compose for diverse ensembles, orchestral arrangements, choirs, solo voices, even operatic forms. What drives your experimentation?

I think mostly wanting to develop a musical language that is able to transverse a variety of instrumental ensembles or combinations drives my composition. My method is often the same regardless of what the ensemble is. It’s really important to me, however, to know what the instrumentation is going to be for a long period of time before I begin composing, as I like to imagine a sound-world that utilities that particular instrumental grouping effectively.

How would you characterize your compositional/musical language?

I think my musical language is mostly characterized first and foremost by the use of texture to create atmospheric sound-worlds, which are formed out of linear melodic fragments often inspired by art, poetry or literature to take a listener on a narrative journey… or something along those lines!

How do you work?

I often use extra-musical sources such as contemporary artwork or poetry as my starting point to inspire my music. I will then ruminate over my ideas before taking them to the piano where I improvise musical fragments, and develop the overall structure of the work, before I begin to notate the music down on paper. My compositional process is highly intuitive, almost always in response to my own thoughts and feelings and, therefore, I don’t have a specific writing technique that I can replicate for each piece. I suppose the most fixed aspect of my working process is instead the environment that I choose to compose in, which is often past the midnight hour in that form of silence that you can only achieve whilst everyone else is asleep.

We first heard ‘beneath the silken silence’ at LSO St Lukes as part of the Panufnik Composers Scheme. The work is beautiful and striking, and contains rich tonal harmonies set against more atonal underpinnings. Can you explain how you achieve this unity?

‘Beneath the silken silence’, like a lot of my works, was written in response to a poem, which in this case was Sara Teasdale’s ‘The Faery Forest’. The piece is inspired by both the imagery and phrase structure within the prose and therefore, acts as an unspoken vocalization of the poem. The work seeks to create an atmospheric sound-world to reflect the dream-like movements of nature portrayed in the poem. The harmonic content of the work is also based on this poetic setting, as it is created as a linear line and then loosely reoriented to achieve a tonally centred foundation.

The sophistication of your music seems to belie your age. ‘Fireworks’ is another striking work. How was the piece conceived? Can you tell us something of the process you use in composition?

To compose ‘Fireworks’, a piece for solo soprano voice and orchestra that I wrote in 2018, I began with the text, which is a poem of the same name by the American poet, Amy Lowell. After altering the text by changing and adding a few lines, as I often do, I set it to music as a fragmentary melodic vocal line, which becomes the basis of the work. I then also used this to inform the harmonic and structural shape of the piece. This, as I explained previously, is all a very intuitive process.

Each of your works seems to be associated with or inspired by a specific story, idea, image or illusion. How important is this in your work?

The concept behind each work is extremely important to me. The first step of composing any piece begins with my interaction with an extra-musical source inspiration, and from that I form the idea and the all-important title, which becomes the identity of the work. The story, idea or image that is associated with the work is what enables me to become energized to write and envelop myself in the world of the piece that I’m creating.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? Which compositions are you most proud of?

The greatest challenges are probably trying to avoid being over-critical during the composition process and also creating a good balance between composing and life. The compositions that I’m most proud of are always hopefully the next ones!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think definitions of success are highly subjective and will be different for every musician but, for me, it is being able to continually strive to impart the music of my own particular ‘musical voice’ with genuine clarity. Something I love about the arts is that each person can have their own differing experience from the same piece of music or artwork, whether that’s emotionally or something else, through their own perception of that specific work and the lens of their own influence, and so I’d also like to write pieces that allow space for people to explore themselves through the work whilst simultaneously remaining faithful to my own self-expression.

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

Be true to yourself, explore the music you are passionate about, and don’t be afraid to experiment!

What’s next for you? Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? For the future, do you have a dream project or collaboration in mind?

I feel very fortunate to have worked with brilliant organizations, musicians and ensembles and my interactions with them have certainly shaped my work, how I think about music, and its relation to the wider community. I am always coming up with dream ventures and thinking far into the future about musical, and non-musical, passion projects. I think two of my dream pieces that I would really love to write (and ones that I often daydream about in any spare time!) are to write both the music and the libretto for a full- length opera, and a concerto, possibly for viola or something….. I would really love that.


Grace-Evangeline Mason is an award-winning composer based in the UK. She has worked with ensembles and artists including members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, BBC singers, Trio Atem, Royal Northern Sinfonia, London Early Opera, Aurora Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music group, Ensemble 10:10, in venues across the UK and internationally. Her music has been performed at festivals including the New Music North West Festival, the Open Circuit Festival, London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, Cheltenham Music Festival, Southbank SoundState Festival, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Connecticut, and the 2017 BBC Proms. 

Mason is the recipient of awards including the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composer of the Year (2013), the Rosamond Prize (2016), the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Christopher Brooks Prize (2017) and the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize (2018).

graceevangelinemason.com

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

My great-grandmother, Freda Loaring, was a significant influence and I was lucky enough to know her for the first few years of my life. She must have been an able amateur pianist as I have inherited her scores of works including the Grieg Concerto with her own markings. She played for Santangelo’s Orchestra in Guernsey which often accompanied visiting singers and silent films at the old Royal Hotel. She encouraged my sister to play and once she had been playing for a while, I showed an interest in starting too.

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

Every one of my teachers has had a huge impact on my playing. Mervyn Grand’s teaching back in Guernsey motivated me and he and his son Sebastian (a pianist, now a great friend of mine and an exceptional conductor) were one of the major early inspirations that turned a hobby into a career. I studied with Murray McLachlan for six years at Chetham’s and RNCM and he really worked wonders on my technique and the way I thought about music and artistry more broadly. In America I’ve studied with Boris Berman and James Giles. I think what I’ve learned most from them is a more nuanced sensitivity to different styles and, physically, how to find appropriate sounds and colours for those styles.

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

Everyone tells you that music is competitive as a profession, so this comes as no surprise, but I think the greatest challenge so far for me has been the gradual realisation that there’s not a ‘divine’ justice determining success. I think I used to believe that if you worked hard enough and played well enough then someone would look after you and see that you got where you deserve to. I now realise that you’ve got to go out and make it happen for yourself. That might seem obvious, but it has been a gradual learning curve.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud  and which works do you think you perform best?

In terms of live performances, I have very fond memories of performing Rachmaninoff’s five works for piano and orchestra with Guernsey Sinfonietta and with Stockport Symphony Orchestra. I’ve always felt a very immediate connection with Rachmaninoff’s music, as many young musicians do, but as I have gotten older that connection has only deepened. This gives me the courage of my convictions. I feel I have an authentic and meaningful personal approach and can be more authoritative as a result.

When recording Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons and Ireland’s Sarnia, I set out to record a disc that comes as close to a live recording as possible. This approach, together with the possibilities offered by the piano and acoustic at Chethams’ Stoller Hall, allowed me to find sounds and colours that I am happy to hear back (once in a while).

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

Programming is a delicate balance between what I feel I can play with personal authenticity and conviction, what the promoter(s) might want and what the audience might like to hear. It is also sometimes quite practical, for instance prioritising larger Romantic masterpieces like Liszt’s Sonata, Schumann’s Fantasie, Chopin’s Preludes and Brahms’ F minor Sonata so as to get them in my fingers and to start a journey with these pieces sooner rather than later. This has sometimes led to very unusual and ambitious programmes. One of these included Ireland’s Sarnia, Beethoven Sonata Opus 110, Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka and Liszt’s B minor Sonata in one evening!

Most of all I look for music that I like and that means something to me, and I try to thread a theme through the programme if I can. I also like creating global tonal schemes through a programme. Ideally all of these concerns come together in the same programme!

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

I love playing on home ground. I’m very proud of my island home of Guernsey and I’m lucky to be able to return home to play for a very supportive and appreciative audience in one of the country’s best acoustics for piano and chamber music at St James. I also just love the place itself. It’s not surprising that it has inspired artists from Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Victor Hugo to John Ireland, Julie Andrews and Oliver Reed.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing in Wigmore Hall in 2016. Of course, it’s a great hall for solo piano music but you can’t help but be inspired by the history. Backstage, the framed photographs and signatures from great musicians of the past and present are both humbling and inspiring.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

This is a difficult question to answer but I think, if we are honest, there is an ideal and a practical answer to this. Ideally, a successful musician is one that stays true to themselves and to their artistry. Someone that ‘successfully’ connects to others in their performances, in their teaching and in everyday life. Practically, if you can make enough to continue striving for this ideal then I’d say you’re a successful musician.

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

As a teacher, I am always working towards the independence of my students. There are day to day concerns like how to analyse a problematic passage and practice it more efficiently on their own and how to make interpretative decisions more independently, but eventually the student needs to be equipped with a sure sense of self (and what it means, to them, to be an artist) in order to be a happy and successful musician. Artistry for me is about inward truth, outward connection and continual striving and I try to share that with my students.

Tom Hick’s recording of John Ireland’s Sarnia and Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons is available now


Hailed as an artist of ‘magnificent pianism’ with an ‘engaging personality,’ Guernsey-born pianist Tom Hicks has gained first prize in competitions including the Wales International Piano Competition, the Croydon Piano Concerto Competition and the EPTA UK Piano Competition and was also a finalist in the New York International Piano Competition and a semi-finalist in the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition. In addition, Tom has won awards such as the Richards’ Prize for Piano and Musicianship and the Dennis Midwood Keyboard Prize from Chetham’s School of Music; the Faculty of Humanities Outstanding Academic Achievement Award, the Keith Elcombe Prize for Best Overall Performance and three Proctor-Gregg Performance Prizes from the University of Manchester; and the Gold Medal Award and Peter Frankl Piano Prize from the Royal Northern College of Music.

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

I had this little toy keyboard-glock thing when I was little and, apparently, I would relentlessly play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on repeat on it…using only fingers 4 and 5. My parents weren’t musicians but suspected it would be sensible to find a teacher for me before I got into any strange habits!

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

My parents were incredibly supportive for which I will be eternally grateful. We also had a wide variety of musical genres playing in our home. I also had a primary school music teacher who encouraged me to be broad from the very start. He let me start an ensemble of children blowing across pen lids and he gave us a slot in a concert!

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

Self-doubt is my biggest enemy. I received some pretty damning assessments of my pianism and musicianship from some teachers along the way advising me to search for a career elsewhere and those comments still haunt me, regardless of any success I may enjoy. On a lighter note, as I like to keep myself varied and versatile, the constant “hat changing” from role to role takes a fair amount of concentration. There’s a reason people choose to specialise and I am endeavouring to match each person’s standard in each of their home territories! But I wouldn’t change it!!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a particular love for Debussy and French music. My very first piano teacher taught me that if I couldn’t get the sound I wanted out of a piano, that was down to me and I had to keep searching. This led to an endless thirst for finding sounds. I love contemporary music for the same reason. I also enjoy playing music which pulls on the breadth of styles I am familiar with.

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

I often don’t! I am often asked to play particular programmes based around certain themes. I recently performed a programme of works written for me for piano and various micro-computers!

Do you have a favourite concert venue and why?

I do love the Wigmore Hall. As well as the beautiful acoustic, there is something about its dimensions, the stage, the lighting, which makes you feel both near enough and far enough away from the audience while having a wonderful connection with any fellow performers on stage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love a good explosion like Martha Argerich. And Mitsuko Uchida just oozes generosity and sincerity.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Unfortunately, the one which springs to mind is where I had a wardrobe malfunction! I started my Scarlatti Sonata and one strap slipped down my shoulder, then the other… I could feel the audience holding their breath…for all the wrong reasons!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Finding the perfect connection between you, the composer and the audience (and the space and the piano) and balancing what needs to be communicated between all of these.

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

That you can only offer what you have to offer. Feed yourself in every way possible, work as hard as possible, and always give everything you can. You must not expect any less of yourself…but you also cannot expect any more.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

In 10 years time, I would like to have a life full of a whole range of musical things, some of which I don’t want to be able to guess! I’d also like to have redressed my work-life balance…!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is the above and having person/people to share that with. Moments of absolute creative activity interspersed with thoughtless silliness and some complete stillness.

What is your present state of mind?

My present state of mind is currently noisy! I find it difficult to switch off; finding internal silence is a constant endeavour.


As a multi-genre chamber musician, orchestral pianist and music director, Yshani has performed at venues including Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Barbican Theatre and various West End Theatres. She has performed at events including the Oxford Lieder Festival, Kammer Klang and Live at the London Palladium and with such varied artists as City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Mahogany Opera and Nina Conti.

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