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

I played the flute since I was about 6 and had no intention of playing the bass! When I was 13 or so, I had passed grade 8 flute and there wasn’t much else to do in Cumbria with the flute, so I was looking for a second instrument. There was an old bass in the corner of the music school at school so asked my school music teacher if I could borrow it. I got some lessons from Cumbria music service and that was it: I was completely hooked. I joined Cumbria Youth Orchestra, then Northern Junior Philharmonic playing incredible repertoire like Tchaik 4, Mahler 7 and realised that I’d fallen in love with the bass. I then was taken to hear a concert by Gary Karr in a church in Penrith when I was 14. I had never heard anything like it. I went backstage to meet him after the gig and he asked me to play him something on his Amati. That’s when I knew without a doubt I wanted to be a bass player.

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

Everything I do influences my musical life. Climbing mountains, meditation, reading a great book, cooking for friends, seeing an incredible piece of art – it’s impossible to separate out that from playing really.

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

Juggling parenting and playing is incredibly tough, particularly as a single parent. I taught as a peripatetic musical teacher full time for a few years and absolutely loved it. Now that my daughter Eden is older, it’s a joy to throw myself into full time playing again but I think it’s very hard for many musicians to balance their career and parenthood.

I found the elitism difficult when I first left Cumbria as we just saw the composers as normal people who had the ability to put what couldn’t be expressed in words into sound. So the posh thing was a bit tricky to deal with. But I’m working on that with my Classical Evolution gigs.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Usually my last one – which was with Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family at this year’s Wildnerness Festival. So much fun – playing with the genre, improvising, working with such fantastic musicians. I really enjoyed recording a piece by Ailis Ni Riain for the Delia Derbyshire tour last year called The Consequences of Falling for double bass and trumpet. It was inspired by a piece by Delia, who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and wrote the ‘Doctor Who’ theme. Really fantastic music, very challenging and I loved working on it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love being in a big section playing the big stuff – Mahler, Shostakovich, Nielsen…… but over the last few years I’ve discovered an absolute passion for chamber music. Playing underplayed repertoire by people such as the woman composer Louise Farrenc – fellow bassist Leon Bosch introduced me to her beautiful quintets.

I also love working with composers on new works for the bass and have been incredibly lucky to work with some amazing composers such as James Stevenson, AIlis Ni Riain and am going to be working with Paul Abbott from September on some new pieces for bass, voice, extended vocal techniques. New music is incredibly important to me. I run Classical Evolution which brings chamber and orchestral music to atypical locations in a completely informal way, and I’ve commissioned 3 new works in that capacity too. The bass is fantastic for this as it allows such versatility.

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

The people that book me for orchestral gigs tend to do that! With my classical evolution gigs, I’m running 2 concert series in Manchester that are rather contrasting – one at a live music venue, Night and Day cafe where we’ll have improv nights where classical musicians who would like the chance to improvise can do it in the relative safety of the forms of tango, flamenco, baroque, and with a lovely friendly audience. More traditional repertoire that whatever me and my ensemble think will fit, and a new work each month. The other series is in the beautiful Portico Library in Manchester where I want to perform a more traditional repertoire but with some surprises thrown in every now and again but to work with authors to contextualise music in the frame of the great works that were written at the time.

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

Oh so many. From Matt and Phreds jazz club in Manchester to the Royal Albert Hall to a forest outside Liverpool where I commissioned and played in a piece for a children’s festival, to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen…

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

All time favourite really has to be Mahler 2.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’m lucky to have one of my best friends as one of my favourite musicians, and that’s the pianist Daniel Grimwood. Lots of other friends are just incredible and it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures to talk deeply about music and other facets of life with friends who’s musical talent you deeply admire.

I was brought up listening to Jaqueline du Pre, Pierre Fournier, Miles Davies, Carl Santana, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones (I had a big thing for Duran Duran when I was about 7). I love The Smiths, the Stone Roses. LTJ Bukem is a bit of a genius as is Bill Orbital. Recently living in Andalucia i discovered Paco de Lucia, Carlos Benavent, Javier Colina, Jorge Pardo…… far too many to mention and it changes pretty much daily!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

That is so difficult! Can I have a couple? The first time I really believed I could make a career was playing Nielsen 5 in Tivoli Gardens with Ole Schmidt. Truly extraordinary music and I loved every second.

Playing Schubert’s Trout at Classical Revolution’s first birthday concert in the Royal Exchange in Manchester with Martin Roscoe and Benedict Holland was pretty special too! 

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

Work hard and love what you do. Never stop learning, and be completely open to who you can learn from. It’s the best job in the world.

Tell us more about Classical Evolution

I got back from living in Spain and was appalled by the music cuts in education so did a little thing called Guerilla Orchestra, where we played Mission Impossible in a few cities at the same time – one of which was conducted by the lovely Peter Donohoe. This guy emailed me from the states telling me about Classical Revolution over there, where people were playing chamber music informally in coffee shops. So we decided to play Dvorak quintet in our jeans in Matt and Phreds. Luckily Ben Holland agreed to play, and it went from strength to strength. We ended up with 2 monthly slots, one fantastic Sunday afternoon monthly gig where we would have lots of kids running around, we were playing bigger works like Souvenir de Florence, Britten’s Les Illiuminations, then I commissioned some works and thought that the name Classical Evolution summed what we were doing much more succinctly. Since then I’ve been running courses with some of the best musicians in the industry with that same informal feel, home-cooked bread and soup, and we’re carrying on from there. I’ve now set it up as a Community Interest Company and we have collaborations with visual, written and theatre artists coming up, expanding into education projects for children as well as the usual gigs in our jeans in ridiculous places. I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to have this project supported as patrons by Martin Roscoe, Ben Holland, Alison Moncrieff-Kelly and Jamie Walton. I played with Elizabeth Ball who runs the fabulous Classical Kicks at Ronnie Scotts, so we have a few things up our sleeves too. It’s not taking music out of the concert hall, in fact quite the opposite. People who come to our gigs or see us playing have often never been to a concert but having seen us play in those informal settings are keen to know more and are then led to the concert hall. The idea and philosophy is basically in no way to dumb down, just to play this music, particularly chamber music, in the way it was originally intended with people having a bite to eat, glass of wine, and see it in the raw.

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

Doing exactly what I’m doing now – playing the bass and running Classical Evolution.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my fantastic daughter up a mountain or in some ridiculous country somewhere. Or cooking at home for loads of friends. She’s a far better cook than I am!

What is your most treasured possession?

Boris (my bass)

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being a mother.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited about great projects in the pipeline, both playing and organising collaborations with sculptors, composers, musicians.. I’m a very lucky girl! 

Heather was born in Cumbria, and started playing the Flute aged 6, and the Double Bass aged 14. She played with the Cumbria Youth Orchestra and the Northern Junior Phil, before going on to the Royal Northern College of Music, studying the Double Bass with Duncan McTier.

Whilst at the RNCM, she played with the Symphony, String, Baorque, Chamber and Film Orchestras, Akanthos (the contemporary music ensemble), and kept a busy jazz schedule outside college.

After leaving the RNCM, Heather lived in Angola doing aid work, before moving to Cádiz, Spain for 3 years playing jazz, tango and teaching. She returned to the UK in 2010 to pursue an orchestral career.

As a Double Bassist she has worked with the RLPO, Sinfonia Verdi and the Milton Keynes City Orchestra, and well as numerous one-off dates.

Heather also runs Classical Evolution which was set up in 2011 to bring chamber and orchestral music to atypical locations with an informal feel to bring the music to new audiences. She has performed at the Spellbound Forest festival, for which she commissioned a new piece for children by James Stephenson. She also commissioned a new piece for the Just So Festival and organised a series of concerts for the Manchester Peace festival where she commissioned a further piece by the head of composition at Manchester University Richard Whalley and premiered it along with other new music in the live music venue Night and Day café.


Heather Bird
Director – Classical Evolution and Evolution Arts Centre
07456 528 166
 
For orchestral bookings please contact Morgensterns on 020 8681 0555 or visit www.morgensternsdiaryservice.com

Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)
Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)

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

I owe everything really to Charlie and Ciss Hammond, who were our next-door neighbours when I was a toddler in Kent; they had an upright piano on which I used to fiddle around. Although I don’t come from a musical background it must have been apparent to my family that I was musically inclined very early on. I was too young to remember much about it, but my guess is that it was exactly the same instinct which makes us learn language as children. I was extremely fortunate that my first teacher, Dr Jennie Coleman currently of Dunedin, was beyond excellent and gave me a very solid foundation at a very early age.

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

Originally I had intended to be a violinist. At that time Yehudi Menuhin was it! I think the experience of having been a good string player has shaped my way with the piano.

Later on I hero-worshipped (and still do) Sviatoslav Richter and I am lucky enough to have been one of the few of my generation to have heard him live outside of Russia, an experience I shall never forget. No recordings represent what I heard on those evenings.

As I get older two figures return to my work over and over again; if I face a thorny technical problem or one of those little niggles where the head contradicts the heart I will ask, “what would Graham Fitch or Peter Feuchtwanger recommend?”. I believe the advice of these two men will always be a guiding light.

Being a pianist is less about playing the piano than it is about being a human being. The numerous extra-musical things which have made me who I am have also made me the artist I am. A musician can only express what they are and what they know.

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

I’m in my early forties and still a musician – that is challenge enough.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My complete Faure Nocturnes. I recorded it in tremendously difficult emotional conditions. My whole heart is in it and it is the recording I feel most accurately mirrors my inner being.

Although I move forward from past stuff quickly, I will always take pride in my Liszt and Erard project. The concert at the Wigmore was a definite high point in my career and I can still bear to listen to the CDs, which is unusual for me. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_wSsz-K8Cg)

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Schubert

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

I am a Gemini and my mind is always jumping from place to place, this has given me a very large repertoire so my choices are more often than not subject to passing whim.

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

Give me a piano that works and people who want to listen and I will play.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This changes by the hour though I always seem to return to Schubert and Liszt who I think of as artistic brothers. Last year I subjected my home village of Brenchley to the entire first book of the Frescobaldi Toccatas, which I was in love with at the time – the following week I performed Liszt. I have a hungry mind and like not only to know the music posterity calls great, but the music around it.

Mostly I listen to music other than piano. I love the Organ and wish I were clever enough to play it well. I listen to the Symphonic repertoire most and lately I have been much impressed by the Symphonies and Cantatas of Sergei Tanayev.

I listen to the Monteverdi Vespers every Christmas and I love them.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I favour different artists for different qualities. Some because they resonate with my nature, others because they challenge my nature. For example, I have long loved Ignaz Friedman, and there is something in his improvisatory streak that I recognise in myself. On the other hand, Daniel Barenboim, a pianist who couldn’t sound more different from me in many ways, fascinates me. The tone production is extraordinarily concentrated. I can’t get enough of his late Beethoven at the moment. I have worn out Stephen Hough’s CDs of the Saint-Saëns Concertos and I’ve lately very much enjoyed listening to Maria Joao Pires play Chopin with unusual depth. I just bought a splendid recording of Bart van Oort playing Field and Chopin Nocturnes on original pianos with highly original extemporisations. I could carry on…there are so many of us! But what is amazing is that we all have something totally different to say.

I can’t not mention Ingrid Haebler – hardly anyone I know has heard her Schubert Sonatas yet it is some of the most cultivated music making I have ever heard.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One in a London hotel where a leg fell off the piano.

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

Follow your own instincts at all times. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Know your audience – all of them – and always remember that music is a birthright not a luxury. Never forget that we are the luckiest people alive; our job is our hobby – however difficult a life in music gets, and at times it really, really does – never lose sight of how much you love your art.

 

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

In front of a piano

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Dvorak in the bath by candlelight…

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music, running

What is your present state of mind?

Contented

 

www.danielgrimwood.co.uk

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

I started learning the piano when I was five after hearing my older brother play (he started learning a couple of years before me). I remember just being very excited at the prospect of having lessons as I always loved the sound of the instrument and, having heard my brother play a little, I just couldn’t wait to make those sounds myself. Deciding to make the piano my career came rather late for me, though: I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, and the first time I ever saw a professional pianist play wasn’t until I was about 14! So I suppose I didn’t even realise it was a possible career until then. I think the real turning point was when I started having lessons with my second teacher Ian Jones. He used to lend me CDs every week and I’d listen to them obsessively. I grew up in the countryside and there weren’t many opportunities to hear live classical music, so my early knowledge of pianists came mainly from these recordings (Michelangeli’s Gaspard; Lazar Berman playing Rach 3; and Perahia playing Bach English Suites; and Aimard playing Ligeti Etudes to name a few). I think listening to these recordings was what made me decide to be a pianist.

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

As I mentioned above I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, but ever since I started studying at the University of York, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing musicians and people, and it’s very hard to single one thing, or person, out. I learnt with a local piano teacher until I was sixteen, and, while she did cover the basics, I had all sorts of problems by the time I met my second piano teacher, Ian Jones (now teaching at the RCM). I owe a lot to him: he helped me through a really difficult period in my development. I was really quite behind as a pianist for my age, but he was a real inspiration and very supportive, and helped me catch up quickly. But I think the single most important thing that has inspired my musical life has always been the people that I have studied with, worked with, and met throughout my life (and not just musicians!). Anyone who thinks that western art music is on the decline should go to any university music department, festival, concert venue, or music college and they’ll see that there is just so much musical activity happening in every single direction, and involving such intelligent, creative, and interesting people. I find that extremely inspiring.

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

Probably settling into music college once I got there! I had a real crisis once I arrived. It’s such an intense, competitive, and intimidating atmosphere, that I really struggled at first. It took me a long time to realise that you just have to focus on your own activities and ideas and that there’s not one right way of doing anything (even if your teachers say otherwise!). It’s so easy to get distracted by what other people are doing at a music college. Once I got used to all of that I had a great time.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve been pretty lucky in the last 5 years, having done so many interesting and challenging projects. One of my favourite performances has to be doing Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar, which was in 2011. It’s such an ecstatically joyous piece and so much fun to play that it’s a hard experience to beat! I’d love the chance to do it again someday……

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’ve always been fairly proud of my Debussy Images (particularly book II). And Brahms’ 1st Concerto. Turangalîla is up there too.

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

I never have total control over this, which I think is healthy. It’s great when you have to learn a piece you don’t know for a specific project and it ends up being a real discovery for you, and something you might not otherwise have come across. Obviously this does sometimes go the other way! The rest of the time I just try to programme the things I’m particularly interested in at that time. I also like to keep learning new repertoire each season. This makes things a little harder, but it’s so satisfying and you learn so much with every new piece you play that I try to include a new one per programme.

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

Wigmore Hall is a lovely place to play – beautiful acoustics and a wonderful instrument. I also love going back to where I studied for my undergraduate degree (University of York) – the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall there has such an intimate atmosphere. It is a little over-resonant, but for certain repertoire I haven’t yet found anywhere better. But every venue has its own pros and cons really, and you’d have to be unlucky not to find at least one piece in the programme that the venue really suits.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love Bartók at the moment. Any of the piano pieces or string quartets. Morton Feldman has been a recent obsession. I haven’t played anything big yet (but learning For John Cage very soon), so will have to get back to you on the joys of performing Feldman! Debussy has always been a favourite of mine to play. Recently, I’ve played a bit of Ives which was great to perform — really brash, eccentric, and full of life. Will certainly be doing more in the future. And I always love to hear or play anything by Cage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

It’s always the composers that interest me. John Cage is a real hero of mine – amazing ideas, amazing music, and such a positive influence on the 20th Century! Ives was a fascinating character – full of contradictions and astonishing to think that he was writing such experimental music so early in the 20th Century. Pianists I love are Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Cortot, Myra Hess and Maria Joao Pires.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Very hard to single one out. Probably seeing Anton Kuerti give a lecture-recital on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations several years ago at the Chethams Summer School. He knew the piece so intimately and played so wonderfully that all the usual performer/audience boundaries seemed to break down: it just felt like we were inside the music. I actually found it hard to move from my seat afterwards.

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

Do the things you believe in; don’t be distracted by others; constantly re-assess everything; and don’t give up!

What are you working on at the moment?

Chopin’s Barcarolle; five Scarlatti Sonatas; Luigi Nono’s Sofferte onde Serene for piano and tape; Mists by Xenakis; Sposalizio by Liszt; and Mantra by Stockhausen.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Walking and wild camping in the Scottish Highlands.

Joseph Houston performs at the Ryedale Festival on Friday 25th July. Further details and tickets here

Described by the Financial Times as a musician of ‘versatility and poise’, Joseph Houston is a London-based pianist specialising in Contemporary Music. He studied at the University of York and the Royal College of Music where he received a first-class honours degree in Music and an Mmus in Advanced Performance with distinction. While at the RCM he won the Frank Merrick Prize, the 2nd Prize in the Beethoven Piano Competition, the Emanuel Piano Trophy (North London Music Festival), and a place on the London Sinfonietta Academy 2010. His teachers have included Ian Jones, Ashley Wass, and Andrew Ball.

In his first year at the RCM Joseph was selected to perform British composer Michael Zev Gordon’s The Impermanence of Things for solo piano, electronics, and ensemble with the RCM’s New Perspectives Ensemble. Since then, he has performed at venues across the UK, including Steinway Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Weston Auditorium (University of Herts.), the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall (University of York), Kings Place, Cafe Oto, the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room and Wigmore Hall. Soon after graduating from the RCM, Joseph was invited to perform a piano duet version of Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with his teacher, Ashley Wass, resulting in a performance at the RCM’s Brahms festival and conference in 2011. He has also been in demand as a concerto soloist, performing such classic 19th and 20th century works as Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar (ondes Martenot), conducted by John Stringer; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Henley Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ian Brown; John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra with the RCM’s Variable Geometries Ensemble; Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with the De Havilland Philharmonic Orchestra; and the UK premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Ryedale Concerto for solo piano and orchestra at the 2013 Ryedale Festival. Also active as a chamber musician, Joseph is the principal pianist of the Octandre Ensemble, a collective dedicated to the promotion of young composers and rarely-performed Contemporary repertoire.

Full biography on Joseph’s website:

www.josephhouston.co.uk

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

Although I’d learnt a number of instruments, I first got really passionate about taking music further when I discovered contemporary music and the unique thrill of composition. During my undergrad years at the University of Sydney (while studying a number of other things including Mathematics and Philosophy), my energies became increasingly focussed on performance, playing the works of composers of today (and particularly those I knew as fellow students). Although a lot has changed, this remains the focus of my work, and it’s inspiring to work at the cutting edge of the art form.

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

I had a series of great teachers from my late teens onwards: my teacher in Australia, Ransford Elsley, had some eccentric ideas about technique, including that all the tools for playing Messiaen or Xenakis could be found in Chopin’s Etudes. Rolf Hind, my teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in London, taught me a lot about the art of interpretation, but also about being an artist – he has a holistic approach to his work and life (including yoga, meditation and veganism) which I’ve found inspirational. And he remains a great friend and mentor.

I’d also need to mention some of the greatest teachers of all have been my chamber music colleagues, especially the members of Ensemble Offspring, who I’ve not played with for 14 years, as well as duo partners like Thomas Adés, Brett Dean, Neil Heyde and Rolf Hind.

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

As my career has grown, the biggest challenge has been juggling a busy schedule – not just learning the repertoire, but pitching to promoters, negotiating contracts, marketing, getting composers organised, fundraising, my research/lecturing position at Royal Holloway.… and also trying to eat, sleep and exercise and have a life outside of work.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The big piano and multimedia tours I’ve done in the last few years: Dark Twin, Cyborg Pianist and now currently, Piano Ex Machina, are my proudest achievements – they’ve been major creative projects, often featuring 6-8 new works by leading composers (including most recently, Alexander Schubert) all innovating new ways of combining the piano with new technologies, and they’ll all really connected with audiences internationally and played to festivals and series like Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Klang Festival (Copenhagen), Transistor Festival (Mälmo), Podium Festival (Esslingen) Melbourne Festival and Unerhörte Musik Berlin.

And I remain very proud of the double concerto I performed, alongside Rolf Hind, by Beat Furrer (under his baton) with the London Sinfonietta at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – a career highlight.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The works I think work best for me are often tailored to me by composers – a lot of recent works by Alexander Schubert, Adam de la Cour, Neil Luck, Claudia Molitor, Christopher Fox, Scott McLaughlin and others have all worked with my love of extended techniques, of integrating theatre into performance, interaction with film and interactive media, wild changes in tone (from incredibly intense to light and comic) as well as referencing my abilities to play a lot of key works from the canon.

I still enjoy playing a lot of those major canonical works, particularly 20th century works like Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, Bartok’s 2nd piano concerto, John Adams’ Phrygian Gates, John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes and lots of Messiaen. And I also feel an affinity for Baroque and pre-Baroque repertoire, which I’ve started including in mixed programmes – a recent one combining British contemporary works, with 17th-18th century composers like John Bull, William Byrd, Orland Gibbons and Henry Purcell worked particularly well.

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

I’ll be talking to dozens of composers at any point, with each collaboration often taking years of gestation – at the moment the general theme has been screen cultures including film, TV, video games and the internet, and it often becomes clear as I talk to them how these programmes will emerge (and how they might be combined with existing works with similar concerns).

Other programmes (like my Ancient/Modern British keyboard music project) start with a clear vision and quite a few works already arranged, and then it’s about commissioning to complete the missing pieces of the project. And as someone who performs a lot of chamber and ensemble repertoire, a lot of programming choices are made collaboratively, and there’s often a lot of different factors to juggle.

One thing that’s important in all these decisions is to consider how diverse the composers represented on these programmes are. I don’t like quotas, but if you’re only programming music written by cis white men, you need to consider whether you’re exacerbating structural inequalities in the industry, and also missing out on a lot of great music.

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

Melbourne Recital Centre has the wonderful Salon space. Excellent acoustic (that can be adjusted to a very fine degree), excellent choice of pianos, excellent tech (including the best projector I’ve ever used), and excellent staff. And of course, the audience is a big part of it, and I’ve had a great reception from sell-out crowds there over many years.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many inspirational performers I know in new music: pianists Rolf Hind, Vicky Chow, Adam Tendler, Philip Thomas, Sebastian Berweck, Siwan Rhys, Eliza McCarthy; vocalists Lore Lixenberg, Jane Sheldon, Jessica Azsodi; string players Mira Benjamin, Brett Dean, Anton Lukoszevieze; wind players Peter Knight, Heather Roche, Carla Rees; and percussionists Claire Edwardes, Eugene Ughetti, Joby Burgess and Colin Currie.

In terms of pianists specifically, there are so many great ones who are a constant source of inspiration, like Glenn Gould, Alfred Cortot, Ignaz Friedman, Leon Fleisher, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladamir Sofronitsky, Samson François as well as iconic new music pianists like

David Tudor, Roger Woodward and Yuji Takahashi, and improvisers like Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

And when it comes to composers it’s a long list of favourites, and if they’re on my list I try to meet them and find a way to collaborate.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes at Melbourne Festival, and becoming completely hypnotised by the prepared piano sounds – you only really hear this piece when you’ve got all the preparations exactly right, and in a really great acoustic space, so it was a disembodied experience, like I was playing the work and enjoying listening as a member of the audience at the same time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success, in any of the arts, is a really problematic concept. Is it about living from your work? Or about reaching a wide range of audiences? Or about being respected by your peers? Or the impact you have on other musicians (including the next generations)? Or about the quality and originality of the work itself? It’s all these things to some degree, and these are all questions that I keep in mind when planning projects.

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

1. Find your métier – find something new and unique to bring to the art form, and make that your focus.

2. Don’t be afraid of failure – it’s more important to take risks than always stay in your comfort zone.

3. Go to concerts – it’s how you learn about music, and how you meet musicians and develop your networks.

4. Always act professionally – learn your part, turn up on time, answer emails promptly, meet deadlines, contribute your share to collaborative work, be honest when there’s a problem, pay anyone working for you on time, and behave with respect and decency to your colleagues.

5. Have a life outside of music – study other subjects (or like me, other degrees). Take an interest in visual art, cinema, theatre, literature, science, anything else! Be politically aware and active. And have some friends who aren’t musicians.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cameras. I love cinema and photography in all its forms, and love taking photos of friends and colleagues, and of the behind the scenes work of musicians. There’s something quite magical about capturing a specific and fleeting moment in time, and distilling its essence, which could be considered the flipside to a musical performance: existing across time, and yet ephemeral.


Pianist, Zubin Kanga has performed at many international festivals including the BBC Proms, Cheltenham Festival, London Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK), ISCM World New Music Days, Metropolis New Music Festival, Melbourne Festival, Sydney Festival, Four Winds Festival, BIFEM (Australia), IRCAM Manifeste Festival, Mars aux Musées Festival (France) and Borealis Festival (Norway) as well as appearing as soloist with the London Sinfonietta and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He will be Artistic Associate at the 2018 Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. 

Zubin’s international touring projects focus around the extension of the pianist through interactive multimedia, including live and fixed electronics, film, live video, motion sensors, and AI. He has collaborated with many of the world’s leading composers including Thomas Adès, Michael Finnissy, George Benjamin, Steve Reich, Beat Furrer, Liza Lim, Michel van der Aa and Stefan Prins and premiered more than 80 new works. He is a member of Ensemble Offspring, one of Australia’s leading contemporary music ensembles, as well as the Marysas Trio, which performs across Europe. He has also performed with Ensemble Plus-Minus, Endymion Ensemble, Halcyon, Synergy Percussion, and the Kreutzer Quartet, as well as performing piano duos with Rolf Hind and Thomas Adès.

Zubin has won many prizes including the 2012 Art Music Award for ‘Performance of the Year (NSW)’, the Michael Kieran Harvey Scholarship, the ABC Limelight Award for Best Newcomer and the Greta Parkinson Prize from the Royal Academy of Music. His recent recordings include Not Music Yet for Hospital Recordings, Orfordness for Metier (UK) and Piano Inside Out for Move Records, which was nominated for Best Classical Album at the Australian Independent Music Awards.

A Masters and PhD graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, London, Zubin recently finished a post as post-doctoral researcher at the University of Nice and IRCAM, Paris and is currently the Leverhulme Research Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London, as well as a Research Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music, London and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.  He was the convenor of the Inventing Gestures symposium in the 2015 Manifeste Festival at IRCAM and was the guest editor for a special issue on new interactive technologies in music for Contemporary Music Review.

zubinkanga.com

Artist photo by Richard Hedger

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano?

My grandfather had an upright piano in the front room of his house in Ipswich. This room was kept for Sundays and special occasions. He liked to play Methodist hymns, excerpts from Haydn and Beethoven and old music hall songs. I loved to sit next to him as he played, or leaf through the music in the piano stool, with its special antique smell and friable, crumbly pages.

There was lots of music at home when I was growing up: on the radio, LPs and from my father, who was a fine amateur clarinettist. When I was in bed, I used to listen to him practising Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto to Music Minus One: for a while I believed he had a whole orchestra in the sitting room with him!

I think I was about 5 or 6 when I started piano lessons with Mrs Scott in Sutton Coldfield. My piano was an early 20th-century Challen upright. It had lived in a conservatory for two years before it came to us and it needed quite a lot of restoration, but once overhauled it was a really nice instrument, of which I was very fond.

My parents were keen concert-goers and my love of live classical music developed in childhood. We went to many concerts at Birmingham Old Town Hall where a conductor with wild hair conducted the CBSO (this was Louis Fremaux, pre-Simon Rattle). I loved, and still do, the etiquette of concerts – the excited buzz of anticipation in the foyer beforehand, reading the programme, sinking in to the plush seats. Once a year, as a treat, I would be taken to London to go to the Proms, and we also went to the opera and ballet regularly. I was lucky enough to see/hear some of the “greats”: Ashkenazy, Brendel, Lupu, du Pre, Barenboim, Lill. I grew up thinking classical music was something everyone could enjoy and engage with (and music was readily available in state school in the early 1980s) – it felt entirely normal to me – and it was only when I went to secondary school, where my talent for music (I was tested for perfect pitch in front of my entire class, an excruciatingly embarrassing episode – and I don’t have perfect pitch!) marked me out as “different” in a school where being “a team player” was important. Music and the school music department became a place of escape and I threw myself into the school’s musical activities: I took up the clarinet so that I could play in the school orchestra, and joined the choir, recorder group and wind band.

I took all my ABRSM grade exams while still at school, and really wanted to apply for music college, but a rather throwaway comment by my music teacher that I perhaps “wasn’t good enough” to audition led to me to follow a different path into further education and I studied Medieval literature at university. I stopped playing the piano seriously at 19 and hardly touched the instrument until I was in my late 30s and my mother bought me a digital piano, urging me to start playing again. Not long after I turned 40 I had a brand new Yamaha acoustic piano and had begun teaching local school children and a handful of adults. By the time I was 50, I was preparing to take a Fellowship performance diploma, having passed my Licentiate and Associate diplomas with distinction.

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

My parents nurtured and encouraged a love of classical music. This was enhanced by my then piano teacher Mrs Murdoch and particularly my music teacher at secondary school, an incredibly energetic and enthusiastic man who organised all sorts of wonderful musical activities in and outside of school, including trips to dress rehearsals at the Royal Opera House (where I saw Tosca, Billy Budd, Peter Grimes, La Bohème and Turandot, amongst others). In c1981, the school choir took part in a performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius with massed school choirs at the Royal Albert Hall, an unforgettable experience, which has stayed with me ever since.

Since I started blogging and writing about music, encounters with other pianists and musicians all feed into my musical life and inform my approach to the piano. My study with a number of master teachers and concert pianists while preparing for professional performance diplomas has had a huge impact on my confidence and skill as a pianist, and the deep learning that is required to prepare for such qualifications enables me to pick up new repertoire without feeling daunted by its challenges.

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

Convincing people that being a musician and writer is “a proper job”.

Dealing with ongoing imposter syndrome, which I think comes from not having attended music college at 18. I don’t think it’s entirely a bad thing, however, as I believe it keeps one humble.

Which performances are you most proud of?

I played Messiaen’s Regard de la Vierge from the ‘Vingt Regards’ at an event hosted by Murray McLachlan at Steinway Hall in 2011 as part of the preparations for my Associate performance diploma. It was the first time I had played a Steinway D piano and the first time I’d played the Messiaen in public. The feedback from Murray and the response from the audience was wonderful and an incredible boost to my diploma preparations and confidence.

In recent years, I have had the great pleasure of performing at a friend’s house concerts in his beautiful home in the Sussex countryside. A lovely setting, convivial atmosphere, friendly audience and a truly stunning Steinway B piano make these concerts the best I’ve ever experienced, and I was very pleased with my performance of the final movement of Schumann’s Fantasie in C, Op 17 at last winter’s house concert. I have yet to learn the other two movements of the Schumann…..!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I recently read an interview with the pianist Richard Goode, whom I much admire, in which he said he chooses to “perform only the pieces that will be best for you and the audience” and that one should understand one’s own limits. As pianists we have a vast repertoire and one should never feel under pressure to be able to “play everything”. I used to think I was somehow failing if I did not have the requisite number of Bach Preludes & Fugues, Beethoven Sonatas, Chopin Etudes or Debussy Preludes in my fingers; now I just play what interests me and what I believe I can play well.

How do you make your repertoire choices?

I play whatever music interests me, and my tastes change constantly. More and more I am choosing to play 20th-century and contemporary piano music, and the wilder shores of repertoire – I like oddities and lesser-known works. These are often easier to play than the core canon as one is not constantly up against the weight of history and perceived “right ways” to play this repertoire.

Having said all this, Schubert remains my favourite composer; I really should play more of his piano music!

I am currently working on a programme called A Sense of Place – piano music inspired by or evocative of real or imagined places and landscapes. The pieces include movements from Alan Hovhaness’ Visionary Landscapes, John Cage’s In A Landscape, Cyril Scott’s Lotus Land and Britten’s Night Piece.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To play, perhaps Bill Evans’ Peace Piece. I played it at a charity concert a few years ago and the audience loved its meditative atmosphere.

I get sent CDs to review all the time and listen fairly widely as a result, though I always tend towards piano music. If I had to pick a favourite recording, it would be Resonance de l’Originaire by Maria Joao Pires.

Most memorable concert experience?

It has to be Steven Osborne’s performance of the complete Vingt Regards at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – I have now heard him play this monument of 20th-century piano music twice, and on both occasions the experience has been transcendent, beautiful, moving, and incredibly profound. Talking to Steven in the bar afterwards, he simply said “one just has to go with this music”.

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

Be true to your musical self and try not to be distracted or downhearted by what others in your profession are doing. Don’t endlessly compare yourself to your peers or to others in the profession – this can lead to feelings of dismotivation, dissatisfaction and worse, depression. Navigate your own course to find your own musical identity and voice.

Live and love life fully: go to concerts, exhibitions, films, read, eat, socialise, enjoy. Everything feeds the artistic temperament!

What is your definition of success?

Seeing people come out of a concert truly touched or moved by the music they’ve hard.

Witnessing a piano student’s “lightbulb moment”

Being able to play Schumann’s Fantasie in C, Op 17 in its entirety! (one day!!)


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Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, writer and blogger on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist, described by concert pianist Peter Donohoe as “an important voice in the piano world”.

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

I was brought up by a musical mother who studied the piano with Moisés Moleiro, and sang in the choir in the premiere of the ‘Cantata Criolla’ by Antonio Estévez. Unfortunately she fell ill very young and had to abandon music. When I was 7 I was accepted as a student at the Conservatorio Juan José Landaeta in Caracas where I had the most wonderful and generous teachers. My piano teacher was Guiomar Narváez, strict and very artistic, with a great passion for the classical composers and Latin American music. At 16 I won a scholarship to come to the Royal College of Music in London, where I was assigned to Phyllis Sellick as the teacher who would carry on developing what Mrs. Barbara Boissard and Michael Gough Matthews saw in my style of playing when they heard me in the audition in Caracas. For that I am very grateful: Phyllis was an extraordinary human being who taught me the art of piano playing.

Who or what were the greatest influences on your playing?

My main teachers obviously, including Polish pianist Regina Smenzianka and Paul Badura-Skoda, and also the many concerts I went to as a child growing up in Caracas. I remember listening to Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, George Demus, Willhem Kempf, Yoyoma, Alicia De La Rocha, and conductors such as Charles Dutoit, Cuban Nicolás Guillén reciting his poetry, popular singers like Mercedes Sosa, the cinema of Carlos Saura, Stanley Kubrik, Herzog, Chaplin….all these wonderful true artists, giving us the best of their knowledge and gigantic talents, seeing, listening and receiving all the universal and most humane expression and energy.

Then in London I have enjoyed many concerts of classical music and jazz, plus all my friends who also play and are now the great musicians of our time.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career?

Every concert you play, every CD you make is a challenge. To teach very gifted children is also a challenge. I think we face climbing Everest nearly every day! Nothing is easy. To play phrases in the most clear of ways, respecting the intentions of the composer is a challenge. When you decide that you are a pianist you understand that the challenge is what motives you, that’s what takes you out of bed.

A big challenge we face today is that classical music has been marginalised by the media, and by the idea that fashion, cookery and frivolous cinema or football stars are more important than profound thought, creativity and art. We have to keep going, as it is now up to us to make sure that this precious legacy we have acquired through centuries survives. It is a very hard and heavy burden!

Which CD in your discography are you most proud of?

Although I have recorded about 9 hours of music from Venezuela, by Venezuelan composers, I consider them all to be very different from each other. I have also recorded one CD of music by Chopin and another one by Ernesto Lecuona, which will come out in the autumn. I am sensitive to the qualities of the piano, acoustics and sound engineer. I have produced most of my CDs and am in general satisfied with the results; perhaps sometimes I am over critical and cannot bear listening to something that is too slow (I can think of one piece that I let myself be influenced by the engineer and now I do not agree with the tempo…). I think each CD is a world of its own: they are “concepts” and represent moments of our lives.

Critics are not familiar with Venezuelan music and a few years ago those CDs represented a kind of “political statement”. What’s good now is that those critics are more receptive, less “Eurocentric” and are beginning to understand (after 500 years) that Latin America is part of western culture.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I love the Purcell Room, the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Invalides in Paris, and the Teatro Teresa Carreño and Municipal in Caracas. Any hall with a decent piano and lovely audience will be always great!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love every piece I play, and with each of them there really is a love affair. From Bach, Scarlatti, Mateo Albéniz, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, to Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Ravel, Gershwin, Scriabin…the list is very long. Equally I have to constantly listen to classical music, salsa and Latin American popular music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

All the musicians that show passion, love, understanding, involvement, imagination… There are millions of fantastic musicians in our planet.

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

I think I have answered this above, but there is a concept I have discovered recently and it is to do with sharing with the young one’s knowledge, experiences and very importantly giving these young, very talented musicians the opportunities to perform and express their ideas and art. I think experienced, successful musicians should open the path for the young. Not many people in the “business” will do it for them now days.

What are you working on at the moment?

Beethoven ‘Emperor’ Concerto, Mozart Sonatas, Villa-Lobos, Chopin, Piazzolla, exploring Colombian music…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness can be found anywhere, at any time, the thing is to be aware of this and enjoy it while it lasts.

‘Joropo’ by Moisés Moleiro

Caracas-born pianist, Clara Rodriguez studied with Phyllis Sellick after winning a scholarship from the Venezuelan Arts Council to train in London at the Royal College of Music. There she was the recipient of numerous prizes and performed as a soloist with the RCM orchestras including De Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the Ravel Concerto in G at St. John’s Smith Square.

In Caracas she made her debut playing Mozart’s last piano concerto with the Simón Bolívar Orchestra under the baton of José Antonio Abreu at the age of sixteen; from then on Clara Rodriguez’s career as a concert pianist has taken her to perform all over the world. Her large and interesting repertoire covers works of the best known Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern composers; she has also intensely promoted the music of the Latin American continent.

Her discography includes CDs of the piano music of the Venezuelan composers Moisés Moleiro, Federico Ruiz and Teresa Carreño; her catalogue also includes Popular Venezuelan Music Vol. 1; El Cuarteto con Clara Rodríguez en vivo as well as the piano works by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona and of Frederic Chopin late works.

Her recordings are regularly played on BBC Radio3, Classic FM, Radio Nacional de Venezuela, Radio France International, and networks from Argentina to the USA, Australia and China.

Clara Rodriguez teaches piano at the Junior Department of The Royal College of Music in London.