Tag Archives: interviews with pianists

Meet the Artist……Ivo Pogorelich, pianist

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

It was my parents’ choice. One day they took me to the school of music and I had no say in it. I was even made to play violin for a while. Soon, however, it was established that violin and I were not made for each other.

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

Rather than influence there was a fateful moment in my life when I met a musician who taught me and trained me to play the piano and by doing that determined my future life. Later on I became her husband. Her name is Aliza Kezderadze.

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

Art is my profession, career is my occupation. There are two types of challenges and threats. The external ones should sometimes be ignored, at other times confronted. What comes from oneself however is different. The general principle I followed was not to chew more than I can swallow. In other words “less is more”!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

These are two separate disciplines. Performance is, among other things, an act of a moment. On the recordings, all are my favourites and none is my favourite. All because of a tremendous effort that documenting music requires, none because I never listen to any of my recordings. Recently, I recorded two Beethoven Sonatas (available on IDAGIO idag.io/pogorelich). It seems I was able to express what was not expressed in that music before.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

My loyalty goes to the composer I am occupied with. I do not have favourites.

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

I learn new pieces and I also play pieces I have played in the past.

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

There are various. Some of them are also blessed with spectacular acoustics like Teatro Cólon, Buenos Aires or Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Generally I am fascinated by musicians of traditional folk music, particularly singers. My favourite pianist is Art Tatum, a taste shared by Rachmaninoff who reportedly never missed an opportunity to attend his performances. I also like Oscar Peterson.

I have never heard them in concert but people of African origin have rhythmical pulse unique to them. Music sounds so spontaneous when they play.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It actually took place after one of the very noisy successes. There was a reception and it turned out that the host, a very prominent and powerful person, had celebrated his birthday by participating in the organization of the event. The entire society of the city was in the concert hall and a good many very well known faces at the reception. There was also a piano in the room and all of a sudden someone pointed to the piano with an inviting gesture, where it became clear that I was expected to accompany the “Happy Birthday to you” tune. I was mortified as I realized that I had never played the tune. So I bravely stood up and said “I am sorry but I do not have this piece in my repertoire”. The host was elated as no one in the room could imagine that I actually did not know the music. Everyone thought that it was cute and witty and they all applauded again.

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

Unfortunately there are not as many oranges in the world as there are glasses of orange juice we drink. Equally no advice of general character is good unless it is tested in practice. With all the best intentions of all of us and each of us, life is a lottery; however general principles are the same as I believe are implied in any professional activity. Self respect, modesty, determination being led in life by a clear heart and mind, could advance a person anyway. One must never forget that life is a struggle and one has to be ready.

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

Happy to be where I am, god willing; otherwise I would love to be in Somerset on a sunny day. Although I have lived in the UK for almost 20 years, I have never been there. The name to me as a foreigner evokes fairy tales, as it is acoustically reminiscent of summer and sunset. The name sounds so musical to me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

The idea of perfect happiness is not seeking it on purpose.

What is your most treasured possession?

 I believe it is my imagination.

What is your present state of mind?

Right now I am sitting and observing half packed bags, being packed for a month long stay with concerts in China and Japan. As I can see the clothes, prepared for three distinct types of weather, very cold, moderate and hot and humid, I am trying to comprehend it.

Such is the life of an artist…..

Ivo Pogorelich’s new recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas, No. 22 in F major op. 54 and No. 24 in F sharp major op. 78 are available exclusively on IDAGIO

Ivo Pogorelich was born in Belgrade in 1958, the son of a musician. He received his first piano lessons at the age of seven and went to Moscow at the age of twelve to study at the Central Special Music School and then at the Tchaikowsky Conservatory. In 1976 he began intensive studies with the renowned pianist and teacher Aliza Kezeradze, with whom he was married from 1980 until her untimely death in 1996. Mme. Kezeradze was able to transmit the spirit and matter of the school of Beethoven and Liszt, originated in Vienna and than carried through to the Conservatory of St. Petersburg, flourishing towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th. Century. Ivo Pogorelich won the first prize at the Alessandro Casagrande Competition at Terni (Italy) in 1978 and the first price at the Montreal International Music Competition in 1980. In October of the same year he entered the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw where, when prevented from participating in the final contest as a soloist with the orchestra, a fierce controversy resulted in the renowned Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich, a member of the jury, protesting and leaving the competition, joined by other members of the jury panel, with the words “He is a genius”. This event drew the attention of the whole musical world to the young pianist.

Ever since his debut recital in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1981, Ivo Pogorelich has created a sensation with his performances in all the great concert halls throughout the world; starting in the U.S. and followed by performances on all four continents. He has received invitations to play with numerous major orchestras such as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, all the London Orchestras, the Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, New York Philharmonic Orchestras of the U.S. and major orchestras elsewhere. Wherever and whenever he plays, his stunning interpretations of the music confirm the originality of his talent and intellect. The New York Times once wrote “He played each note exactly, with such a feeling, such expression, he was an entire orchestra– it was as if he played 200 years ahead of our time”. In this spirit Ivo Pogorelich is known today as a poet of the instrument.

More about Ivo Pogorelich

 

Meet the Artist……Robert Levin

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

My parents were great music lovers and the gramophone and radio were central to my early exposure to music.  My musical guardian angel was my maternal uncle, Benjamin Spieler, who studied clarinet at Juilliard with Prokofiev’s friend and colleague Simeon Bellison (principal clarinettist in the NY Phil) and pursued studies in flute, oboe, and clarinet and saxophone at the Paris Conservatory and bassoon at Columbia in New York.  He discovered that I had absolute pitch and arranged my musical education forthwith, chaperoning me to Fontainebleau to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  It is impossible for me to express adequately my debt to him.

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

Nadia Boulanger and Sir Clifford Curzon when I was young; Felix Galimir and Rudolf Kolisch later on..

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Let the listeners decide!  I have particular commitment to Viennese classical repertory, French music, and contemporary music, though the works I perform span the Elizabethan masters to the present.

What, for you, makes Mozart’s piano concerti special/significant in the canon of classical music?

They are operatic scenes, incorporating a breathtaking span of emotions that unfold under the guide of a masterful dramatist who perhaps is equalled only by Shakespeare.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of Concertos 3 & 4 which you performed with Aurora orchestra as part of their Mozart’s Piano series at Kings Place?

The solo keyboard parts are written not by Mozart, but by expatriate composers living in Paris in the middle of the 18th century, together with C. P. E. Bach; Mozart supplied orchestral accompaniments, thereby transforming these movements into concertos.  It is fascinating to see how in doing this Mozart prepared himself for the task of composing instrumental concertos from scratch.  These are therefore works of apprenticeship.  From here Mozart develops the techniques of solo and tutti within aria form, transforming its structure to the domain of the instrumental concerto at the moment that he chafes against the static nature of opera seria and wants to have dramatic development WITHIN arias, not just BETWEEN them (in the recitatives, where the action typically happens in opera seria).

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are many.  Hearing Gilels’ and Richter’s first recitals in New York.  Hearing Horowitz’s after his return to the concert platform.  Hearing Rudolf Serkin’s Hammerklavier sonata and Emperor concerto.  Hearing Curzon in solo and concerto repertoire.  Hearing Haitink conduct Bruckner 8 and Mahler 9.  And there then are my own experiences on stage—constant excitement, an endless learning curve, reveling in the exalted danger of risk-laden performances.

What advice would you give to anyone learning Mozart’s piano music?

Learn the grammar and the aesthetic, learn to discern the myriad character changes inherent in the fluid discourse, learn what is to learn, and then walk onstage and do what you must do to communicate this dizzying sensual world to an audience that will be forever changed by the message you bring to them.

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

Engagement with the musical narrative, character, drama, colour.  Be an actor—do for music what Meryl Streep does for the screen and the stage.

Mozart’s Piano, Aurora Orchestra’s monumental new five-year project offers audiences the rarest of opportunities: a complete cycle of the concertos, staged live in concert in the beautifully intimate surroundings of Hall One at Kings Place. Further information here

Pianist and Conductor Robert Levin has been heard throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia. His solo engagements include the orchestras of Atlanta, Berlin, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Utah and Vienna on the Steinway with such conductors as Semyon Bychkov, James Conlon, Bernard Haitink, Sir Neville Marriner, Seiji Ozawa, Sir Simon Rattle and Esa-Pekka Salonen. On period pianos he has appeared with the Academy of Ancient Music, English Baroque Soloists, Handel & Haydn Society, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Christopher Hogwood, Sir Charles Mackerras, Nicholas McGegan, and Sir Roger Norrington.

Renowned for his improvised embellishments and cadenzas in Classical period repertoire, Robert Levin has made recordings for DG Archiv, CRI, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, ECM, New York Philomusica, Nonesuch, Philips and SONY Classical. These include a Mozart concerto cycle for Decca; a Beethoven concerto cycle for DG Archiv (including the world premiere recording of Beethoven’s arrangement of the Fourth Concerto for piano and string quintet); and the complete Bach harpsichord concertos with Helmuth Rilling, as well as the six English Suites (on piano) and both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier (on five keyboard instruments) as part of Hänssler’s 172-CD Edition Bachakademie. The first recording in a Mozart piano sonata cycle has also been released by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.

A passionate advocate of new music, Robert Levin has commissioned and premiered a large number of works.  He is a renowned chamber musician and a noted theorist and musicologist. His completions of Mozart fragments are published by Bärenreiter, Breitkopf & Härtel, Carus, Peters, and Wiener Urtext Edition, and recorded and performed throughout the world. (source Rayfield Allied)

 
 

Meet the Artist……Alice Sara Ott, pianist

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

My parents took me a to piano recital when I was three because they couldn’t find a babysitter that night. I don’t remember the pieces the pianist played but I was fascinated by the power of music that made the audience quiet for nearly two hours. I thought that if I learned this “language” people would also listen to what I want to say and so I went to my mother after the recital and told her that I wanted to become a pianist. She wasn’t happy about this and so it took me a year to convince her.

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

Definitely my teachers, but also each and every collaboration with an orchestra and a conductor has given me the opportunity to learn something new and develop myself.

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

Learning to say no and finding out my limits.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

All of my performances and recordings are fingerprints of certain stages in my life so far, but my recent album ‘Wonderland’ means a great deal to me. There is a lot of my heart’s blood in it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

None in particular. Of course there are days when I feel very comfortable with a work and think that I finally understand and own it – until the next day when I suddenly realise that I am still very green

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

There are so many wonderful works I want to play and programme, so I usually pick one bigger work and try to build a story around it. It also depends on what the programme of my next album is. I also of course ask colleagues and people around me for advice.

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

There are too many wonderful halls out there, so I can’t name just one or two. It’s not so much a matter of the country or hall I play in, it’s about the interaction between the audience and me. So wherever music unites me with the audience,  I feel “home”.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Always the ones I am playing at that moment.

When I am off, I don’t listen so much to classical music. I love Tom Waits, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who are honest and take risks in the music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Once I played a concert in Rio de Janeiro and there was a couple sitting in the first row, eating popcorn while listening to my performance. I LOVED that.

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

To know what happiness means to you. As long as one is not happy, he/she can not make others happy.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To appreciate the small things in life.

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t own them, but I would say my family and my friends are the most essential things in my life. And I actually have quite a nice whisky collection that keeps growing

What is your present state of mind?

I just got out of a two month break. That was a wonderful thing and I am incredibly grateful to my friends who gave me so much energy and joy in this time. Now I am recharged and can’t wait to go back to work.

German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott has gained critical acclaim for her performances at major concert halls worldwide and has established herself as one of the most exciting musical talents of today. The Guardian, commenting on her recent performance with the London Symphony Orchestra, said that she “gave the kind of gawp-inducing bravura performance of which legends are made”.

Alice has worked with the world’s leading conductors, including Lorin Maazel, Paavo Järvi, Neeme Järvi, James Gaffigan, Sakari Oramo, Osmo Vänskä, Vasily Petrenko, Myung-Whun Chung, Hannu Lintu and Robin Ticciati.

More about Alice Sara Ott

Meet the Artist……Marianna Prjevalskaya, pianist

marianna-photoWho or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music? 

I was born into a musical family and was surrounded by music all the time when I was growing up. Both of my parents are musicians, therefore it was assumed I would follow the same path. They only asked me if I wanted to play piano or violin, and I picked piano. Honestly, I never regretted my choice. I started my piano lessons under my mother´s guidance, and continued until I was 17 years old, when I began my education at the Royal College of Music in London, studying with wonderful Irina Zaritskaya.

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

When I moved to Spain with my family, I met the pianist Krystian Zimerman, and was inspired by his interpretations of Chopin’s Ballades and Concertos, and Liszt Sonata. I also had a chance to hear him live several times in my hometown in Spain performing with orchestra. He introduced me to music I had never heard before, and I was so stunned by its beauty that I was desperate to get those scores out and start learning. I think I sight-read everything we had at home, and it got to the point that my mother had to hide music from me, as I did not want to practice works she assigned. That was probably the time when I realized I wanted to devote my life to music. I always felt that knowing that pianist at that age was crucial for my development. Later, as I grew up, my attention shifted to other musicians. I admire Grigory Sokolov. I should not dare to say he is my influence, but he is the type of musician whose artistry resonates with me most. He fills each note with meaning when he plays, each silence has a meaning, and each note has its beginning and its end! Every single phrase is preciously delineated, well thought and deeply felt. His musicianship is so powerful that he takes control over you and is capable of hypnotizing you. He neither tries to impress, but remains authentic. I think his performances are transcendental experiences, at least for me, and he is an artist who speaks from his truest self.

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

I think everybody has to go through some challenges, but personally I tend to be quite private about difficulties I go through. What I can share, perhaps, is that I learned how to remain true to myself no matter what others think of me and expect from me. I found it quite challenging because I am a vulnerable person. When you are surrounded by many musicians and participating in competitions, the pressure grows even greater. Very often your thoughts can be scattered around in your mind about other contestants, and whether the impression you left on the jury was positive or negative. With a bit of experience I realized that all these thoughts are very distracting, they separate you from who you are, and don’t let you express yourself authentically. Eventually, during my competition performances, I was able to attain the freedom I feel when I perform any public recital.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I am not sure the word “proud” is the most appropriate; I am a perfectionist and always feel I can do better. However, I would probably say that I am happy with my most recent album dedicated to Rachmaninoff.

Tell us more about your new recording…

The album features Variations on themes by Chopin and Corelli. I was dreaming about this project because Rachmaninoff is a composer whose music I find very close to my heart and my soul. I have to say that I had an absolutely awesome team: I was lucky to work with an amazing producer Elaine Martone, who was extremely supportive, encouraging and inspiring during the recording sessions. Chelsea VandeDrink is a fantastic recording engineer who did her work fabulously, and Anilda Carrasquillo created a booklet I could only dream about. I felt that it was a very strong team, and it was an excellent experience to work with these people, with whom I created a strong bond and most importantly, a lasting friendship. This CD was possible thanks to the Cincinnati World Piano Competition, which I won in 2013.

What is the particular appeal of these works by Rachmaninoff for you? 

I have always felt a close relationship with this composer, and considered recording some of his compositions a long time ago, but then in my twenties discovered his Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op.22, a work that unfortunately is not often performed. I was fascinated by the incredible variety of moods and emotions Rachmaninoff reveals in this music, as well as by the way he transforms the theme throughout the composition, making it barely recognizable. It is a work with endless possibilities for a pianist to display his or her mastery.

I often think that composition’s fate grows from the roots. What I mean in this case is that the work had a very moderate reception when Rachmaninoff premiered it in 1903 in Moscow. The preludes Op.23, written during the same summer, enjoyed a bigger success, and his other major hits, like his second sonata, or the second concerto, for example, completely overshadowed this composition. Even though nowadays you may find a few recordings, I feel pianists are afraid of its length and that it might not be an easy piece for the audience. This set of variations lasts about half an hour, but isn’t the Liszt Sonata thirty minutes long? Any late Schubert sonata would be even longer! When I performed this work in the semifinals of Seoul International Piano Competition in 2008, one jury member asked me at the end of the competition why I chose this piece and told me that it is inappropriate for a competition, and that instead I should have played the second sonata. I made to the finals anyway, but am still puzzled why this composition is not appreciated. It is an actual gem in the piano repertoire!

Regarding the Variations on a Theme of Corelli I have to say that at the time I was making my decision what else would go together with Chopin variations, it happened I was working on Corelli variations, and thought both sets would work greatly together. Thirty years separate both pieces and they are incredibly different. The Corelli Variations exhibit a stylistic growth and some kind of a structural compactness: he expresses his ideas in a more concise way, somewhat similar to a mature person who prefers to speak less, but whose choice of vocabulary is very accurate. I do love this composition, but in a different way.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Works that speak to me emotionally. But not necessarily has to be from the same period. I played Scarlatti sonatas that were very precious to me. I felt a particular affinity with Haydn Andante and Variations in F minor that I recorded for NAXOS a few years ago, for example. My attention usually shifts to different composers at different periods of my life. There were years when I felt too attached to Chopin, but thought I would never understand Schumann for his crazy and hectic romanticism. A few years later I felt I only wanted to play Schumann, and it was never enough of him. To name a few that deeply belong to my heart: Schubert Sonatas D.845 and D.959, Schumann F sharp minor Sonata Op.11, Brahms Intermezzi Op.117, Liszt Sonata, Debussy Preludes Book II, obviously Rachmaninoff, including the second Sonata, Prokofiev Sonata No.8 Op.84, among many others.

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

I feel that every time I go through a difficult internal process before I make my repertoire choices. I always play what I want, what I like most and what I feel is right for me at this moment. What it means is that for some reason, on some kind of subconscious level, a particular piece rings my doorbell. It happens when I constantly hear this music in my head, and it does not cease until I take the score and start learning it. It is as though the piece was being chosen by itself, asking to be played. I find it very interesting. And what is even more surprising is that I usually never misunderstand the signal. If I feel the need to play a particular composition, it means I feel something very special for it, a very strong emotional connection. I should probably say I am lucky, because I usually build my own recital programs, however I wish I had the same freedom to choose concerti I want to play with orchestras.

I have also had other experiences. I forced myself to play something that did not seem the right choice, and all of a sudden, when the work began, I realized that I made a huge discovery, a work that I never thought I would enjoy became one of my favourites.

My former teacher Boris Berman told me one day: “Try to learn to love a piece you do not like.” At that time I did not understand how that was possible, I neither wanted to try. I guess now I know what he meant.

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

I can name several venues where I felt particularly good. A concert hall in Malaga, Sala Maria Cristina was a very special venue where I played all Schumann recital. I loved their Steinway, and the decoration of the hall and its acoustic were very inspiring. I enjoyed immensely performing at Weill Hall in New York, as well as remember wonderful experiences performing at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This questions is partially related to my choice of repertoire. I prefer to perform works that are emotionally intense and that speak to me most. Compositions I choose to play become my favourite pieces to perform. I do like listening to music, in fact I only listen to classical music, and I should probably feel ashamed that I do not listen to anything else. It all depends on my mood. One day I might want to hear a Baroque ensemble, another evening I want to listen to Schubert’s Lieder or Brahms, or may be Haydn’s symphonies.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

If we talk about living pianists, I would name Grigory Sokolov, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, Radu Lupu, Evgeny Kissin, András Schiff.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I have several. I will never forget my experience performing Brahms d minor piano concerto with Kazufumi Yamashita and Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra in the final round of Sendai International Piano Competition in 2010. It is an exceptionally rare experience when you feel that the orchestra, conductor and yourself blend into one organic whole, and music drives you with its force somewhere beyond reality. And I give thanks to this conductor for making me feel that way. A similar experience occurred performing Chopin e minor concerto with Stamatia Karampini, she made me to forget that I was not playing alone, and with Chopin that is really dangerous, because the conductor and the orchestra have to be constantly alert, Chopin´s rubato is unpredictable and too fragile to foresee. I have also enjoyed tremendously performing with Roberto Trevino and Cincinnati Symphony, and with Carlos Prieto and David Danzmayr and Louisiana Philharmonic. My solo memorable experience was probably my Weill Hall debut and a recital I performed in Baltimore with Schubert A major Sonata D.959, a work I have a very intimate connection with; in fact all Schubert occupies a very special place in my heart. I am not sure what happened that evening, but I was watching my hands and thought I am witnessing my own playing. My intensions were shaping phrases with no effort, and music was being created in the moment. That state of mind is not something you can experience every time you go to play on stage.

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

I think the most important advice I would give is to stay true to yourself, avoid being influenced by others and do not give up.

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

I am not sure I can answer this question. I like the idea of not knowing what is ahead in my life. I have learned not to rush things, and that everything comes at its right time. I try to enjoy living in the present moment.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To feel internal harmony and see my family healthy and happy. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

The ability to feel and understand music.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Playing the piano.

What is your present state of mind? 

I feel pretty balanced and in peace with myself.

cincinnati_disk_230Marianna Prjevalskaya’s all-Rachmaninoff CD is available now. The recording features two works for solo piano: Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op.22, and Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op.42. (Fanfare Cincinnati FC-008) Marianna Prjevalskaya plays Rachmaninoff

Born to a musical family, Marianna benefited from early lessons with her mother from age six, her principal mentor for more than eleven years. She continued her studies at the Royal College of Music in London with Irina Zaritskaya and Kevin Kenner. In 2003 Marianna moved to the United States where she joined the Toradze Piano Studio at Indiana University. She also holds an Artist Diploma and Master of Music from Yale School of Music, where she studied with Boris Berman. Currently Marianna is a doctoral candidate at Peabody Conservatory of Music where she studied with Boris Slutsky. At diverse festivals, she has studied with renowned pianists such as Liliya Zilbernstein, Emmanuel Ax, John O’Conor, Leon Fleisher, Choong-Mo Kang, Richard Goode, Peter Frankl and Piotr Paleczny, among others.

www.prjevalskaya.com

Meet the Artist……Peter Jablonski

peter_jablonski

©Peter Jablonski

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

I never took a conscious decision to have a “career in music”. Music was all around me when I was little. I was interested in sport, but my father was a musician, classically trained, from Poland. He came to Sweden in late 60s as the leader of his own jazz quintet, so there was a lot of music at home – jazz and also classical. I grew up with music. I started playing drums early on and that was what I was going to do. I toured and played drums.

At 6 I started having piano lessons with my dad, and then I discovered this amazing instrument and its possibilities, and that got a hold of me. At 11 I went to a Polish piano teacher at the college of music in Malmo. The way he spoke about music – about the smell, sense, colours, pictures of the music – it just opened my mind. And after 4 years study with him I was a pianist.

In my last year at the Royal College of Music, I got a record contract. I had good people around me but I never took a conscious decision to pursue a career in music. It was a need – I couldn’t be without it

When I started on the professional circuit I felt uncomfortable with the “business” side of it – i.e not to cancel, not to use music if one wants to. Things that felt to be anti-artistic to me as a young musician …. I love music, I love being with it, practising, playing. You get into this groove on the professional circuit which can be difficult for a young artist

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

In a purely practical sense it was Vladimir Ashkenazy. In a way he “spotted” me, and he is the reason I didn’t have to go down the competition route (I and some colleagues applied for the Tchaikovsky competition in our final year at college). My first recordings with Decca were with Ashkenazy. I encountered him by chance through my Swiss manager who lived in the same village as him. My manager took him a tape and he listened and said he wanted to hear me. It was pure luck.

I did a few local competitions, but I was spared that world. I was lucky enough not to have to go down that route. And I came out of college at the time when recordings still mattered in your career.

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

From a practical standpoint, when you are younger and thrust in to the limelight, the challenge is finding the time to get the repertoire learn and to be a human being. I have a rebel in me that didn’t like being on the road. I loved playing and I liked the solitude. I have a family, a daughter, I basically missed the first 2 years of her life. I struggled with that. I want to live with the music, enjoy it, chew on it, be with it, but the modern career does not allow it. But I think most young performers find this. I wanted other things in my life – family, friends, freedom, I wanted to enjoy the music.

But of course there is an adrenaline high connected with that life. I have colleagues who play 100 concerts a year, but that would just kill me and my love of the music. Some people are at odds with the “career” side of being a pianist.  When you’re on the road and you play a lot, you get to a state of readiness and you’re ready always – but you cannot make it any easier. The requirement of the repertoire is keeping the love for it, it’s difficult when it gets busy. Many different concertos, practising non-stop – sometimes I didn’t even like the piano very much because of the concert schedule.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I don’t know…..a very difficult question. That’s for other people to say. Because of my drumming side, I’ve had an affinity for the more rhythmical music (Bartok, Barber for example) but that also applies to Beethoven. I’m feeling more and more comfortable playing Beethoven now. I’m programming Schubert sonatas and Scarlatti – such fresh air! And I’m getting quite heavily into Brahms now

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

I have always loved the nooks and crannies of the repertoire – Szymanowski, Scriabin, Barber, Copland. Incredible music. But of course I have played most of the standard concertos. The only one I’ve stayed away from is Brahms 2 from pure respect and love.

How long does it take you to bring a concerto back into the fingers ready for a concert?

It depends on which one it is. Some I have played so many times (100 times each)  I can play them tonight. I could go and play the Grieg tonight – I have about 10 concertos like that. Then there are a few concertos which are a few days away, then a week, and some I have lost completely.

Are there certain composers/works which always remains difficult?

Beethoven 4 – because I love it too much!

Chopin 2 is immensely difficult. There’s a simplicity/naturalness/ delicacy which is bordering on impossible on a modern piano. You have to over-articulate and then it doesn’t feel like Chopin. It becomes “Panzer Chopin”. It shouldn’t be forceful. Very often today the pianos are voiced quite aggressively so that they carry to the back of the hall over the orchestra. Trying to playing Chopin 2 or Beethoven 4 on those pianos is not easy, it kind of grates.

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

Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is amazing, and the Musikverein in Vienna, but it’s also the history of those places, knowing who played there, who stood on the stage.

In general halls in Asia, in Japan, are wonderful, not least because of the incredible choice of pianos: 5 or 6 pianos to choose from at Suntory Hall. But it’s also incredible difficult. The audiences in Japan are scary. I’ve been to Japan 21 times. At my first recital in Tokyo, there was lots of applause and then the second I sat down they stopped clapping, and it’s almost like you’re alone. It’s spooky. Even in the big halls, it’s the same. They don’t cough, no speaking, no rustling programmes, no one shaking their foot in the front row….. That’s both wonderful and scary. You can literally play to 2000 people without knowing anyone is there. And there is something quite unnatural playing this music to 2000 people. It’s a strange thing to do – to play the piano in public!

For me the music is the most important, it’s not about not me, what I wear…. The only thing you can do is really focus and draw people in. The ideal is when you play in a way which brings people to the music

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are many for different reasons. For strange reasons, playing Tchaikovsky 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra outdoors, with Charles Dutoit. And they were going to end with the ‘1812 Overture’ and the canon went off in the slow movement of the piano concerto. It was a like a real bomb! The nerves disappeared after that!

I can’t remember all my concerts, but if someone mentions one to me, the memory of it comes back and I can remember how it went, how it felt sitting on the stage.

On recording

It’s very difficult. I’d much prefer a live concert, the sense of purpose, the adrenaline, which can get lost in the studio. It’s very artificial, it’s a tricky process.

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

First of all you have to be crazy about music. It starts there. You have to be obsessed without it otherwise don’t do it. You have to have to do it, otherwise the cost is too high.

For young pianists they have to be careful with their repertoire choices. Most people have their strengths, but somehow young prizewinners have to play ‘Feux Follets’, ‘Petrushka’ and late Beethoven sonatas. They are often influenced by teachers and the market. This a big mistake which many pianists make. One needs to have a strong sense of self, which can’t be taught. You have to have a sense yourself of what you feel you can say, you have to live with the music, love it, be with it.

This is the transcription of an interview recorded on 19th April 2016

Peter Jablonski performs music by Chopin, Szymanowski, Bartok and Liszt at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on Thursday 20th October. Further information here

Born in the south of Sweden to Swedish and Polish parents, Peter showed an early talent for music when he started playing the drums at the age of five and piano at six. Rapid development on the drums led to performances at some major festivals and venues including the `Village Vanguard` in New York aged nine and with musicians such as Buddy Rich and Thad Jones. Peter even received praise from the legendary Miles Davis.
 
Meanwhile, Peter’s interest developed in the classical piano repertoire which led to his first solo performance aged eleven and his debut with orchestra, playing Mozart’s piano concerto in G, K.453 the following year. At this time he was accepted to the Malmo Academy of Music to pursue studies in piano and percussion and by the time of his graduation he was invited to perform Beethoven’s Concerto No.1 with the Swedish, Danish and Polish radio orchestras.
 
Further studies in piano and conducting followed at the Royal College of Music in London when, in his final year, Peter was heard by Vladimir Ashkenazy who invited him to record his debut disc for Decca with Ashkenazy conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.

 

 

 

 

Meet the Artist……Lucia Caruso, composer and pianist

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

My father, Alberto Caruso, was a surgeon and the son of an Italian violinist, my grandfather Salvatore Caruso (both my paternal grandparents were Italians from Calabria). He took me to my first piano recital when I was four, then to my first opera, ‘Rigoletto’, when I was six. I grew up listening to classical music at home and going to concerts thanks to my father and my mother, who is also a doctor, and she enjoyed listening to Bach and Mozart while looking at the microscope. My parents told me that when I was a baby, they put me to sleep listening to Chopin Nocturnes. My grandfather used to play the violin for quite a lot when I was a child, and I listened to him for hours delighted. I inherited his violin, the most precious possession he took to Argentina, when he emigrated before World War II started.

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

As a pianist, I have always been very influenced by Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires, and Sviastoslav Richter. My first piano teacher was a big influence too, Gustavo Gatica, with whom I studied for about ten years until I moved to New York. Even now, I still think of everything he taught me when I practice or teach piano to others.

As a composer, my strongest influence has been Portuguese composer and guitarist Pedro Henriques da Silva, my husband. I had my first composition lessons with him when we were just friends, and he prepared me to audition for my masters in composition and film scoring at New York University, where he eventually became a member of the composition and film scoring faculty. I learned the most of composition, counterpoint and orchestration with him. Pedro, in his doctorate thesis, compiled more than two thousand modes and scales from all around the world, which I use a lot in my compositions. I learned a great amount of world music and how to compose including many unusual world instruments with their exotic tunings. Pedro has a collection of 25 plucked string instruments from different parts of the world, which certainly influenced my music. For example, I based a few of my compositions on the magical sound of the open strings of the Portuguese guitar (D-A-B-E-A-B), an instrument that is normally just used to play fado music from Portugal.

Film Composer Miklós Rózsa was a huge influence in the way I write my melodies, the modes I use with their modulations, and in the way I orchestrate. He is the film composer I admire the most, especially for his music for the biblical epics of the 50s and 60s. The scores to ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘King of Kings’ were the reason I decided that my life would be music and made me fall in love particularly with the idea of being a film composer. I even started dreaming then that I could be able to make my own films. I was 12 when I discovered Miklós Rózsa, and I feel he opened the door to the film world for me. Tchaikovsky is also a big melodic and orchestral influence in my compositions. Ravel and Liszt would be probably the strongest influence in my piano writing. Ravel is also my favourite orchestrator to learn from, especially for his brilliant orchestral special effects.

My film scoring teacher Ira Newborn during my masters at New York University was a very important influence in my scoring techniques. Ira wrote the scores to ‘Ace Ventura’, ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, and ‘Naked Gun’, among others.

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

Balancing being a composer and being a performer is always a challenge. But the biggest challenge of all has been how to describe the style of music Pedro and I compose. To classify it in a genre has always been a challenge. So, after many years of trying to fit our music into a style I came up with the idea that I needed: to create my own musical style: “Transclassical Music”. I coined this term to describe exactly the kind of music that my husband and I compose and mostly perform with the chamber orchestra that we founded together in New York: the Manhattan Camerata. Pedro and I work most of the time as a team, I am the Artistic Director and Pedro is the Music Director of the Manhattan Camerata, being both the founders of the ensemble. Transclassical Music, is music that is grounded on classical techniques of performance and composition with the influence of elements from different cultures from all around the world, including improvisation and world instruments. The Manhattan Camerata is the first chamber ensemble to perform Transclassical Music.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I am very proud of the recording I did together with my husband of our orchestral music with the London Metropolitan Orchestra at the Abbey Road Studios in London 2012. Besides having our compositions recorded, we also played as soloists on our works for piano and orchestra, and Portuguese guitar and orchestra, respectively. These compositions were commissioned by the Ahae foundation.

Another recording I’m very proud of, is the one Pedro and I did together of two commissioned film scores for full orchestra and choir for two of Georges Méliès’s masterpieces: “Joan of Arc” and “Trip to the Moon”. We recorded the two film scores with an extended version of the Manhattan Camerata to make it a full orchestra, together with Voices of Ascension, one of the best choirs in New York City. We composed the scores together, however the score of “Joan of Arc” is a little more mine and “Trip to the Moon” is more Pedro’s. We recorded at one of the best studios in the U.S., the Dolan Studios at the New York University.  We have the mission to score as many films as we can from 1928 and earlier, because since they were silent films they did not have a score composed for them. We want to help to revive many lost, forgotten, undiscovered, or damaged masterpieces, through music. The idea is to bring old films back to life with newly composed scores, so they can be projected again in theatres. This is one of our main goals with the Manhattan Camerata. Maria H. Connor was the executive producer of this project and recording, with Pedro being the music producer.

I am very proud as well of our latest album of our Tango Fado Project with the Manhattan Camerata. We recorded it also at the New York University Dolan Recording Studios and it was executive produced by Maria H. Connor, and the music producer was Pedro. We had special guests artists: Nathalie Pires, one of the best fado singers of our generation; legendary Daniel Binelli, one of the best living Bandoneon players, who used to perform alongside Piazzolla and Aníbal Troilo, the great masters of Argentinean tango; and Polly Ferman, Uruguayan virtuoso pianist and musical ambassador of the Americas. Pedro and I also perform as soloists on the album, with him on Portuguese and classical guitars, and me on piano. The album was taken by the Sorel Classics label and by Naxos  for international distribution. We are extremely proud of this recording.

I am very proud of two performances at the Versailles Palace of our compositions with a string quartet formed by members of the Orchestre the Paris and the then assistant concertmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra, Tomo Keller, as first violin. The first one of these performances was on June 23rd 2013 and the second one on September 9th 2013. Another performance I am very proud of, is the one we performed of other works of ours with the same string quartet at the Louvre Museum in Paris on June 26th 2012. In most of these compositions, Pedro and I performed alongside the string quartet with me on piano and harpsichord and Pedro on Portuguese and classical guitars. Pedro and I also performed at the Kew Palace in London together with violinist Tomo Keller on August 25th 2011. Totally unexpectedly, they gave me a harpsichord instead of the piano I had asked. So the day of the concert I had to just think fast and rearrange the whole repertoire to be able to play what I could and I improvised solo harpsichord pieces and in duet with Pedro on the Portuguese guitar. Since that day I got new commissions to compose for the harpsichord and I started my studies of harpsichord with one of the most respected harpsichordist of America, Kenneth Hamrick.

Most of our compositions performed at all these concerts I just mentioned, were commissioned by the Ahae Foundation to accompany his photographic exhibit that took place in many countries in the world, including the Louvre Museum and Palace of Versailles in France, Kew Palace in London, Grand Central Terminal in New York City, and Magazzini del Sale in Venice.

I am also very happy to perform and donate my concerts as a fundraiser to the Breast Cancer Foundation “Fundafem”, in Mendoza, Argentina, whose president is Dr. Francisco Gago. The first concert for this foundation was at the Independencia Theatre, the most important theater in Mendoza, Argentina, on May 14th 2014.

Lastly, I am particularly happy about the two concerts we did with the Manhattan Camerata of our Tango Fado Project at Kennedy Center in Washington DC on March 13th 2015 and at Lincoln Center in New York City on August 3rd 2016.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I have a great affinity with Mozart, his piano concertos, especially No.13 K415 and No.20 K446. The same goes for Mozart sonatas such as the ones in G Major K.283 and C Major K. 330.

I would say that Debussy’s ‘Estampes’, Chopin ‘sBallade No 1, Ginastera Tres danzas argentinas, Grieg Piano Concerto, Beethoven Sonata No 6, are among the pieces I perform best.

But in the last several years, I have focused on performing my own compositions and Pedro’s, and those are the pieces that I always have ready in my fingers, and if you to ask what pieces I play best, I would have to say that it is our works.

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

I plan according to the concerts I have to play. I mostly perform my own works because of the limited time I have to learn new repertoire besides all the composition commitments I have.

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

Yes, I love performing at le Poisson Rouge and in Lincoln Center in New York City, and at the Monserrate Palace in Sintra, Portugal. Le Poisson Rouge has one of my favorite sound systems and a great piano. I also love the nature of the venue, which is quite creative and multicultural. It looks like a jazz bar or restaurant with tables where you can eat and drink while you enjoy the show, but you don’t necessarily listen to jazz or music that would suggest that kind of ambience. You can listen from classical to any other style of music there. This is for me one of the perfect ways to enjoy classical music: in a more relaxed and enjoyable environment than in a strictly serious one. I love to listen to classical music while enjoying a glass of wine, and not always sitting stiffly in a concert hall. When we perform there, the set up of the tables and the stage creates an intimacy that connects the audience with the performer in a very Close and warm way. It is also located in the heart of the West Village in Manhattan, one of the most alive neighborhoods of the city.

Lincoln Center is just one of the best venues I’ve ever performed in. Great acoustics, fantastic piano, great stage, huge, perfect for a big audience. Another special place where I love to perform is at the music room in the Monserrate Palace in the middle of the Sierra of Sintra (20 minutes from Lisbon) in Portugal. This last one is my favorite in terms of Magic. The room is round and has a gorgeous cupola with the most astonishing decoration, including busts of the nine muses and famous female poets all around it. The acoustics makes the sound go up and swirl around you and everything sounds even more beautiful. It is impossible not to get crazily inspired…This room has one of the best Steinway pianos I have ever played, which belongs to my dear British friend Emma Gilbert. Before Emma owned this piano, it previously belonged to Vianna da Motta, one of the most important Portuguese composers of the 19th century, and a disciple of Franz Liszt. It is a big honor for me to play on that piano. I feel it has a soul and has become one of my closest friends. I don’t only perform at the Monserrate Palace, but I also compose there most of the time when I’m in Portugal (my husband is Portuguese and I have also adopted the Portuguese nationality by marriage, that’s why I often visit). The fact that this palace is kind of hidden in the middle of the forest of the Sierra of Sintra, most of the time surrounded by a fantastical fog, typical of the sierras, it makes the whole experience absolutely magical. The Monserrate Palace is one of my favorite places to work in the world.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

From the standard classical repertoire I love to perform Mozart concertos, I would actually love to play all of them if I had the time. I also love to perform early Beethoven sonatas, Chopin Ballades No 1, 2, and 4; Schumann’s ‘Carnaval’ Op.9, Schumann ‘The Prophet Bird’ from Waldszenen op.84.

But lately I’ve been more focused on performing my works and Pedro’s works. We’ve been composing difficult music that requires all our focus, such as a piano concerto, other works for piano and orchestra, and chamber and solo pieces that often include difficult virtuosic writing. I love creating something that I will enjoy performing.

I love listening to Medieval and Renaissance music a great deal, some of my favourite pieces of the period being “Viderunt Omnes” and “Beata Viscera” by Pérotin; Cantigas de Santa Maria (12th C.), “Moro lasso al mio duolo” by Gesualdo; Dowland’s “Lachrymae”; Tallis’s “Spem in alium”; and I love everything by Josquin des Prez. My music is somewhat influenced by Medieval and Renaissance music in its colours, modes, and in instrumental timbre. Some of my music has a medieval flavour within the “modern” compositional techniques I use.

I am also a big lover of Celtic music. I am in love with the Celtic harp and bagpipes. I have a big collection of Celtic music from Ireland, Galicia, and Portugal, one of my favourite ensembles being “Strella do Dia” from Portugal.

The classical pieces I like to listen to the most are both of Liszt’s piano concertos; Brahms’s piano Concerto No.2; Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique Symphony” (which in my opinion contains some of the most beautiful melodies ever written); Puccini’s “Turandot”; “El Amor Brujo” by Manuel De Falla; Wagner’s Ring Cycle; Ravel “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand”; Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony, “Le banquet Celeste”; Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem”, Ligeti’s “Lux Aeterna”.

In film music, my favourite scores are: Miklos Rozsa’s “Ben Hur”, “King of Kings” and “Quo Vadis”; Bernard Hermann’s “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”, “Vertigo” and “Psycho”; Max Steiner’s “Gone with the Wind”; John Williams’s “The Prisoner of Azkaban”, “The Empire Strikes Back”; John Brion’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”.

Pop Rock and other music I love listening to: Nils Frahm’s albums “Spaces” & “Felt”; Bjork’s albums “Vespertine”, “Post”, “Homogenic” and “Vulnicura”. I like some of the most unusual songs of the Beatles: “Blue Jay Way”, “Within Without You”, “Tomorrow Never Knows”, and also “Girl”, “Norwegian Wood”, and “Dear Prudence”. I am crazy about the song “Nobody Does it Better” by Marvin Hamlisch.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Pianists Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires, Radu Lupu, Daniel Barenboim; violinists Nathan Milstein, Itzhak Perlman, Gidon Kremer; conductors Georg Solti, Carlos Kleiber, Alondra de la Parra; bagpipe player Patricia Pato; guitarist Pablo Sainz Villégas; bandoneonist Daniel Binelli; cellist Sol Gabetta. I have the honor and privilege of being friends with the last five, and have collaborated with most of them.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One of the most memorable and beautiful concert experiences Pedro and I had was at the Louvre Museum/Jardin des Tuileries with the Orchestre Lamoureux in Paris. We were commissioned the orchestral and chamber music for a big photography exhibit at the Louvre Museum and performed it live outdoors in two concerts at the Tuileries Garden in front of a crowd of thousands in beautiful Paris in summer. My husband and I both played as soloists with this orchestra: him on his Portuguese guitar and orchestra composition “Snow”, and I played as a soloist in my piano and orchestra piece “Clouds”. More orchestral works of ours were performed while beautiful photographs were shown on two giant screens on a huge stage that was built just for these concerts.

The other great experience in performance was the one we had last month at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival in New York City. We performed our Tango Fado Project with our chamber orchestra, the Manhattan Camerata. We also had more than four thousand people in the audience – with a few dozens more standing – and had one of the most positive and effusive reactions from the crowd and the Lincoln Center authorities. An unforgettable evening!

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

As a composer, I think that the purpose of music is to touch people’s hearts and to be able to produce goosebumps as a symptom of emotional catharsis. This is more important than trying to be original or complex. As a performer, simply enjoy every musical line as if you are making love to your instrument.

Where would you like to be in 10 yearstime?

I want to keep doing what I am doing now, but more so. I want to have more concerts, more compositions and commissions and more recordings at Abbey Road, and more important concerts like the ones I have done at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Palace of Versailles, Louvre Museum, etc. I just want to write more pieces and complete my Portuguese opera and my novel about Sintra. I am at the happiest place I could possibly be right now. Of course I could always have more fame and money, but I am doing exactly what I love: composing and performing concertos and my own music, and I see myself doing the same but more so in ten years. But my greatest ambition is to be able to have a child and being able to continuing doing what I’m doing. I have talked to many artist mothers, and they just wrap their child and play piano, paint, write, and travel with the child to tours and everywhere.

I want to always live in New York, the city where all my dreams came true, but I also want to have a home in the countryside. I see myself in 10 years composing in my own studio or house either in the Catskill Mountains in Upstate NY, or in Rhode Island (US East coast) or somewhere in the countryside in England or in the south of Argentina, in Patagonia… It is crucial and vitally important for me to have a home in the countryside and in the middle of nature, so I can be fully creative.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being able to be eternally in love with the loves of your life, such as romantic love, platonic love, special friends and family members. I love spending time with friends who are as close as family and with family members who are as close as friends. To fall in love with what you do as a profession, and being able to make a living or make that your everyday responsibility, has no price.

What is your most treasured possession?

My grandfather’s violin.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Besides making music, I love traveling around the world and learning as many languages as possible. I love being in the countryside and wilderness. I love riding my bike next to the ocean in Portugal with my father in law, Francisco H. da Silva. I love going to art museums with my mother, Lucia Morales, especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and discuss art and painting for hours. I love spending time with my sister Carla, one of my closest friends and favourite people. I love being a Druid and praise nature constantly. I love climbing mountains, as I used to do since I was a child with my father and sister in the Andes Mountains. I love fencing, reading and writing. I love going to Burning Man. I love laying on the ground in the fields, mountains or on the beach to watch the millions of stars above me and look for shooting stars. I love doing wild things… I love being free…

What is your present state of mind?

Constantly in love…

Argentine-born pianist and composer Lucia, will demonstrate her technical and emotional mastery of a concerto premiered by Mozart himself, one of three designed to be accessible and a happy medium between the easy and the difficult, the brilliant and the pleasing, on Tuesday 11th October in ‘Mozart and Friends’ with the Orchestra of the Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon, details here, and further concerts in Birmingham and Cheltenham on 12th and 19th October.

Lucia Caruso’s website

 

 

 

Meet the Artist……Ayako Fujiki, pianist & composer

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

I hardly remember when I first started to play the piano. I remember that I used to have a red toy piano. My mom bought it when my older sister was born. I grew up playing this toy piano, played some songs which I just learnt by singing. When my grandmother saw me she decided to buy a piano for me.

My family is pretty musical family. My father plays the guitar and sings opera, my mother used to play the Koto (japanese traditional instrument), and my sister played the piano, the clarinet and a bit of the violin. For me it is pretty normal to play some instruments. But I was passionate about the  piano and loved the piano’s sound. But also I played percussion in the kids orchestra and played little bit of the violin.

I have always felt passionate about the beauty of piano sound and the piano pieces composed by others. I tried hard and explored how to get better, how to play that sound, how to express music and I enjoyed those processes…  I love it and I feel restless if I don’t;  so I thought I might as well make it my profession.

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

Alicia de Larrocha definitely comes on top – I used to listen to her Granados/Goyescas and Albeniz/Iberia all the time before studying with her. I became a huge fan and fought for the privilege of becoming her pupil in Barcelona. I succeeded!  I also owe a lot to Carmen Bravo Mompou  – a great pianist and the widow of Frederic Mompou – one of my favourite composers, and Carlota Garriga – also a great pianist and the widow of one of renown conductors, Igor Markevich.

When composing I think I am between Japanese and some mixture of those countries I  was stimulated by  – I intuitively belong to Japanese culture because I grew up there but at the same time I absorbed lots of mixed cultures. I like Japanese composers, such as Toru Takemitsu, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Joe Hisaishi etc. and the most of classical music composers like Debussy, Mompou, Chopin, Granados lots more..

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

To find my own way and stick to it.  Combining ambitious classical performance with being a composer is not always easy.  I try hard at my composing and my performing leveraging each other.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Finishing my ‘Brightwater’ CD gave me a great sense of achievement – I worked on it really hard for more than a year with the help of a number of people, including OBC concertmaster Christian Chivu and the Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu the 1st soloist-cellist Cristoforo Pestalozzi.  I should say, as well, that felt really emotional when I played one of my pieces in a full Barcelona’s Palau de la Música in the context of a charity event to raise funds to support people affected by Japan’s big earthquake.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Probably French and Spanish classical.  I also get carried away with romanticism in music such as Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn lots more… And my own pieces!

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

I think carefully about how the pieces tie with one another.  I think about the concert as a whole, trying to give it different moments, different emotions and would usually challenge myself to leverage on my cross-cultural musical background to choose the pieces.

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

I might say there is a venue in each city of each country. I like those places because they are fruits of cultural heritage from there. I especially like Palau de la Música in Barcelona, beautiful architecture, the size of the place and the acoustics are perfect.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Beyond classical, I listen to lots of electronic and ambient music – I like Anohni (Antony Hegarty), Tori Amos, Sigur Ros, etc.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I would go for Martha Argerich, Maria Joao Pires, Daniel Barenboim, Mitsuko Uchida, Joshua Bell, Ryuichi Sakamoto.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Playing Schumann Piano Concert in Bulgaria. I hardly communicated with most of orchestra members because of the language barrier, but on with the conductor, Sir Palikalov who is great musician and speaks English. But through music, we communicated very well and we understood each other. That process was a wonderful experience.

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

I guess be ambitious with the quality of the product and be yourself. Never give up making steps ahead.

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

I would like to have made an impact in the musical circles – big or small – but an impact which I feel proud of.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My Steinway…….

Ayako Fujiki’s new album ‘Brightwater’, featuring her own original pieces, was released on 30th September in UK. Ayako composes her own music, incorporating classical and electronic music techniques.

Born in Tokyo, Ayako Fujiki started playing the piano as a young child and performed her first concert at age seven, playing Beethoven and Chopin.  She has performed in Japan, Spain, UK, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Colombia and Bulgaria.

ayakofujiki.com

Meet the Artist……Katya Apekisheva, pianist

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

I grew up in a family of musicians. Both my parents are pianists and repetiteurs in different Moscow opera houses and so I was always surrounded by music.  Many of my earliest memories are of the excitement of seeing my parents practicing and performing.  Music came to me very naturally. I was very lucky to have Ada Traub as my first piano teacher.  She was an extraordinary teacher and human being with a special ability to communicate with children and give them crucial skills and a love for music.  I then went on to Gnessin Music School and from there to the Jerusalem Academy and the Royal College of Music. It never really occurred to me to do anything else with my life – I am delighted to say that I still don’t regret it!

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

Each of my four teachers have been hugely significant, each in a different way.  I have already mentioned Ada Traub. My second teacher was Anna Kantor, much more formidable – in fact slightly terrifying to her students.  She had an amazing ear for detail, was very hard-working and a perfectionist.

Through her I met my fellow student Evgeny Kissin, one of the world’s most accomplished pianists. I was present at many of his lessons and went on a couple of tours with him.  His extraordinary talent made a massive impression on me. He inspired me to be a performer

In Jerusalem I was taught by Irina Berkovich. From her I learned much about analysis and structure. Irina Zaritskaya’s approach (at the Royal College in London) focussed on sound and colour. I had a very special bond with her; she was an amazingly caring teacher and herself a wonderful pianist with a sound from the golden age of piano greats.

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

These days musicians lives are crazy.  in order to be “on the scene” and in demand as a performer we often have to take up almost any invitations that come our way which often means learning a huge amount of solo and chamber music repertoire at very short notice.  I find that the most challenging: not only to learn new repertoire but to fill it with meaning and understanding in a very short time.  It can be thrilling but also daunting.  You have to live off adrenaline.  It must be very difficult for musicians who don’t learn fast to survive in today’s world.

What are you most looking forward to in the London Piano Festival?

Having spent a lot of time with Charles carefully deciding on the artists and repertoire for the festival, I really am looking forward to every event!  But for me the Two Piano Gala is probably the most exciting.  It has an unusual format – it is in three parts and the repertoire is really fantastic and diverse (from Busoni to Debussy, Rachmaninov, a new commissioned work by Nico Muhly and “party pieces” by Milhaud, Piazzolla and Grainger/Gershwin). Having seven fantastic pianists taking part in this event is really exciting.

Which performance/recordings you are most proud of?

There were many memorable performances in my life… ( for different reasons!)

One of my most memorable performances was playing complete Brahms piano quartets in Moscow with Boris Brovtsyn, Maxim Rysanov and Boris Andrianov. It was the combination of learning the three Brahms quartets, which I think are some of the very best chamber music works there are, and then performing these pieces with fantastic musicians whom I admire.

As for recordings, I guess my first solo recording of Grieg piano music is something that is very important for me. I visited Grieg’s house outside Bergen in Norway, and played there too. It was such a magical place and it made me want to record Grieg. But I don’t find listening to my own recordings easy: its so difficult to accept the finished product, I always want to change something ..

Which particular works do you think you play best?

So difficult to say… Hard to judge yourself. I guess romantic music suits me most but I think I can play a Haydn sonata decently too… !

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

There are many factors involved… It depends on how busy i am in that particular season and also often there are concerts/festivals for which I am asked to play certain pieces or concertos.

But I do try always to learn something new.  And I try to vary styles in my programs. I think its an art in itself to create a really interesting and exciting program. It can be crucial to the success of a concert.

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

I love the beautiful and very special atmosphere of Wigmore Hall and the unique sense of history pervading the Holywell Room in Oxford.  I generally prefer more intimate venues although I did recently play in the Unam University Hall in Mexico City, which is a very big hall indeed, but i loved the acoustics and felt really good playing there.There are quite a lot of lovely venues around the world, it is impossible to name them all.

Favourite pieces to perform/listen to?

I really can’t name favourite pieces to perform or listen to… I just love too many different things. If I name a couple of pieces, then immediately others will come to mind and so on…   Often I don’t feel like listening to classical music and I switch a nice jazz record on… Or even pop, dare I say.

Who are your favourite musicians?

From past generation – Rachmaninov, Kreisler, Rubinstein, Carlos Kleiber to name a few

Now – Grigory Sokolov, Martha Argerich, Maria Joao Pires, Radu Lupu, but there are quite a few others and not necessarily pianists.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I will never forget playing in the finals of Leeds Piano Competition. I played Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto and Sir Simon Rattle was the conductor. I never dreamt I would get into the final so I didn’t even bring the score with me… So when I found out I had got through to the final, I had to find the music urgently!  Also I didn’t know it so well… I had two days to revise it. It was a live broadcast on TV and radio and it was definitely the most terrifying experience on stage for me. Working with Sir Simon was really amazing though; he was so kind and encouraging.

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

We live in a very competitive world. Being proactive and ambitious is good but most important is to be true to music; music requires dedication and commitment – years of learning, studying, exploring, thinking – not just playing your instrument.  If you want to be a performer, you need to have something to say in music, and you need to develop as an individual, as a human being, in order to have something to say.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

Hopefully still here with my friends and loved ones near me!  And still enjoying playing the piano as much as I do now.

The inaugural London Piano Festival runs from 7-9 October 2016 at King’s Place. Full details here

Katya Apekisheva is one of Europe’s most renowned pianists, in demand internationally as both a soloist and as a chamber musician. Since becoming a prize-winner in the Leeds International and Scottish Piano Competitions and collating awards such as the London Philharmonic ‘Soloist of the Year’ and the Terence Judd Award she has been marked out as a pianist of exceptional gifts, performing with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, The Philharmonia, the Halle Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Jerusalem Symphony, the English Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, working with conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, David Shallon, Jan Latham-Koenig and Alexander Lazarev.

Read Katya’s full biography here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Artist……Kathryn Stott, pianist

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(photo Nikolaj Lund)

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

I’m not sure I was particularly inspired by anyone at the age of 5, but we had an upright piano in the house as my mother gave piano lessons to little ones after her day job. I don’t remember she pushed me to start but I was easily drawn to the instrument and picked up the basics pretty quickly. I had no wish to sit there for hours on end, so I think my saving grace was being able to read music quickly and get on with whizzing through my little book! I’ve never felt that I made a conscious decision to pursue a career in music. I went to the Yehudi Menuhin School at the age of 8 and it just naturally led to studies at the Royal College of Music – actually I never felt there was a choice NOT to continue!

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

Although my lessons were infrequent with Vlado Perlemuter, he did influence me a lot in the way he approached clarity and intensity of sound. Nadia Boulanger influenced my ears to be as wide open as is humanly possible but the teacher who actually had the most profound influence, was Kendall Taylor who I studied with for 4 years at the Royal College of Music. He basically put me together after I had become very fragmented and most important, was the first person who believed in me. I’ve known Yo-Yo Ma for all of my adult life (and worked with him for 31 years) and without doubt he has influenced me tremendously, both as a pianist and a person.

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

I’ve had a number of challenges along the way. Perhaps the greatest was balancing being a mother and trying to maintain a focus on having a career which often took me away from home. My other great challenge was to accept I didn’t really like performing from memory and just deal with the fact I prefer using the score. I’ve now been doing that for about 20 years. I remember a promoter told me the critics would shoot me after I gave my first full recital using the score. It appears I’m still here.

You’re performing in the inaugural London Piano Festival in October – tell us about your programme?

I initially thought it would be a good moment to perform the Dutilleux Sonata again – a piece I absolutely love. I performed it for a whole season 10 years ago but then it disappeared from my repertoire until I recorded it for BIS 2 years ago. Then of course comes the question of what to perform with it. Somehow I couldn’t escape the idea of F sharp and now here we are with music by Ravel, Messiaen and Fauré. I’m often fascinated by keys and why music sounds the way it does because a composer chose a particular key. I think it will be interesting to explore the contrasts of F-sharp for an hour. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I don’t particularly dwell on whether I’m proud of something or not so there are probably performances which went especially well which I’ve totally forgotten about. I think I’m proud of the fact that I performed Rachmaninov’s 4th Concerto for the first time only a few years ago. As I get older, adding works such as this seem a bigger mountain than when I was younger, but I would have been gutted to get to the end of the performing road and never have played it…what a piece! Recordings – I’d probably have to say my complete Fauré for Hyperion. Not because I think it’s better than anything else I’ve done but it was such a beautiful labour of love to learn the complete works. I know I would play everything differently now but that’s how these things go. I don’t listen to my recordings – that’s for other people to do.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I think there are certain pieces I perform better now simply because I’ve had some life experiences which have definitely affected how I express myself. For example I feel I now play the Britten Concerto in a way which makes much more sense than when I was younger – same with works by Shostakovich. I have no idea really – my interest in repertoire is vast so sometimes it’s good to explore even if I don’t think it’s for me.

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

It depends on the season and what is generally going on. I always have a lot of chamber music in my season, so as that repertoire is not necessarily determined by me, I might decide my own recital repertoire according to other things in place. Concertos I don’t play as often and it’s always been rare to dictate repertoire. Then of course, there are festivals where you might have a million things to play in a short space of time. I try to think how I’m going to be able to prepare everything time wise and so some choices are made on that. It goes without saying that I’ve programmed or hinted strongly I want to play a certain piece just simply because I have to play it!

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

I don’t have one favourite but on the list would be Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for its beauty and history, the Concert Hall in Luzern for being contemporary but warm and Symphony Hall in Boston for its acoustic, relationship to audience and wood floor (stage) which tells a thousand stories. I generally dislike very high stages so even a great hall where I’m too far from the audience is not in my top ten.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

No favourites – depends what day it is. I love silence more and more but I love listening to Symphonic Music, Opera, Lieder –rarely piano music just for pleasure

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I don’t have favourites but I’m currently enjoying listening to Philippe Jaroussky.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

If you mean me performing then performing at the Hollywood Bowl with Yo-Yo and lots of lovely, wonderful Brazilian musicians. I remember we all held hands to take a bow and I said to guitarist Sergio Assad ‘remember where we are’. He knew what I meant. It was a happy evening for us all in an iconic venue. If the experience is me sitting in the audience – I’ve just been to my first Wagner Ring Cycle performed by Opera North. Truly memorable.

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

I always think it’s important for young musicians to find their own voice and I often discuss the concept of being true to ones self, to think about why they want to be part of the music profession and to try to balance the wishes of a composer with what they have to say as an individual. Learning to tell stories via their instruments is what I’m interested in and most important, I do like to stress we all mess up and performances are not ruined thanks to some wrong notes. In the end, I hope to help them be creative, independent, courageous and above all curious.

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

Anywhere where I feel to be alive and well

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

I don’t think it exists

What is your most treasured possession? 

My photo albums – I’m very nostalgic

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Walking in the countryside with my dog, Archie

What is your present state of mind? 

Always lots going on!

Kathryn Stott performs music in F-sharp by Fauré, Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleux as part of the inaugural London Piano Festival at Kings Place on Saturday 8 October.

Further information here www.londonpianofestival.com

www.kathrynstott.com

 

 

Meet the Artist……Belle Chen, pianist

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

When I was young, I was extremely shy around people. I felt more comfortable when I spent time at the piano, and the more time I spent exploring the sonic worlds of different composers and the instrument, the more I fell in love with music. Music became a vital way for me to communicate, and there were no second thoughts from then on pursuing a career in music.

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

As a pianist, my teachers and mentors throughout every stage of my development- Ian Fountain, Oleg Stepanov, Helen Dobrenko, and Neville Baird- have all shaped my sound on the piano and approach to classical music repertoire. I also look up to strong female role models during my period of learning- including the wonderful Joanna MacGregor who has been a real inspiration and who is ever so encouraging during my time at Royal Academy of Music, and the equally inspiring Natasha Vlassenko from Queensland Conservatorium.

Stylistically speaking, I listen to a very wide range of music and am constantly taking inspiration from great artists of other genres. For example, the structural construct for my new album ‘Mediterranean Sounds’ was inspired by Frank Zappa’s ‘Civilization Phase III’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. In terms of sound design, I also look up to Brian Eno and take inspiration from his treatment of sounds and samples.

When it comes to how the samples are integrated with classical music and performance presentation, I observe the practices of a wide range of artists (and their producers) and DJs ranging from Miles Davis, Gilles Peterson, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Gypsy Kings, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, right up to Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, and more recently the phenomenally talented Jacob Collier.

In the end, I am a bit like a sponge, always absorbing sounds and formulating new ideas to integrate these with classical music language. There are many influences on my music and sound- all important and always evolving!

I think equally as important as influences are the people and new friends that I encounter and meet while sourcing my sounds. I am always curious about people, and encounters often allow for a glimpse inside their respective worlds and lives. Observing people’s stories and shared experiences very often provide the fuel and motivation for my works.

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

I am a sensitive person, and it is always an internal struggle to stand strong and firm in my artistic visions amidst challenges and criticism, especially in my more experimental works. It has taken me a very long time to find a sound and style that is ‘me’- something that satisfied my need to create and communicate my own voice and experiences- and not merely perform the masterpieces.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

So far, I have been lucky with the attention that came from my first EP- ‘Listen, London’- which was an integration of sampled sounds captured around London with piano works by Poulenc, Sibelius, Liszt, Ginastera, and more. It has been a long hard road though, I remembered when I first showed it to a couple of people and recording stores, it caused them some very genuine confusion. “What, was this recorded in a car park?!” was one of the remarks… It was quite a challenge to power through the critical remarks in the beginning, as I had taken a leap of faith and poured my heart and soul into the project. But nevertheless, it was a great learning curve and I feel stronger as an artist because of this.

Since then, ‘Listen, London’ was handpicked by Brian Eno for Curator’s Choice in 2014 NOISE Festival, and then subsequently led to my recent win of 2015 London Music Awards’ Classical Music Rising Star Award. This year it was picked up by BBC Introducing, and aired on BBC 3, BBC 6, Classic Radio Finland and so on.

I am following ‘Listen, London’ up with ‘Mediterranean Sounds’- a concept album that integrates soundscapes in a slightly different manner that is less intense and more poetic than ‘Listen, London’. I am also immensely proud of ‘Mediterranean Sounds’- it has taken my 2 years to bring it into fruition!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I play the works that speak to my heart and personal experience the best.

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

Repertoire choices are often chosen after research and experimenting to find what fit the best in designing a particular experience through a programme.

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

I think my favourite concert venues are associated to the audience in it… I love all venues large and small, indoors or outdoors, when the chemistry and vibe between the audience and the stage is strong!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

When I was young, I listened to Ashkenazy’s recording of Rachmaninaff Piano Concert No. 2 & 3 with the Moscow Philharmonic a lot. It is partially because it was the first classical music recording that I owned, and it remains a recording that I hold close to my heart.

Right now on my iPhone music library are: Astor Piazzolla, Juan de Marcos & Afro-Cuban All Stars, Los Amigos Invisibles, London Symphony Orchestra, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Michael Kieran Harvey, Pascal Roge, Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band, Esperanza Spalding, Erykah Badu, St. Germain, The RH Factor, Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, Vikter Duplaix, George Benson, Jacob Collier, and a list of Greek folk music that I am currently investigating.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many! Vladimir Horowitz, Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Brian Eno, Quincy Jones, and my more recent fascinations are as mentioned above!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been several memorable concert experiences- the hilarious moment where I tripped over my own dress on stage, the touching moment when I could hear an audience member sobbing from on the stage (I was relieved when she later told me it was because she was touched… phew), the sweet moment of a very young girl climbing onstage to dance to a waltz and handing me a flower that she had picked from the garden… in midst of the intense heat and humidity of regional Australia… and very recently the surreal moment of doing a sound-design & piano set at Latitude Festival in the middle of the woods…! There are many great memories.

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

Find your own voice.

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

I have a passion for travelling and exploring different cultures. I always source new audio and visual material when I travel and construct little pieces of sonic documentary as I go. I hope in 10 years time my portfolio will consist of sounds and works inspired by all seven continents!

Belle Chen’s new album Mediterranean Sounds was released on 8th September 2016

 

Spice Market in Istanbul x Fazil Say

Listen, London: The Opening (Poulenc)

 

Website/Social Media

http://www.bellechen.com

http://www.facebook.com/bellechenmusic

Twitter: @bellepianist

 

Winner of Classical Music Rising Star Award at the inaugural 2015 London Music Awards, Australian-Taiwanese pianist Belle Chen has been enjoying a busy international schedule, performing a diversity of programmes ranging from classical piano recitals, chamber music recitals, to experimental collaborations with sound design, visual art, theatre, and dance.

Belle is a piano soloist for the prestigious Park Lane Group Artists in their 2015/16 season. Her festival appearances in recent years include: 2015 Newbury International Festival, Deal Festival, Australia & New Zealand Literature Festival, Shanghai World Expo, Bloomsbury Festival, Taipei Fringe Festival, and Teneriffe Festival. In 2014 & 2015, she toured UK as pianist in Concert Theatre’s production of Romeo & Juliet/The Rite of Spring, and as a solo recitalist in Taiwan and UK.

Belle’s performances have also been broadcasted and featured by media such as BBC Radio 3, BBC China, Monocle 24 Radio, Classic Radio Finland, Classic FM, ABC FM, 4MBS, and Dateline (TV). Belle graduated from Royal Academy of Music (United Kingdom) in September 2013 with Master of Music in Performance with Distinction, and has since been handpicked by Brian Eno for as a winner of Curator’s Choice for Music Award at 2014 NOISE Festival, awarded the 2014 Finalist Award for The American Prize for Music in Chamber Music, and winning the 2015 London Music Award.

Since 2016, Belle has been endorsed by Arts Council England under the Exceptional Talent visa scheme. She is currently a guest lecturer in Multimedia and Piano Performance at the Royal Academy of Music, where she was previously endorsed as a Graduate Entrepreneur after her degree. Belle is the founding director of Eito Music, where she leads a new generation of self-producing talents in classical and experimental genres.