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

It was hearing Monk’s Dream (Thelonious Monk Quartet) at 17, amidst the sea of UK garage and US Hip Hop I was listening to, that really made me want to play. I’d wander into the music rooms at my school between lessons and start hitting notes; school wasn’t the best of times (probably a universally applicable statement), and the sense of being able to assign inexpressible feelings to keys and sequences of notes, however primitively they may have been expressed and constructed, was completely absorbing.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

It’s probably no exaggeration to say Tourette’s Syndrome (TS). I didn’t know it by its name when I was a teenager (and wouldn’t until my early twenties) but I did know that the piano – the immersion I felt in it, the satisfaction of this innate [again universal, yet arguably slightly amplified [in the case of TS] craving for rhythm – offered me relief from my own body.

I think I would always have felt some draw to the instrument on a musical level – but without TS I’m not so sure that I would have stayed at the piano.

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

The greatest challenge has probably been sticking with things, over months and years, trying to carry on persevering in spite it feeling delusional/completely unachievable at points. But I’m not actually sure this was a challenge; I didn’t really view doing what I wanted to be doing as a choice.

As an aside – I’m not sure I’d call my relationship to/involvement with music a career as such – partly because I try to split my time relatively evenly between sonic and visual areas but also because I’m slightly uncomfortable with the word ‘career’. I’ve always associated that word with the people who came to my school, asked me some questions and then suggested I was destined for one in the catering industry.

‘Career’ seems to evoke a sense of detachment or distinction from a life that must exist around it, in spite of it…personal life versus career. For better or worse, I’ve wanted to avoid doing anything with my life that I’d feel any need or desire to escape or detach from.

Career’ to me at least, is the imposition of artificially constructed expectations – from society and self it implies trajectory, outcome, above all – an attempt to quantify that which perhaps should exist outside the realm of metrics.

So perhaps one of my biggest challenges is to remember quite how much I don’t want to build a career. I don’t ever want to retire from what I’m choosing to give my time and my life to. And I suppose within that lies the ever-present question of whether what I’m choosing to give my time to is something I should be giving my time to.

My biggest frustration would definitely be the amount of time I need to spend in front of a screen to facilitate my engagement with a world that exists beyond it.

Another challenge I’m becoming increasingly aware of is how to communicate simple ideas without sounding detached and pretentious.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

My main, and relatively limited, experience of ‘commissioned’ music has been through film scores (a few shorts, documentary / narrative and a feature documentary). It’s a real privilege to be trusted with someone else’s work – and exciting to be able to respond to it.

I think part of the challenge is to factor in an awareness that what I’m doing should be informed but not limited by my response to the material. At the end of the day it’s someone else’s film – something they’ve potentially been working on for years and poured their life into, they’ll be attached to certain ideas when it comes to soundscapes and it’s important to be respectful of those ideas whilst also knowing when to be assertive and speak out and constructively disagree.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

At its best, collaboration really takes me outside myself – there’s a lowering of inhibitions and a confidence that doesn’t quite exist when playing solo. There’s also far more objectivity – good ideas mean so much more and crap ideas get removed so much earlier – or at least the process of working to redeem them begins much earlier.As far as challenges go – giving / being open to receiving feedback. But then if communication’s good and there’s mutual respect that’s 90% of the work done.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’m particularly proud of the mini album ‘Weightless’. I’d been holding on to four little piano tracks for a few years  – almost as a safety net to be used if felt like my involvement in music was really slipping away.

I decided to try to commission a non-remix style remix album (one which wasn’t comprised of four C-grade club remixes) that could extend the small scope of the piano tracks into something more expansive and offer a more cohesive listening experience. I approached some friends whose music I loved and asked them to respond as honestly as possible to the themes of titles, to go wherever they felt musically led but just asked they remained tethered, however loosely, to some part of the original. I loved the resulting reworks and the musical variety that had spawned from these four very simple piano pieces- all credit for that of course goes to the four artists involved (Tom Adams, Siavash Amini, Hedia, Transept).

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I’m interested in attempting to bring a variety of influences and feelings to the piano. I like leaving room for slight variety in performance, space for improvisation at points. That gives me room to grow in my existing compositions and for them to grow with me too. I like melody but am trying to push my understanding and use of harmony further along. Whilst I love sparser music that I can get lost in, I find I’m generally more interested in narrative – I’d say most of the music I make, on piano at least, has some sense of journey attached baked into it. I can fully appreciate and welcome simplicity but equally don’t like easy answers so I try to not to offer those through my music either – life very rarely, if ever, finds itself exclusively steeped in one end of the existential spectrum so it doesn’t make sense to me for music to do so either.

How do you work?

Occasionally something will come out of nowhere but usually the process is fairly slow. I tend to play things over and over, record primitively on my phone (when camera phones were smaller I used to put one in my mouth and film what my hands were playing. Now I just record audio on my phone and hope to remember the fingering), listen back, play back, add, subtract, listen, listen – extend this process over weeks or months. By the end ideas have either been near fully formed or if I start to find them boring I let go of them.
Time becomes a filter, through which only the stuff that still interests me passes.

Even with my upcoming album – I’m listening to it on almost daily basis to make sure, at least up to the point of release, that I still feel accurately represented by it and sufficiently interested in it.  I don’t mind if I change my mind at some future point but I need to know that at the moment of release it is music that still means something to me.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I really love Stevie Wonder’s albums from the 1970s. Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck. My favourite album of 2018 was Baloji’s “137 Avenue Kaniama” and having him seen him perform it live last year can easily say he’s one of my favourite performers.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To remember that expression isn’t a commodity and music isn’t a competition. To balance your strengths and limits over that fine line between thinking you’re shit / THE shit.

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

To have confidence in your story and own it, don’t expect everyone to get it or the music that comes from it – make stuff for yourself primarily and treat anyone else wanting to listen in as a welcome bonus.

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

Primarily outside.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Finding stability in transition and being free from expectations.. with a football in one hand and a frisbee in the other.

What do you enjoy doing most?

I love walking and being outside as much as possible. I used to love playing football almost more than anything else – I really miss it.

What is your present state of mind?

Honestly – conflicted and unsettled. Trying to question things without getting completely lost.

Alex Kozobolis’ new album ‘Somewhere Else’ is released on 26 April and is an album with the piano at its heart. Alex describes the piano as possessing a therapeutic magnetism for him, having originally turned to the instrument as a way of regulating the symptoms of his Tourette syndrome. A jazz-like preoccupation with improvisation is embedded within the album, each track was brought to the studio slightly incomplete allowing for spontaneity during the recording process.


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(Photos by Özge Cöne)

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

I knew when I was about 12 that the piano was going to be an essential part of my life. I was quite shy and reserved as a child, and felt I could only express certain things and be truly myself when playing the piano. It felt immediately like a close friend that was always there and with whom I could share all the ups and downs of life. I did not know then what being a professional pianist meant, I just knew that music would always be an essential part of my life.

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

There are so many. If I was going to put one at the top of the list, I would say Ruth Nye – she was my teacher during my studies at the Yehudi Menuhin School and Royal College of Music. She was not only my mentor but rapidly became like family, and remains to this day an inspiration. She has shaped my artistic, technical and philosophical development like no other person in my life. Also Nikolai Demidenko, Murray Perahia, and Dominique Merlet all taught me crucial things at various stages of my development.

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

Challenges go hand in hand with a performing career. Of course, I have had to go through many stressful situations, dealing with tight deadlines and intensive performing periods. But these are to be expected and it is nothing special. A good example of that was when I did my first concerto recording. This was a three concerto album, performed live at the Cadogan Hall in one concert. The very next day, I had a recital at the Wigmore Hall. I remember coming home late that night after the Cadogan performance and practising until about 4 am.

But the most important challenge is to get up everyday and thrive to reach a deeper artistic understanding of the music I am playing, to always question, to remain insatiably curious and never stop learning. In art, movement is everything. The music grows with me everyday, and I hope that the second I have performed or recorded something, my interpretation will have already started to evolve.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Pride is not really a feeling I would associate with a successful performance or recording. But I guess more a feeling of exhilaration during a special moment shared with an audience or in the intimacy of a recording studio with my producer and recording team. But perhaps if I had to choose one, I would say my first Wigmore Hall recital; I remember doing a crazy programme, including Bach-Busoni chaconne, Beethoven Sonata op. 110 and Liszt B minor Sonata. I remember the Beethoven op. 110 in that hall as one of these rare moments when you feel you are no longer physically there. There was a real link between me, the music and the audience that night.

In terms of recordings, I think my latest Hyperion concerto recording of works by Bronsart and Urspruch (two Liszt students) with the BBC Scottish Symphony and Eugene Tzigane is particularly interesting. It was a fantastic experience for me to record these hardly known romantic works and bring them to life with such wonderful musicians. My Chopin preludes album as well; I think we managed to capture an intimate sound that allows one to hear all the details, yet distant enough that the poetry remained intact.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I am not sure about using the word best, but I would say that this non-exhaustive list of pieces are some of the works that are very close to me: Liszt B minor sonata and Après une lecture du Dante, Ravel Gaspard de la nuit, Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, Schumann Études Symphoniques, Beethoven sonata op. 110, Chopin preludes op. 28, Schubert sonata in Bb D. 960, Mozart concerto in D minor K. 466 and Brahms concerto No. 1 in D minor.

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

Mostly of my own choosing: the piano repertoire is extremely vast and there are so many works that I want to explore! Though choosing a programme has to be done carefully. It is like putting together a meal. I will only perform something if I feel I have something truly special to say playing this work, that it has become a part of me. Also, other considerations come into play. The venue is one; I might not choose to play the same thing in a big London hall and in an outdoor summer festival. Also, I might be in the process of recording specific works, and of course a particular season might coincide with a composer’s birthday, for example, Beethoven’s 250th birthday in 2020.

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

For me Wigmore Hall is very special. I have wonderful memories there. It has perfect acoustics and is just the right size to be intimate yet not too close; you can hear everything right down to the very last row.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many: Claudio Arrau would be one of the most important ones. His sound, colours, depth of interpretation, but perhaps more importantly, he is the artist who resonates with me the most in terms of philosophy and approach to performing. He was completely uncompromising, putting the music and respect for the score at the centre of everything with such integrity. But also Dinu Lipatti, Ferruccio Busoni, Alfred Cortot, Martha Argerich, Yehudi Menuhin, Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein and many many more!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think it would have to be the first time I performed Brahms’s first piano concerto as a young student, conducted by Andrew Litton. I had won the Royal College of Music’s concerto competition. We had three big rehearsals, which of course never happens in the professional world. This allowed for some truly special music making – Andrew Litton was amazing, the orchestra was full of passionate and eager music students wanting to give everything they had to the music and the conductor. I hold the memory of this concert very close to my heart.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

That is a very hard question. But at the same time, as strange as it may seem, I don’t think I spend too much time thinking about it. I guess, doing what I love to do for as many years as I am lucky enough to be able to do it! Being a musician is who I am no matter what, music is my oxygen and it’s at the very core of my identity.

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

I would say that for me, the most important thing is to keep remembering what is at the centre of it all – the music. That as performers we are a middleman, a link between the music and the audience. The hardest thing I think on this journey is to keep a healthy psychological compass and to not fall into the traps of vanity or self-doubt, as both extremes are equally destructive. It’s a delicate balance: one has to remember that if you are a talented artist, you have a unique message and personality; that is what you have to cherish, nurture and put at the service of your art to the best of your ability with integrity and complete dedication.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

All these precious simple moments spent with my wife and baby daughter.

To be on stage performing beautiful music, on these rare moments when everything clicks into place and there is a real link made with the audience is a wonderful feeling.

 

Emmanuel Despax will be performing live on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune programme on 29th April at 5pm, ahead of his performance of both Chopin concerti with string quintet at the Menuhin hall on 30th April (more information)


“Poetry fused with breathtaking technical perfection” (Concertclassic) and “A master colourist with genius-like ability” (Classical Source) is how the brilliant French pianist Emmanuel Despax was described after his acclaimed recitals at the Louvre auditorium in Paris and Wigmore Hall in London.

Despax is establishing himself as an artist whose interpretations bring a rare sincerity and imagination to the music. He performs internationally and is regularly broadcast on many radio stations including France Musique, BBC Radio 3, Classic FM and Medici TV.

His latest Romantic Piano Concerto album for Hyperion – with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Tzigane – received a glowing review from Gramophone: “It’s hard to imagine it being better played than by these forces, Emmanuel Despax displaying a wide range of colours combined with an easy virtuosity … It requires prodigious playing from soloist and orchestral musicians to make it sound as effortless as here, and that it does is tribute as much to conductor Eugene Tzigane as to Despax.” The recording features two romantic concerti by students of Liszt, Hans Bronsart and Anton Urspruch.

His previous Chopin preludes album on Signum Classics was chosen as “Album of the week” by Classic FM in the UK and received a five-star review on Diapason in France: “The young artist’s poetic work of entomology left me speechless. Rarely has the text of these 24 pieces been thus read, enhancing the least articulation or pedalling detail in relation to tempi, sound weight, projection from a prelude to the next, from a group of preludes to another, transmuting his Fazioli into a 1900s Pleyel, iridescent as needs be – intimate and very beautiful.”

In his native France, Despax has appeared in prestigious venues such as Paris’ Salle Gaveau, Salle Cortot, the Louvre Auditorium and the Festival International des Nuits Pianistiques in Aix-en-Provence. He performs regularly across Europe and has given recitals at the Fazioli Auditorium in Italy, the Gasteig Blackbox in Munich and the Palais des Beaux Arts in Belgium.

UK highlights include recitals at Wigmore Hall, the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, the Chipping Campden and Petworth Festivals and a performance of three piano concerti at Cadogan Hall. This concert was recorded live and released on Signum Classics. “Emmanuel Despax is a formidable talent, fleet of finger, elegant of phrase and a true keyboard colourist.” (Gramophone)

Having studied in the UK at the Yehudi Menuhin School and Royal College of Music with Ruth Nye, one of Claudio Arrau’s finest students, Despax draws inspiration from a long tradition of pure artistry and uncompromising commitment to the score. His passion lies in retaining and regaining the true role of a performer, as a faithful vessel for the composer’s message.

Now based in London, Despax has performed with many UK orchestras including the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Orpheus Sinfonia, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

emmanueldespax.com

 

Artist photo: Luca Sage


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

It all happened rather by accident. I’m from, what I like to call, an atonal family and I owe it to the music school in Gdańsk – my home city. They were looking for talented children in kindergartens and so my parents received a letter one day. A little bit like Hogwarts! I remember discussing the options with my dad before the audition. He only asked that I don’t choose the piano as it’s a big, heavy instrument that takes a lot of space. Soon enough we had to find the space…!

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

From a professional point of view my teachers and fellow music colleagues. I’m infinitely grateful to all the professors I came across in my life. I’m getting to know that process from the other side now and I realise every day how tricky being a teacher can be.

From the psychological or mental side, I couldn’t have done it without my parents. I guess most musicians would say the same thing.

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

Freelancing! It still is. Also the post-graduation blues. I wish we’d speak about it more – how difficult it is to finish studying and to be in the world on our own, without the support of the institution behind us.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

First, my recent release with Naxos called ‘A Century of Polish Piano Miniatures’. I think I managed to put together a programme of the real 20th century jewels of Polish piano literature, allowing the listener to explore all that happened after Chopin. I’m proud of that one. The biggest challenge would be Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, a recording I did last year. Because of the technical difficulties my session lasted for 1.5 hours instead of 3. That’s not enough time to play it through even twice. No space for mistakes!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that would be everything from Impressionism to contemporary music. Ravel has never let me down, same for most of the 20th-century repertoire. However, I must say there’s nothing more satisfying than some good Bach.

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

I aim for a selection of styles and variety of soundworlds. Something that will be good for competitions and recitals with different audiences. I usually make a list of pieces I want to continue playing and try to add works that would go well with it to create interesting programmes.

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

My room. Everything always works! And if I really want I can make it a performance venue. Concert is a state of mind after all!

Who are your favourite musicians?

The passionate ones. No time for accurate boredom.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There is so many memorable experiences…It’s extremely hard to choose the one! Maybe I will go for the finals of Tallinn International Piano Competition when I performed my beloved Ravel for the first time. I felt so powerful, like nothing could stop me. There are also a lot of earlier experiences which are connected with becoming professional and finding my own identity as a concert pianist. I think that’s material for a book…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A balanced combination of high-quality artistic experiences and self-preservation.

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

We do it primarily for the others. We have to always remember that. We serve the audience, whoever they are. We serve the music, the composers, the beauty… It’s our duty to share the love and passion for arts – that’s the best way to make this world a better place.

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

Close to the people I love most, doing what I love to do most.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The above, and loving your work (then you don’t have to work).

What is your most treasured possession?

My mind, nobody can read it.

What is your present state of mind?

Relaxed post-tax return!

Anna Szalucka’s latest CD, A Century of Polish Piano Miniatures, is available now


Anna Szałucka is a Polish pianist and started her musical education at the age of seven. She completed the Bachelor Degree at the Stanisław Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdańsk studying with Waldemar Wojtal. In years 2013 – 2014 she continued her studies at the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien in piano class of Stefan Vladar. Currently she is studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London under the supervision of Ian Fountain. In November 2016 Anna won the 1st Prize together with The Eller, Recital, Orchestra and Estonian Museum Awards at the 3rd International Tallinn Piano Competition. She’s a prize winner of many other competitions including the 1st Prize in Young Pianists Forum in Rybnik and the 2nd Prize and The Special Prize of Jerzy Waldorff on IX Iternational Competition for Young Pianists “Arthur Rubinstein in Memoriam” in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Anna is also a laureate of the 46th Festival of Polish Pianism in Słupsk (Poland). She’s been awarded The Jacob Barnes Piano Scholarship, Musicians’ Company – Harriet Cohen Bach Prize, Kenneth Loveland Gift Prize as well as the 3rd Prize in the International Sussex Piano Competition. Her recent successes include multiple prizes: Janet Duff Greet, Walter MacFarran and Alexander Kelly Memorial Prizes, The Regency Award as well as 2nd Prize and the Audience Prize at the Sheepdrove Intercollegiate Piano Competition. She was selected by the prestigious Musicians’ Company to give her Wigmore Hall debut recital in 2016.

Anna Szałucka has given many concerts across Poland and abroad cooperating with such institutions as The National Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Wiener Beethoven Gesellschaft, The Arthur Rubinstein International Music Foundation, The Worshipful Company of Musicians as well as BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 and Radio Gdańsk. The orchestra appearances include concerts with the Polish Radio Orchestra, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia Baltica, Pomeranian Philharmonics, Górecki Chamber Orchestra and others. Anna has developed her passion for music by taking part in many piano masterclasses, among others with Aleksiej Orłowiecki, Alon Goldstein, Andrzej Jasiński, Kathryn Stott, Imogen Cooper, Dina Yoffe, Lee Kum-Sing, Paul Roberts, Joanna MacGregor, Yevgeny Sudbin and Alberto Nosè.

As the Royal Academy of Music scholar Anna is generously supported by the Thompson Family Charitable Trust. In Poland, she received a scholarship from the Marshal of the Pomeranian Voivodeship, the President of Gdańsk City and the Principal of the Stanisław Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdańsk. She was also awarded the Ministry of Science and Higher Education Prize as well as Ministry of Culture and National Heritage Prize.

www.annaszalucka.com

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

My grandmother owned an upright piano and used it to play simplified arrangements of jazz standards. As a young child, I used to live in the flat above and enjoyed visits during her morning ritual, which consisted of drinking Turkish/Arabic coffee, cigarette in hand, and listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie and Billie Holiday amongst other jazz artists from the Golden Era. She almost certainly passed on her pure love of music to my father, who had similar recordings playing on cassettes, LPs and CDs in our own flat most of the time.

I’m not sure that this led to me becoming a professional classical pianist though. I believe the joy experienced by amateurs while listening to or playing music is often lost on professionals (especially within the classical music industry) who often use music to serve rather personal goals in their lives, such as becoming the very best at something – a very questionable goal to aspire to in the subjective world of the fine arts, in my opinion. My family’s love of jazz certainly made me want to have music all around me and led to drum kit lessons with my father at the age of three and piano lessons at the age of five with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva – an exceptional teacher and composer who was based in Amman at the time. I moved to the UK as an eleven year old to pursue my professional training and education. This was probably what actually placed me on the path to becoming a professional, having received a solid technical foundation in the Russian School of piano playing from Agnes, a Georgian educated in Moscow.

My grandmother gave me her piano about a year after I started lessons because she felt that my electric keyboard had surpassed its usefulness. This will always be one of the most precious gifts anyone has ever offered me.

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

I’ve been very fortunate indeed to have received input from quite a few extraordinary musicians; I met Yo-Yo Ma as a ten year old during the first West Eastern Divan workshop, which was directed by Daniel Barenboim who has mentored me on many occasions since. He has also invited me to tour with him and the West Eastern Divan as a soloist, playing works that include Berg’s Chamber Concerto which certainly shaped my interest in the Second Viennese School. I am privileged to have been introduced to a genre by one of its top authorities.

I will certainly never forget the late Sir Colin Davis’ advice on how to start the angelic ‘Siciliana’ movement (II) as I prepared for our performance of Mozart’s Concerto no. 23 in A major with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Barbican Centre. Furthermore, my lesson with the late Pierre Boulez on his own ‘12 Notations’ for solo piano at the Royal Academy will remain one of the most important and cherished musical experiences of my life, of course.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that my piano, theory, composition and conducting teachers had the biggest influences on my development, as they helped shape my musicianship very directly. Since leaving Jordan, I have studied piano with Tatiana Sarkissova (who was my main professor in the UK), Hinrich Alpers and Tessa Nicholson, composition with Jonathan Cole and Graham Williams, conducting with Paul Brough, Denise Ham, Quentin Poole and Peter Stark. Though I have had many fantastic theory teachers over the years, the Chicago-based conductor and arranger Cliff Colnot was one of the best pedagogues one could ask for, as I discovered during the many hours I spent analysing full scores of the symphonic repertoire with him. We met during summer West Eastern Divan workshops Seville, Spain and during visits that I made to Chicago for intensive courses as a teenager.

Since moving to Berlin, I have spent a lot of time learning about early music from the renowned scholar, viol player and director of Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus. I remember attending one of his lectures during his visit to the Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and subsequently reading his essay ‘Beyond the Interpretation of Music’ which, I can safely say, forced me to reconsider everything I had learned about studying and preparing repertoire of any genre.

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

Remaining moderately sane.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m quite concerned about the levels of narcissism within our industry – especially since the onset of social media – so I’m careful to avoid pride, as much as I can. For clarity, I do use social media but try my best to be as pragmatic about it as possible. Focusing on the experience of performing is more of a priority for me, rather than the many emotions and thoughts that follow. They are after all pretty useless unless they help me improve.

However, if I had to choose one memorable performance to discuss, I would say that it was particularly interesting to play Schoenberg’s op. 11 to a group of students at the Hind Al–Husseini College in occupied East Jerusalem, Palestine. It is very likely that some of these students had never been exposed to any classical music at all until then (within the frame of attending live concerts). So the discussion about ‘Drei Klavierstuecke op. 11’ that followed my performance was fascinating, particularly as they had the advantage, as listeners, of having no strong standard to compare atonality to.* I remember one student saying that she imagined a scene from a horror movie while I was playing. Considering the fact that Schoenberg moved to Hollywood in 1934, I thought that this was very perceptive indeed. After all he must have influenced a whole generation of film composers as one of the University of Southern California’s and University of California, Los Angeles’ most valued pedagogues.

I’m very pleased that this event took place.

*Arabic music is mainly monophonic, with intricacy and complexity in the melodic ornamentation and rhythm rather than the homophonic movement of parts – in other words it’s more of a horizontal tradition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Not sure, tough one. Sorry!

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

I am naturally quite a curious person, so my approach to music has always been interest-driven. What I offer in recitals is usually linked to what I have been exploring as a listener, these days, now that I am no longer a studying in a traditional sense. Certainly my engagement with English Renaissance music developed because of my interest in Renaissance music in general. I was exposed to it at the Purcell School – we had to sing a fair amount of Palestrina, Lassus and Byrd in choir – and really enjoyed the counterpoint and modality back then, although I was probably too young to fully appreciate its beauty. However, it was a performance of Monteverdi’s ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’ at the English National Opera (especially the final duet) that really got me hooked as a listener. So by the time I met Laurence Dreyfus, I was ready to start working on and studying the genre more extensively.

There is no rich tradition of performing Renaissance keyboard music on the modern piano, (Sokolov and Gould are both true heroes of mine, as different as they are, but there aren’t many others who venture out into this territory) so the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s survey of John Bull’s keyboard works was a very important and revelatory recording to listen to. Thankfully, he was very generous when I emailed him with questions, and invited me to Prague for some coaching. It was heart-warming to see how very encouraging he was about playing this music on the modern piano and using the instrument idiomatically to serve it. He had many suggestions for further keyboard repertoire that I should explore.

In general, I avoid chronological programming, so called well-balanced programming where one tries to tick boxes across genres that are limited to music written between about 1750 and 1950, exclusively nineteenth century programmes and single composer programmes (unless it’s a performance of the Goldberg Variations, which I sometimes play on it’s own, but usually start the concert with some Boulez or Schoenberg).

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

Not really, but playing at Luzern’s KKL and the new Philharmonie de Paris, both with Daniel Barenboim, were exceptional experiences – the acoustics really allow you to take risks with soft dynamics. Both halls were designed by the architect Jean Nouvel.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Mozart’s K467 in Petra, Jordan as an 11 year old. Nothing quite beats Mozart in the middle of the desert, in front of a World Heritage Site as far as memorability goes!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Artistic fulfilment and paying all the bills simultaneously.

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

1) Constantly listening to and studying (not only practising) music with child-like curiosity.

2) Keeping a healthy check on one’s ego – it’s important to know when it’s appropriate to be the centre of attention (i.e on stage) and when it’s in one’s best interest to be a more generous spirit (backstage and everywhere outside the concert hall).

Karim Said’s new album ‘Legacy’ is available now on the Rubicon Classics label. Further information


Karim Said came to the public’s attention in 2009, playing concertos with the late Sir Colin Davis and the English Chamber Orchestra in London’s Barbican Centre and at the BBC PROMS with Daniel Barenboim and his West Eastern Divan. Karim has regularly toured with the Divan orchestra as a soloist, under Maestro Barenboim’s baton, performing at such halls as the Philharmonie in Berlin, Musikverein in Vienna and the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Mostly recently, Karim appeared with the Maestro as a soloist in the opening night of the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, playing the Berg Chamber Concerto.

Karim’s debut album ‘Echoes from an Empire’ (Opus Arte – 2015) was one of Gramphone’s ‘Top Ten recordings of Janacek’ (2016). The repertoire on this album was inspired by his London recital debut series at the Southbank Centre in 2013, where he played the complete solo works by Arnold Schoenberg over three recitals as part of the ‘International Piano Series’ and ‘The Rest Is Noise’ festival. As a chamber musician and song accompanist, Karim has collaborated with artists including Waltraud Meier, Dorothea Röschmann, Gabriel Croitoru, Adrian Brendel, and the Utrecht String Quartet.

Earlier this year, Karim launched the Etihad String Orchestra in his native Jordan as its first Music Director and performed with the European Youth Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko at the Dubai Opera House.

Born in Amman, Jordan in 1988, Karim commenced his piano with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva before moving to the UK in 2000, aged eleven. He studied piano, composition and conducting at the renowned Purcell School of Music and later at the Royal Academy of Music, both on full scholarships. At the Academy he studied with Prof Tatiana Sarkissova. In more recent years, Karim was coached by Hinrich Alpers in Berlin, where he is currently based. As a conductor, Karim attended masterclasses with Bernard Haitink at the Royal College of Music during his studies in the UK.

Karim Said was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, London in 2017.

karimsaid.com


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

I remember being fascinated by the piano in my grandmother’s house, and this led to my mother teaching me to read music at the age of three. I do not remember, as a child, hearing much music, none of my friends played an instrument, but I remember my grandmother played by ear, and sang music-hall songs to me, which I loved. They must have embedded themselves deep in my memory, as I still remember many of these, including all the words!

One strange memory stands out. My mother, before her marriage, had worked in the office of a local chemist, a Mr. Lester, of whom she spoke occasionally, with the greatest respect and admiration. I had never met this gentleman before, but on one memorable occasion I was taken, by my mother, to visit him at his home. He possessed a fine gramophone, and played me some of his precious 78rpm records. I was about 6 years old at the time. Two recordings stand out in my memory. One was the Grieg piano concerto, which I was hearing for the first time. It made a tremendous impression on me, and I determined that I would one day perform it,(which I did.) The second recording was an odd choice to play to a child, but I was overwhelmed. It was Kirsten Flagstad singing Sibelius songs, and it was one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life. I had never heard anything like it, the powerful intensity of this magnificent voice, and the vivid colours of this unfamiliar music made a huge impression on me. I never saw Mr. Lester again, but he brought magic into my life.

And when I gave my first public performance, at the age of seven, the feeling of engaging with an audience, and sharing this magical world of music was so exhilarating, that I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to be a pianist.

Further motivation and inspiration came from my repeated reading of ‘Prelude’,a book based on the early life of Eileen Joyce, who was arguably the most famous concert pianist at that time in Britain. I was captivated by this highly romanticised account of a child from a very ordinary background being swept into the extraordinary and exciting world of music. I devoured the stories of her inspiring lessons with eminent European teachers, and the manic regimes of practising, which all culminated in a dazzling career. It was heady stuff, and I became even more determined to enter this fascinating world myself one day.

I was taken to hear Eileen Joyce play on one  occasion by a family friend, who took me backstage afterwards to meet this glamorous superstar of the classical music world. I remember her gorgeous frocks, and, in marked contrast, her workmanlike hands. As she shook my hand, I remember being struck by their immense power.

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

The first time I heard a great pianist in recital was in my early teens, when I I attended a Sunday afternoon concert given by Artur Rubinstein at the Royal Festival Hall. I was mesmerised by the sheer joy and freedom of his playing. This represented the ideal of piano playing that I would, from then on, aspire to.

At the age of seventeen I began my studies at the Royal Academy of Music, where my teacher was Vivian Langrish, who had been a student of Tobias Mattay, alongside Myra Hess. He taught me the importance of sound quality and variety of colour, and greatly expanded my tonal range. Also, while a student, I played for many singers, and was hugely influenced by the great singing teacher, Flora Nielsen, who first revealed the wonders of French song to me, opening the door to the exquisite music of Debussy and Faure in particular.

But I think the greatest inspiration and influence on my playing came from two violinists, the remarkable Hungarian violin professor, Bela Katona, and the legendary violinist Nathan Milstein.

Bela had the most extraordinary ability to reveal the inner life and structure of the music, while at the same time demanding a meticulous attention to detail.

One of the greatest experiences of my life was playing with Nathan Milstein. Every rehearsal was a lesson with a great master. He would demonstrate on the violin what he wanted me to do on the piano. I learnt so much just trying to develop my touch to match his attack on the string, and the freedom of his bow arm to make the gestures of the music. It was awe-inspiring. And throughout, there was always his insistence on the vital importance of the bass line. I learned to focus my attention on a fully independent and fully present and vital bass line, which underpins everything.

Finally, I must acknowledge the influence of jazz, in particular, great jazz pianists, most notably Oscar Peterson Bill Evans and Erroll Garner. From first hearing jazz in my early teens, I knew that I wanted to play classical music with the freedom, spontaneity and immediacy of these artists. This is still my ideal.

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

One’s life as a musician is a continuous, never-ending series of challenges, and it is in meeting these challenges that one develops. But two huge personal challenges stand out for me.

The first was a very serious illness at the age of 28, when , quite suddenly, all my joints, right down to fingers and toes, seized up, and I became completely immobilised. I spent some weeks in hospital, where the doctors were completely baffled, and considered that I would never walk again, and certainly never play the piano. Eventually, however, slowly and painfully, movement returned, curiously, one joint at a time. The fingers were the last to return, taking several months. I gradually eased back into playing again, finding my way back gently into professional work by doing a little accompanying, and then duo playing and chamber music, as my strength returned. I did not return to solo playing in public, as, due to my illness, I had developed severe anxiety about performing from memory. I was now teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, and was also invited to teach at Trinity College, and to establish an ensemble class there. Thus I found myself enjoying a thriving and fulfilling career, performing and teaching, which continued over the following three decades.

And then, shortly after my 60th birthday, came my second huge challenge, when I lost most of my sight, due to haemorages behind the retinas of both eyes. It was extraordinary timing, as, just four years earlier, I had begun training in NLP, ( Neuro-Linguistic-Programming), during which, using one of the very powerful processes we were being taught, I succeeded in eliminating my memory anxiety. I had been looking forward to performing solo again when this new catastrophe struck. Recitals had already been booked, and these, of course, now had to be postponed, while I adjusted to a new, and frightening reality, but I knew that, although I had to give up all ensemble playing due to my severely impaired sight, I would be able to perform solo, from memory. Now there were new challenges, but my desire to continue to play carried me through, and again, I rebuilt my strength and my career, with the support of my wonderful husband Ian, and an amazingly loyal and devoted group of ex-students, who had become wonderful friends over the years.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My last CD , of solo piano music by Fauré, and the previously-released disc of music by Saint-Saens.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that is for others to express their opinions. During the past few years I have felt a particular affinity with the music of Chopin, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel.

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

I allow ideas, or the desire to play particular works, to come to me, and then I play around with them, experimenting, until they come together to form programmes. It’s a creative process.

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

The Holywell Music Room, Oxford. It has special personal memories for me, and I love its intimacy and unique history.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gyorgy Cziffra, Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau, Emil Gilels, Artur Rubinstein, Martha Argerich, Nathan Milstein, the Beaux Arts Trio.

Jazz pianists: Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience was when I performed in the Memorial concert for John Bingham in 2005, at Blackheath Halls in London. John was a wonderful pianist and a very special colleague and friend. We had met at Harold Craxton’s studio when we were both 16 years old, and entered the Royal Academy of Music together the following year as scholarship students. We resumed our friendship later when we were both teaching at Trinity College of Music.

At the same time as John was suffering his final illness, leading to his tragic and untimely death, I also had been ill, and had lost most of my sight. Despite my extreme physical weakness at that time, I felt compelled to volunteer to play at John’s memorial concert, such was the bond between us. I knew exactly what I should play— the Fourth Ballade of Chopin, a work which had been special to both of us since our student days.

This would be a momentous experience for me for another reason. As I have related earlier, I had not performed solo in public since a previous illness three decades earlier had left me unable to perform from memory in public. I also described how I had cured this anxiety, and was able to resume performing solo again. This performance at John’ s concert was to be my first solo appearance for more than thirty years. As the date for the concert drew near,  I became apprehensive, thinking how crazy I had been to volunteer, when I knew that, not only would I be performing alongside some very eminent musicians, but that the hall would be packed with many distinguished pianists and other highly respected members of the music profession.

The little sight I had left was also highly distorted at that time, so, on the day, before the concert, I practised finding my way to the piano, which, fortunately, was at ground level, with no treacherous stairs to negotiate.

When the time came for my entrance, the doors opened, and then the most extraordinary thing happened. As I tentatively began to walk forward, I found myself following the figure of a woman, who I instinctively knew was another version of myself. She was taller than me, with hair much darker and longer than mine, but I had no doubts as to her identity. And I suddenly felt quite confident, knowing that she would lead me safely to the piano. As I sat down on the stool, I sensed her sitting down by my side, ( although there was no actual chair there.) I felt entirely at ease, and as I played the opening bars I felt her gradually drift away. I felt inspired, with a sense that all was well, and the music seemed to play itself. Afterwards I received a wonderful ovation from the audience, and I knew that this  was a turning point in my life. I have no explanation to offer, but assumed that my mysterious guide must have been a kind of doppelgänger.

As a musician, what is hour definition of success?

For me, success is when I experience the sense of being ‘in the flow’ in a performance, truly in the moment, being at one with myself, with the music and the audience, in a kind of ‘magic loop’. The music seems to play itself. One cannot make this happen. One can only prepare meticulously, and in a way which creates the greatest potential for this to happen. Then, miraculously, sometimes the gods will smile on us!

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

Be curious, allow yourself to experiment.

Ask the question How?

Be kind to yourself.

Embrace uncertainty.

Do not strive for perfection, but follow your dreams, and move step by step towards your goals. Enjoy the journey. Remember that we ‘play’ a musical instrument!

What is your most treasured possession?

I have two. My beloved Steinway piano, and my beautiful Cornish Rex cat, Leo.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious.
Christine Croshaw’s recording of piano music by Gabriel Fauré is available now


Christine Croshaw has enjoyed a long and successful career as a solo pianist, accompanist and chamber music player.

Her concert engagements have taken her to most major venues around the U.K., including many appearances at the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room.

She has performed across the Continent in France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Norway and Denmark, Finland, Poland and Switzerland, and also in North America. Festival appearances include Cheltenham, Lichfield, Kensington and Chelsea, Ludlow, Chichester, Lisbon, Bermuda and Taomina.

Read more

La and Leo – Christine’s Croshaw’s blog

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

I fell in love with music and the piano at about 4 years old when I first heard it played by a teacher at my kindergarten. I still remember that magical moment.

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

When I was about 12, I had a brief period of study with a concert pianist in Hong Kong who inspired me to see music as a vocation. I have been very fortunate to have studied with some wonderful teachers and mentors, including Joan Havill and Robert Silverman. The writings of Schumann, and letters of Brahms have also been a huge influence on me. Launching MusicArt  in 2015 was a crucial step in my career which opened up many new opportunities to collaborate with, and commission works from, contemporary visual artists, choreographers, and poets, who shape my current work in music.

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

It was a great challenge to combine performing with pursuing my doctoral research on the musical aesthetics of Schumann and Brahms at the Guildhall School/City University of London. Another challenge was launching MusicArt to collaborate for the first time with a painter, composer, and an art gallery. I learned from these two experiences to never give up and that challenges often lead to good things!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It was unforgettable to do a live broadcast for Classic FM from my own living room to commemorate Mozart’s 225th anniversary in 2016. It was very intimate yet reached out to so many people at the same time.

With my ensemble Minerva Piano Trio, I am proud of our year-long residency at St John’s Smith Square 2016/17. We joined forces to commission a new arrangement and dance choreography of scenes from Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe for piano trio and dance. Our revival of the rarely performed Brahms’ Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8 (original version) was also one of the highlights for me during this residency.

Minerva Trio © Anthony Dawton

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I tend to choose pieces that speak to me on a personal level. Dinu Lipatti once said that it’s not enough to like the piece you play, but the piece must also like you! I play a wide range of repertoire but have a soft spot for Schumann, Brahms, and Ravel.  As long as I can make a connection with the sound world of a particular piece, then I feel inspired to share it.

It is thrilling to premiere a new work as there is a sense of freedom in communicating a piece for the first time. I love the collaborative aspect of working together with a composer, which is very creative and exciting.  That connection I mentioned before then extends to a kind of real affinity with the composer.  At the moment I am working with Hong Kong-born British composer Raymond Yiu.

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

I build on my core repertoire every season. In the past, I would tend to be more composer-focused. If I started to play one piece by Schumann, I would then aim to cover his entire output in order to gain a better understanding of the composer’s language. These days I am interested in finding ways to create dialogues between different works in a programme.

While I love my core repertoire for concert programmes (for example, I will be playing Beethoven, Schumann, and Ravel at St Martin-in-the Fields in December), I am also constantly looking for new stimulants for something adventurous.  For my next MusicArt concert I will present a world premiere concert-installation ‘Conceptual Concert in Three Acts’, inspired by the collaboration between Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage and performed within an exhibition of their works at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.  It will involve the music of John Cage, an installation of sound and spoken dialogue, and a new musical work created in collaboration with composer Raymond Yiu and poet Kayo Chingonyi.

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

I had a fantastic experience playing Arvo Pärt’s Fratres at an open space outside Central St Martins for a fashion show in London with a few hundred people in the audience. Since then I am happy to play anywhere as long as it is aesthetically pleasing or stimulating to the senses in some way, not just acoustically.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have huge admiration for Leonard Bernstein, especially since I discovered his Eliot Norton lecture series, The Unanswered Question. He said, ‘The best way to know a thing is in the context of another discipline.’ Like other great musicians, he reminds one that music and humanity are inseparable.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For me, playing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto at LSO St. Luke’s in London was as special and memorable as playing John Cage’s 4’33” while silently reading a poem at an art gallery. I don’t think I can choose between the conventional and creative approach to playing concerts, as I love both.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is constantly achieving what I set out to do. It’s important to me to generate creative ideas on a regular basis, work with people whom I admire, and create unique experiences for the audience. When I can do these things continuously at a high level, then I am happy.

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

Treat music as an art form that demands the utmost dedication and discipline. Career is by no means guaranteed. After you finish training and studying at the conservatoire or college, your colleagues and collaborators become, in a way, your teachers. Learn to listen through playing with others.

What is your most treasured possession?

The Yamaha C3 grand piano that I have had since I was 12. It has travelled with me from Hong Kong to Vancouver to London. I had wanted a grand piano from the very beginning, and my mother promised if I reached Grade 8 she would buy me one. It turned out she started saving for it from the day she promised, so she could afford it, just in case! That was a great motivation and I made sure to get it as quickly as possible.

Video links:

Debussy  – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epJymUc2rDY

Brahms: Intermezzo in A major, Op. 118, No. 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OImMONM78TI

Music by Arvo Pärt – Für Alina

Poem by Zaffar Kunial – Sunlight

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG-g7bfLpec

ERDEM
London Fashion Week SS14

Annie Yim, pianist
Richard Birchall, cellist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rTeQ8Iaqnc

John Cage the Lover and Poet (audio)

https://vimeo.com/193910760

OR

John Cage Dream (1947)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEknsWJLp-o

Scenes from Daphnis and Chloe (2017)
Minerva Piano Trio
Thomasin Gülgeç, dancer
Estela Merlos, dancer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdsMBr1JfBw