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

I didn’t have any intention to do it early on. I was training as a ballet dancer, with the hopes of pursuing that professionally, but had also been studying the piano since I was very small, and composition at the local university since I was 14. So, when injuries and illness put an end to ballet, just after I started full-time training, I enrolled in a music degree, as I couldn’t face going back to complete high school. The wonderful professor who’d been teaching me composition was also head of conducting. He saw those two disciplines as complimentary threads, and knew I had a strong interest in harmony and analysis and had conducted a little at school, so encouraged me to add it to my degree. It just grew from there.

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

I am enormously, and endlessly, inspired by my husband, Jon Hargreaves – a contemporary music specialist, and my co-Artistic Director at Nevis Ensemble. Every project he creates is rigorously and creatively thought-out, and his ability to open up complex music to players of every experience level is second to none.

My grandmother Louise Carroll was a very important formative influence. She was a superb pianist as a young woman, but had to turn down a scholarship to study in London due to a pregnancy. She married my grandfather and channelled her musical energies into teaching and motherhood instead. I started harmony, piano and composition with her when I was about 4 years old, and fell asleep on many nights to the sound of her playing Medtner, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Nielsen. Any sense of musical style that I can claim to have comes from what I absorbed as I dropped off to sleep, I’m sure. The grounding she gave me in harmony is the foundation of everything that I do.

Lastly, when I first arrived in the UK, I worked for two years as the librarian at the Philharmonia. Happy, exhausting years. I learnt so much from watching and talking to Esa-Pekka, Maazel, Dohnanyi etc, but also through my discussions with the players, many of whom are now amongst my dearest friends. They were generous, insightful and caring teachers.

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

At the moment, the greatest challenge is the anxiety. It can be crippling, and some orchestras really enjoy making the conductor suffer! I do better work when I’m with ensembles that are healthy and happy in spirit, and don’t project so much negativity onto the podium, because I can be very sensitive to it. But even with the friendliest band, the first rehearsal can be terrifying. Imposter syndrome is widespread in the music world, especially among conductors I think, and we all cope with it differently.

On the flip side, when you find that wonderful working rhythm with a group, to the point you can throw ideas at each other in the performance, and play together in quite an improvisatory way, it is pure gold. That interaction and level of communal creative responsibility is a beautiful thing. Also, actually meeting audience members, going to chat with people and have a cuppa after the concert is great – a powerful reminder of who we do it all for, but also how significant connectedness is to the arts. Doing perfect music “at” people and then leaving without any personal connection is far less satisfying to me than making whatever adjustments and measures are necessary to actually involve people, and find out why music is significant to them. Live music is a far more potent social lubricant than alcohol, and it is the doing of it, the sharing of it as an experience, wherein lies the magic.

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

This is a tricky one… Of course, there is an ideal scenario that we’re all taught to speak of in hushed tones, in which we have weeks or even months to prepare a major score, and craft an analysis; enough rehearsal time to forge a gripping realisation of it; and divinely-inspired technique with which to communicate it. Utter b*ll*cks, really. A 19th-century fantasy. In reality, for 99% of working conductors, especially those of us in the early stages of our careers, we are tearing through scores with barely enough time to process them on even a basic level; spending much of our time working (happily!) with young people and non-professionals who require a totally different, and far from ideal, physical gesture to help them through; and when we are with a good professional band playing repertoire with a capital R, a significant portion of the rehearsal period involves allowing the orchestra to play you THEIR version of the piece. Hear the knowledge and experience of the piece that they bring to the room, listen to the sound they enjoy making, work out who in the room is central to their playing style, assess the relationship between the string principals, and work out whether the principal bass and timpanist listen to each other (hot tip: if not, the best conducting technique in the world can’t save you or them.) You can then add your contribution to the pot, and hopefully it will be a valuable one, but at the end of the day, this is their performance, their hard work and their energy being channelled.

As I was writing this, I thought “maybe it’s different for the elite conductors at the top of the food chain”? After all, the higher a conductor rises in the industry, the more specialised and narrow their repertoire tends to become, and the more easily they can turn down extra gigs, so of course they will know it in far greater depth. But also, I’ve watched many a 5-star maestro sight-read one of the pieces in the first rehearsal. By the second play, the really brilliant ones will have something helpful to say at every point of the piece. They think on their feet and ascertain immediately how to be of use. That is true virtuosity, in a weird kind of way!

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

Well, perhaps this is answered already above. But for a more pithy soundbite, I’d say our role is to be useful, in whatever way is needed in that specific situation. That might be helping the orchestra understand the piece, if it’s unfamiliar repertoire; but often it’s a far more practical role of knowing how to put out the fires when needed, and keeping the orchestra’s nose pointing in the right direction. With a really good orchestra, the most helpful thing you can do is get the jet off the ground, then let the engine (the players!) fly. 99% of the time, they really don’t need you – or, at least, your contribution is no better than anything they can do themselves, so do your best to keep it minimal and worthwhile. I always feel sad when really young conductors get thrown straight into the A-list orchestras, because they never really learn the skills required for those earlier scenarios – nor do they get to experience the genuine satisfaction of performing when you really are needed. The big bands will play brilliantly regardless of your posturing on the podium; but you can do serious damage in other situations, if you’ve not really learnt how to roll your sleeves up, listen deeply and rehearse effectively.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

The operas by Schreker and Korngold are at the top of my dream-list. Highly impractical. Utterly lush.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

We regularly take Nevis Ensemble to the Nan MacKay Memorial Hall – a lovely little community centre in South Glasgow with a full-time programme of activities and resources for anyone in the community in need of company; the elderly, people with social issues, recent newcomers from the refugee community come together to grow veggies, play mah-jong and do craft and exercise classes. There’s barely enough room for the orchestra to set up, and I need to stand on a coffee table in order for the brass and winds to see me. The audience sit around us with bowls of crisps, and there’s always a spread of food afterwards that would make your gran proud. But the energy in the room is like a carnival, and we always meet some really interesting people there. It’s impossible to go there and not come out beaming and full of hope for humanity.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My favourite musicians are the incredible amateur music-makers who are the backbone of musical life in this country. Composers…? Well, Schreker and Korngold are high on the list, obviously! I have pretty broad tastes, but some lurid late Romanticism, just on the brink of early Modernism, will always set me purring.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not needing to do it – I don’t mean financially, but… spiritually. If my right arm fell off tomorrow and I had to change careers, I’d be quite excited about getting to choose something new and fresh. I take that as an indication that my relationship to my work is quite healthy. The day that balance shifts too far in the other direction is the day I should retire.

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

1. Perfection should not be the end we’re after; it’s far more satisfying to an audience to witness curious, brave musicians who are on a journey with a piece than virtuosity with no value beyond itself. You’ll also grow into a performer (and human) of greater depth and flexibility by challenging yourself in that way. So, don’t sweat the small stuff in a performance; your job is to invite the orchestra and audience into your process, not show them how clever you are.

2. Every single aspect of your life as a musician is a construct. Question it all!

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

Somewhere with mountains nearby, and a work-life balance that allows me to adopt a dog!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Waking up in a remote, wild part of the world, and peering out of the tent to find Jon brewing a cup of earl grey tea on the billy. Bliss, though I’m not sure he’d agree.

What is your most treasured possession?

I love my Xbox for evenings when I don’t need to study, and we have a beloved collection of tea mugs, all of which have a personal story behind them. So, basically, anything in the house, the function of which intersects with my slippers and the sofa…

What is your present state of mind?

Two things:

1. Exhausted. It’s been a long season and I only get 2 weeks off before it all starts again.

2. Content! I’m having a ball touring the Scottish Highlands and Islands with Scottish Chamber Orchestra this week. They’re lovely people and superb colleagues.


New Zealand-born Holly Mathieson is an award-winning conductor, regularly working with opera houses, ballet companies and orchestras in Europe, Australasia and North America. She frequently records for BBC Radio, and her first major commercial recording with Decca will be released in July 2019. Her work has seen her travel to nearly every continent on the planet, and perform for audiences spanning from the British Royal Family and Europe’s political elites, to Scotland’s homeless and refugee communities. She is the founder and artistic director of Rata Music Collective, and Co-Artistic Director of the Nevis Ensemble with Jon Hargreaves.

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Calling female musicians, composers and conductors to take part in the Meet the Artist interview series

 

Established in 2012 by blogger Frances Wilson (“The Cross-Eyed Pianist”), Meet the Artist is a series of interviews in which musicians, conductors and composers discuss aspects of their creative lives, including inspirations, influences, repertoire, performance, recording, significant teachers and more. The interviews offer revealing insights into the musician’s working life and each one provides advice to young or aspiring musicians.

The interview takes the form of a short questionnaire. Originally hosted entirely on the The Cross-Eyed Pianist site, the series has grown in popularity to such an extent that it now has its own dedicated website.

If you would like to take part in the Meet the Artist series, please download an interview questionnaire and return it to Frances Wilson (contact details on questionnaire).

Meet the Artist questionnaire – musician/performer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Composer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Conductor

AKMI Duo are Valentine Michaud (saxophone) and Akvilé Sileikaité (piano)

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

VM: I chose the saxophone in the first place for a very simple reason: with such a golden instrument, it was love at first sight! I was 7 at the time and I knew 3 or 4 years later that music would be a huge part of my life. I had a fantastic first teacher who really transmitted his strong passion for his art and provided me with incredible opportunities for my first concert tours and groups. He really made me want to be a musician. I received the first instrument of my own at the age of 11 and I am still playing on the very same saxophone today.

AS: As I remember, we always had piano at home and I was quite curious as a child to try it. I received my first lessons from my mother, as she is piano teacher. I guess this is quite a typical beginning for the majority of musicians, but it was also so for me. I do not know how I started to build my musical career;  maybe I had brilliant teachers, and my parents supporting me. Maybe it is my passion for what I am doing, but it is definitely making me thrilled and excited.

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

VM: My first teacher, Slava Kazykin, was a very big influence in the beginning, as he taught me the basics of the saxophone, but also the joy that music making can give. Then I met other teachers who all had an important impact on my artistic vision, such as my two last teachers in Switzerland, Pierre-Stéphane Meugé, who initiated me into the strange world of contemporary music, and Lars Mlekusch, who helped me flourish as an artist with a real identity, and encouraged my interests in trans-disciplinary performances. But also of course the friends that I meet, the ones that I hear perform, and the ones with whom I’ve played, such as my duo partner Akvile Sileikaite, and also the travels have had a strong influence on my musical path.

AS: My family’s support, teachers, people I’m playing with, people I’m meeting, music itself.

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

VM: I think one of the biggest challenges of a musician’s career is the organizational side of it. Nowadays probably even more than fifty years ago, a musician has to be multi-faceted, and has to manage very different things at the same time: communication, planning, traveling, programming, teaching, and of course practicing, without mentioning obviously performing! All this requires a lot of energy and you can never take real ‘holidays’ from it. Also, as a classical saxophone player, I face the challenge of convincing people that this instrument has its place in the classical music world, even if it is not so well-known yet. And as the repertoire for the instrument is very contemporary, I also need to present to as broad an audience as possible pieces that are not especially ‘friendly’ to listen to, and make them love it!

AS: I have to force myself sometimes to not be lazy and just practice. This can be challenging! On a more serious note, the greatest challenge I find is the music itself because it is something that you need to express, literally, getting your feelings, thoughts, expressions, yourself naked in front of the other people, the audience, in a way that they would feel it and believe in it, believe in music, in their own feelings. To do this in every concert is challenging. I also find it the greatest experience because it’s unique every time you go on stage.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

VM: Performances can always be perfected of course… but one performance I remember was our AKMI Duo debut concert in the Lucerne Festival in 2017. It was not perfect, but we really enjoyed our time on stage as the connection between us and the audience was very strong and the atmosphere there was very special.

AS: The ones when I feel the audience is almost not breathing. And the ones which people remember and are excited to share their feelings about afterwards.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

VM: I am definitely more at ease with modern repertoire, virtuosic and highly rhythmical pieces that demand a lot of energy. Romantic pieces are not really my cup of tea…

AS: Denisov and Albright sonatas for saxophone and piano with Valentine.

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

VM: I always try to find a balance between modern pieces, new music, new commissions, and transcriptions, so that our programmes in recital are varied and can demonstrate the incredibly wide range of possibilities of my instrument. I often have ideas when going to concerts to hear colleagues, not necessarily saxophone players. Also, if I have a more trans-disciplinary performance in the season, then the programme is determined by the content of the show.

AS: It varies, from trying to choose the best pieces from the repertoire of the particular instrument I’m playing with, to pieces less-frequently played. Both so that people can enjoy and find something new for them. It is also sometimes very much dependent on a concert organiser’s wishes.

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

VM: I don’t have a particular one, but I do prefer the smaller halls: they have a human dimension that I like, and I find it easier to connect with the audience and really share something stronger. When the audience is really far away or sitting really high in balconies, it is much more difficult for me (at least until at the moment!).

Who are your favourite musicians?

VM: I have a lot! There are many musicians that I admire, not necessarily classical ones. I also love artists who are multi-faceted or really committed to contemporary music, as I think this is very important. And of course the people I play with are among my favourite musicians! But for the big names, it could range from Barbara Hannigan or Patricia Kopatchinskaja to Michael Jackson, Queen or Charlie Parker…

AS: Valentine obviously, then Mirga Gražinyte, Parvo Järvi, Martin Grubinger, Fabian Ziegler, Asmik Grigorian, Hilary Hahn, Kian Soltani and many others. These are the names that come into my head first, there are so many I admire. I still have a secret wish to play with some of them.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

VM: There were many funny or epic experiences through the years… maybe a funny one was in Moscow. Akvile and I were playing a duo recital and programmed a humorous Swiss contemporary piece. We had to speak a text before each movement, and an old woman in the audience started to stand up and complain that we shouldn’t be talking during the concert, and that she didn’t need explanations. I don’t speak Russian, so I didn’t understand what was the matter. Akvile was trying to answer the woman from the stage and they were debating about it while I was just standing on stage wondering what was happening. Then other people in the audience started to take part to this animated discussion. The scene was really absurd. In the end we started playing again but the woman stood up and left with great noise and slamming the door of the hall. So far this is the one and only time I had such a scandalous performance!

AS: My debut at Lucerne Festival. Or if an interesting story, a little scandal Valentine and I had in Moscow when playing contemporary music. We performed a piece by R.Gubler, called “Very Important Things”, a piece that needed us to ‘describe’ the subject we are going to perform, preferably in the language of the country we were playing in. So in the middle of the composition, one lady stood up and said in Russian that we don’t need to explain every subject, people knew what we were doing. Then someone shouted her back that she was disturbing the performance. I tried gently to explain that this was part of the piece and the composers required us to do it. Quite an interesting discussion started then we just continued to play. Then in the middle of our playing, the first lady stood up, said something like “I cannot stand it anymore” and left the hall closing the doors as loudly as possible. I guess she didn’t like the piece so much…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

VM: I think to succeed is when you make people feel better when you play. Smiles on the faces of my audience are the best rewards, and to see wide open eyes of children as I play is probably one of the best feelings ever.

AS: Working hard, meeting people, not forgetting to invest to “yourself” by reading, attending galleries and concerts, and having hobbies.

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

VM: As a teacher, I try to give to my students a taste of the joy of playing music can be. Curiosity is also a very important concept to me, to keep an open-minded spirit and to be interested in all kind of arts, not just in your instrument, not just in classical music, and not just in music in general. Of course, working hard and always trying to be better than your yesterday-self is also a very important idea. And sharing is also one of the most important things to me. I don’t think a selfish person can be a truly good musician…

AS: Believe in what you are doing, have goals and enjoy the process of reaching them. And practice.

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

VM: On a stage, surrounded by friends that I like to play with. It doesn’t really matter where!

What is your present state of mind?

VM: At the moment I am extremely enthusiastic and full of energy for what is coming up in the next months! I have many very exciting projects to come and I can’t wait for it!

AS: Trying to enjoy everything I am doing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

AS: Family, enjoying the process of learning, playing and being on stage and having time for myself and holidays.

What is your most treasured possession?

AS: People around me, ideas and arts.

 

AKMI Duo won this year’s Swiss Ambassador’s Award and embark on a UK concert tour from 15 October at Wigmore Hall, 16 October at Carol Nash Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester and 17 October at Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff


Valentine Michaud and Akvilé Sileikaité first crossed paths in Zurich in 2015; and with that, the AKMI duo was born.

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

To be honest, I was forced into the family trade as a musician!  Both of my parents are classical musicians and music teachers, and I started on the piano at age 3, violin at 6, and cello at 7.  Playing music and performing was a mandatory activity but it wasn’t until I was 18 and moved to Los Angeles to go to university (studying Classical Cello Performance) at USC when I started really pursuing ways to make my own music and just work as a cellist in order to pay the bills.  I did a lot of work as a session musician and hired gun, and it helped me learn and familiarize myself with all genres of music, but my main love and obsession has always been Industrial Metal.  I’m lucky that my ‘day job’ of being a session musician has a lot of crossover with my own music.

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

Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, System of a Down and Jaqueline du Pré – she was amazing!

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

At the beginning of my career when I had just moved to Los Angeles, I had exactly $0 to my name and didn’t own an instrument (the cello and bow I used were on loan to me while I was in university by a foundation).  It was extremely difficult to get by as I had no outside financial help.  I remember putting up ads daily on musician classifieds online and playing with any band or artist that was wiling to pay $50 for a rehearsal and show, and I played in every club on Sunset Strip.  I taught music students for $20 a hour, and played cello at endless weddings, funerals, Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs etc.  Even though I had a full scholarship for tuition to USC, it didn’t cover living expenses,  additional school expenses like books, etc., so I amassed a good amount of student loans and credit card debt for the 2½ years I was attending.   After 2½ years of school, I left since I wasn’t able to balance performing/working and going to school full time, and I decided to go 100% into music.   It wasn’t until after 7 years of grinding away as a session musician, living in a garage with no kitchen, heat or air  conditioning to be able to make payments on the 1880 Gand & Bernardel Cello I purchased using an instrument loan and 3 credit card advances, multiple failed metal band projects, and using what little money I made to buy music equipment so I could record and self-release my own music, that I was finally offered a position as a soloist with Cirque du Soleil on Electric Cello.

I toured with the Michael Jackson ‘THE IMMORTAL’ World Tour for two years from 2011-2013, and during those years I only had 2 suitcases of belongings and saved religiously, spending only $20 a week. I started taking online courses in investing and began purchasing stocks and investing in Peer-to-Peer lending.  I was able to build a financial foundation for myself because of that opportunity!  I also brought along my studio equipment on the road to continue doing recording sessions for composer and producer clients, and also composed/released 3 of my own albums during that period.  I think being able to figure out how to survive financially has been a major struggle, as well as identifying a clear image of what my own music is, since I love and have delved into so many different genres of music.  During my years in university, I did perform as a classical soloist with smaller orchestras, and also enjoyed my work in the studios recording for soundtracks, as well as my own metal projects on which I worked.  Looking back now, all 10 of my albums have been wildly different in style and approach, but I do feel like they are all genuinely me as I explored different parts of my musical self through the years through these recordings and compositions.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud? 

My very first music video, ‘Queen Bee’ which was from my album THE JOURNEY is something I’m very proud of!  That music video led to me being offered the position with Cirque du Soleil, and also working with Hans Zimmer after he saw it on YouTube.  I was in the early stages of exploring my own version of Industrial Metal Cello – inspired heavily by the band Rammstein and Marilyn Manson – and used  something a bit obvious as the base (the Flight of the Bumble Bee) but felt like that artistically and stylistically the video is truly *me* at my essence.  I was very lucky to work with an amazing team for that video!  To finance it, I spent every penny I had  as I told myself it would be my last “hurrah” at trying to pursue Industrial Metal.  It took a bit of a different turn as I suddenly was approached by composers here in Los Angeles to record my “metal style” cello on their soundtracks after the video was released.  I feel like 9 years later, it’s worked out perfectly and having the opportunity to perform at WACKEN recently, the biggest metal festival in the world, with two amazing bands SABATON and Beyond the Black, was truly a dream come true.  There are many paths leading to the final destination and I love the path that I have been on, which I never would have guessed!  Having my first adventure into New Age Music nominated for a GRAMMY was a huge surprise

The entire album was recorded in one day, completely improvised with myself and Peter Kater the pianist, never having played together in order to capture the purest form of improvisation and musical meeting.  I’ve played with rappers, country artists, DJs, and musically it has helped me expand so much!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Passionate Romantic-era classical pieces, soundtrack music that is very open to interpretation and Industrial Metal!

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

I am open to anything and everything, and a lot of my musical activity is recording for various soundtrack projects, so the film, tv show, or video game determines the repertoire!  I’ve backed away somewhat from performing classical music with orchestras as I’m trying to focus now more heavily on my own original music projects and compositions.

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

So far, my favorite has been at Wacken Open Air! 125,000 people, amazing wonderful energy, lots of fire and screaming!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The very first time I performed in an arena in Montreal at the premiere of Michael Jackson ‘The Immortal” World Tour – I was so incredibly nervous!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

  1. Being able to make the music you love.
  2. Having financial security so that you are in the mind space and energy to not worry about concerns related to poverty- having been in it, I can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to be musically inspired and focused when you don’t know how you will pay for your next meal!

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

I am very passionate about entrepreneurship and learning about every aspect of the business side of music as much as possible to educate yourself.  So much knowledge is available to us, for free online, with technology growing and changing at such a fast pace, and so many alternative routes for musicians and creatives to monetize their work.  I have a lot of videos discussing finances, investments, etc., on my YouTube channel if anyone would like to check it out in addition to music videos, concert videos, tutorials, product reviews, and other random things.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My fiancé Rambo and I with our two Fur Babies (our two dogs, Bagel and Pizza) up in the mountains in a cabin with a snow storm outside, fireplace roaring, a Large pepperoni and pineapple pan pizza from Domino’s, coffee, furry Blankets, a big bed and Netlflix on a huge TV!

Tina Guo’s single ‘The Circle of Life’ from The Lion King is available now. More information


Internationally acclaimed, GRAMMY Award-nominated and BRIT Female Artist of the Year-nominated musician Tina Guo has established an international career as a virtuoso acoustic/electric cellist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and entrepreneur. Known for her unique genre-crossing style, she is one of the most recorded Solo Cellists of all time and can be heard on hundreds of Blockbuster Film, Television, and Game Soundtracks.  In 2018, Tina signed as an official brand partner with Bentley Motors, composing, performing, and producing the launch music for the luxury hybrid vehicle, Bentayga Hybrid.  In 2019, Tina partnered with the Ritz-Carlton to create a soundtrack to the endless possibilities and unforgettable moments experienced at The Ritz-Carlton. Tina will visit four destinations — New Orleans, Dove Mountain, Toronto and Maui — and compose original scores inspired by these dynamic locations.

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

I must say, I don’t know… My parents, although not musicians, are very musical. My father composed some songs for my mother to sing with his guitar accompaniment. There was always much music in the house, mostly classical and what in Russia is called ‘bard song’.

There also was an upright piano and I well remember I was fascinated, enchanted by the sound of major third.

But in the end it all might be even simpler and a bit embarrassing. I was about 6 years old and I went to a symphonic concert to hear a violinist playing. She was wearing a purple velvet dress, a rather unbelievable hue of purple. I thought I’d never seen a colour more sumptuous…and I decided I wanted to play violin. That’s how my path in music started – I am afraid, because of a velvet dress!

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

I am easily influenced in the sense that I am easily fascinated, easily enthused about things. In a way, this can be a disruptive quality sometimes – one needs, perhaps, some distance with the subject to get to the core of it. Inevitably, the list of musicians who left their imprint on my playing is long and eclectic.

My first great musical idol was Sviatoslav Richter. Of course, I heard his recordings very early on, but I “discovered” him in my teens. I then first understood what a word “musician” means, or should mean. A few years later I was struck by Theodor Currentzis who came to my home town in 2004 to start Musica Aeterna. I never knew before how hard one can work and how far one can go in carving ideas and reaching one’s vision. Yet later on I subsequently worshipped Mikhail Pletnev, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, then Maria João Pires with whom I studied, and Graham Johnson. During my years at the Moscow Conservatory I was very much under the spell of one of my mentors, Pavel Nersessian, a formidable personality and a very unique musician. Lately, however, I feel more and more that I am influenced, inspired or fuelled by things outside music, be it painting, photography, dance or fashion.

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

The challenge which perhaps is quite specific for the time we live in is to pace oneself and allow the music enough space and time to grow naturally. It is extremely important, but it takes quite some effort to avoid temptations and sometimes work hard against the flow.

Yet a greater challenge is to always try and see – artistically – things as they are, not what you expect them to be. It’s hard work overcoming your own knowledge and experience. It is a paradoxical but, I believe, a necessary task for any artist at some point.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Perhaps, the Louis Couperin disc was altogether the most ambitious and challenging recording project to date. In Russian we say: “To push a camel through an eye of a needle”. That’s what it was.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The ones that I am deeply in love with at the given moment.

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

The repertoire choices are painful…. I have big appetite for repertoire, but a pianist has to set the priorities clear early enough as Alfred Brendel once said to me. You learn to live with the thought that you won’t be able to play everything you want, in a lifetime.

Usually, there emerges a certain theme, or a composer, or a piece which attracts me. I then start searching for a concept that would be strong enough to construct a program around it. It is curious that at a certain point there is always an element of surprise, a moment of spontaneity when you suddenly see the possibilities that you didn’t expect at all at first. It’s important not to miss that moment.

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

Perhaps I enjoy the most playing at places that are not regular concert venues. When they sound good, of course.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My most favourite musicians are those that are fearless, selfless and inquisitive.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 years old I went to a music festival in Casalmaggiore. At one point with few friends we went on a day trip to Venice. As we were walking past La Fenice a friend from St Petersburg noticed that Grigory Sokolov was playing that very night. We went in and bought last tickets. I had not a slightest idea who he was. He went on stage and the instant before he started playing I knew I was about to hear something I’d never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is like food: the quantity and quality of it shapes you in a certain way over the time, whether you want it or not. Have too little or too much of it – and you will die, metaphorically speaking of course.

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

Funnily, my deep conviction is that no idea or concept of true artistic importance can be imparted or transferred. The real things are those that you grow yourself in your own garden, without anyone overseeing. In that sense art is the land of absolute sole responsibility. There is nothing that cannot be challenged, but in fact there is nothing that has to be challenged at all – quite simply, there really is nothing that is impossible, unless you’ve decided so.

Pavel Kolesnikov performs Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Britten Shostakovich Festival Orchestra who reach the UK next week for their inaugural UK tour from 17 to 25 September in Birmingham (17th September), Leeds (19th), Manchester (21st) and Cadogan Hall, London (25th September).

Pavel makes his debut at The Tetbury Music Festival on 5 October 2019. The festival runs between 28 September and 6 October – please visit www.tetburymusicfestival.org for more information and tickets


Since becoming Prize Laureate of the Honens Prize for Piano in 2012, Pavel Kolesnikov has performed around the world.  Significant recital and festival appearances include Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Berlin’s Konzerthaus, the Louvre (Paris), Vancouver Recital Society, La Jolla Music Society, Spoleto Festival USA, Canada’s Ottawa ChamberFest and Banff Summer Festival, Plush Music Festival, and the BBC Proms.  Recent and upcoming orchestral appearances include London Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, Russia’s National Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Pavel is also a member of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists for 2014 to 2016 and RCM Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow for 2015 to 2016.

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(artist photo: Eva Vermandel)

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

I always loved to sing; in fact, I can’t imagine a life without being allowed to sing.

Singing makes me feel free, and what is a life without freedom? I suppose there are many ways of expressing oneself, but for me, the most natural is to sing. I like the fact that my body is my instrument, and that I can use it to communicate with an audience. It’s such a direct transfer of emotion from my heart to other hearts. I never thought there would be another path for me. That’s my path.

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

My music teacher in high school, Tim Bruneau, had a big impact on the way I listen to and think about music. He taught the chamber choir at the girls’ school I attended in Los Angeles, and we rehearsed every day. He always shared the latest recordings with us. We listened to incredible singers (mostly women) every day: Jessye Norman, Kiri Te Kanawa, Frederica von Stade, Cecilia Bartoli, Barbara Bonney… He taught us to listen for colour and tone, for style, to study how the singers used their breath – those were very formative years. I know my love for lieder and art song began then. In terms of career, the best advice I ever received was from my friend Frederic Alden, who is a businessman. He told me to “look at what everyone else is doing and do something different.”

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

Producing my brand-new album ‘The Wild Song’ on my own has been particularly challenging. Several people told me to give the recording to a label and let them produce it, but I had invested so much of myself in its creation that I thought it would be better to produce the album myself. I wanted to make a very beautiful object, and I knew that record labels didn’t do that anymore. I’m thrilled the album has been so well received.

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Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of ‘The Wild Song’. I set out to make a recording that was very different from anything I had ever heard. I wanted to mix classical art song with spoken poetry and electronic music. Although I feared that an album like ‘The Wild Song’, which is rather non-traditional, would be rejected by the classical community, I have been delighted by the classical community’s embrace of it. To me, that means our community is evolving, which I think is very necessary in our intensely connected and computerised world. The biggest musical challenge in the project was ensuring the transitions between the different genres felt organic, and I think Mychael Danna’s electronic interludes work very effectively as bridges between Britten’s songs and W B Yeats’ poems.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have been a champion of women composers for a very long time, far before it was fashionable. Historically, there are so many who have not been given the attention they rightly deserve. I particularly love to sing Mel Bonis’ mélodies and Barbara Strozzi’s vocal music. However, Clara Schumann composed my favourite lieder, and I would say my favourite song of all is Liebst du um Schönheit. I love Rückert’s poem about loving for love’s sake. When it comes down to it, the only thing that truly matters, is love.

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

I love words. My repertoire choices are always made based on the poetry. If I can’t relate to the words or the poem, I can’t sing the song. Music always has to come from the heart, so I have to be able to relate to the poetry.

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

My dream is to perform ‘The Wild Song’ at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Somehow it would be going full circle— taking a dream I created in Europe back home with me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite living singers are Barbara Bonney and Thomas Hampson. I absolutely adore Barbara Bonney’s voice, both for its purity and force, and I find it very sad that she is not performing anymore. What fascinates me with Thomas Hampson is that he is able to create a very strong connection with the audience from the moment he sings the first note of a recital. I’ve never seen anyone else do that. It usually takes other singers an entire song or two. He is truly a master recitalist. As for singers ‘of old,’ I am a huge fan of Rita Streich. I don’t think there has ever been a more fabulous Zerbinetta. As for pianists of the “new generation,” I love listening to Víkingur Ólafsson. I’m also a big fan of Igor Levit.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I once gave a recital in the Royal Chapel in the Château de Versailles. It was such a glorious place to sing. Not only were acoustics incredible but the chapel itself is so incredibly beautiful. I very much like to sing in places with centuries of history; I like the idea of being part of that history.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is being able to do the next project that is blossoming in my imagination.

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

I think the main thing is to never give up. That’s obviously challenging on a hard day, or during a hard year, but it’s really important. My yogi friends often use a hashtag that says #practiceandalliscoming. We musicians should use the same hashtag. Practice. Don’t give up. Trust your instinct.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think we all carry perfect happiness inside ourselves all of the time. The challenge is being able to tap into it. Unfortunately, I believe most people never learn to tap into their true selves and never experience this. My yoga practice has taught me that peace and happiness are always available to us. I have a deep sense of contentment.

The Wild Song is available now

Review of The Wild Song


American by birth and Parisian by inclination, Marci Meth has been celebrated for her performances “imbued with charm and elegance” (Classica magazine). Nominated for the most promising recording by a young classical singer at the Orphées d’Or in Paris in 2009, her performances have been lauded by audiences at the Château de Versailles, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. James Piccadilly, as well as at venues in Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Tokyo and Osaka. 

The creation of The Wild Song has occupied Marci for the past three years and has included the creation of a new record label, Modern Poetics. The Wild Song brings together Marci’s interests in poetry, music and film and is her vision of what the 19th century song recital looks and sounds like in the 21st century. 

Marci Meth earned her Postgraduate Diploma at the Royal College of Music in London and was awarded the Century Fund Prize for Early Music. She has studied singing with Ryland Davies, Jennifer Smith, Christine Barbaux and Marie-Claude Solanet. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Art History from Stanford University. 

marcimeth.com