Tag Archives: interviews with pianists

Meet the Artist……Renée Reznek, pianist

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

When I was four years old, my parents went away on a long European holiday, leaving me and my younger brother in the care of our grandmother and a much loved adopted “auntie”, a retired piano teacher. To keep her happy, they rented a piano which she played every day. One evening, Auntie Bessie played Schumann’s Arabesque Opus 18 and I vividly remember the overwhelming emotions which resulted in floods of tears! She responded by teaching me to play; by the time my parents returned I could perform simple pieces. It is my belief that from that time, music became an essential resource for me, filling the hole left by the absence of my parents. I didn’t envisage a performing career; that developed later on, but I knew there was no other path for me but to study music.

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

I grew up in South Africa where very little 20th century music was performed. However, when I was a B. Mus. student at the University of Cape Town, my Harmony and Counterpoint lecturer, now Professor Emeritus James May, asked me to play Schoenberg’s Suite Opus 25 and Webern’s Variations Opus 27 in a concert. Despite not knowing these pieces at all and initially finding them incomprehensible, I was determined to honour my commitment and in the process became “hooked”. What fascinated me in the Suite for instance,was recognising the phrasing of a Gavotte or Minuet despite the unfamiliarity of the serial language.This felt exhilarating, like learning a new language. So thanks to James May, this was the start of my journey into 20th century and new music.

The teachers who influenced me most for very different reasons were Gyorgy Sandor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Susan Bradshaw in London. Sandor changed my piano technique with advice on arm weight and a flexible wrist; he was a pragmatic teacher, a problem solver. Lessons on the music of Bartok, who was his teacher, were revelatory, but his interest in 20th century music stopped there.

Susan Bradshaw was the perfect guide to performing 20th century classics and new repertoire. Her incisive intelligence simplified complex textures. She taught me how to articulate phrasing in unfamiliar contexts and to make new repertoire as accessible as possible at a first hearing. She introduced me to composers such as Robert Saxton who wrote a Sonata for me, which led to my giving my first London premiere in the Purcell Room. The experience of working together with a composer like Robert to produce a first performance was life changing.

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

I could say that performing the complete solo works of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern from memory in the Wigmore Hall was one of my most challenging concerts.

However the real challenge for me was returning to performing after a long break following the birth of our two children.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am proud of my new CD of recent South African piano music which I hope will introduce some fantastic composers to those unfamiliar with South African contemporary music: Kevin Volans, Michael Blake, Rob Fokkens, Neo Muyanga, David Earl, Peter Klatzow, Hendrik Hofmeyr and David Kosviner. The majority of the pieces on the CD are rooted in traditional South African music though some are European in origin; this is diverse repertoire which reflects a rich and varied culture. With one exception, these works have never been recorded and many have been dedicated to me.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Schoenberg’s piano music occupied me for years so thank goodness I am told I play it well! I treasure the review from Peter Stadlen, a pupil of Webern, who liked my performance of Schoenberg’s Suite Opus 25 : “Schoenberg has come of age” he wrote; thank you Peter Stadlen!

However, maybe what I do best is what I enjoy the most, which is trying to communicate unfamiliar music in as clear a way as possible.

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

Sometimes one is free to choose, or a festival or concert series may stipulate a particular work or composer. On the whole I have been able to perform the music I want to play. I enjoy creating programmes which are cohesive in some way, not merely a collection of disparate pieces.

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

It is the audience who create the atmosphere in a concert and an enthusiastic audience can transform any venue into somewhere special.

However, recently, I loved performing at the Turner Sims in Southampton; fabulous piano and intimate hall. I will be recording there again soon on the Fazioli.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I admire musicians who engage with the music of their own time as well as performing traditional repertoire. Maurizio Pollini comes to mind or Stephen Hough who is that rare musician in today’s world, a composer-performer. Both Pollini and Hough bring an illuminating intelligence to whatever they play. Having said that, I will go anywhere to hear Angela Hewitt play Bach

What is your most memorable concert experience?

At the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival in 2015, I gave the first South African performance of Neo Muyanga’s Hade Tata (Sorry Father) composed in tribute to Nelson Mandela. That was a very special occasion for me.

One of the most memorable experiences was taking part in the Park Lane Group’s 25th Anniversary celebrations in the Queen Elizabeth Hall; 25 pianists playing 25 Steinway grand pianos on raked stages, conducted by Sir Colin Davis!

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

When I am asked to talk to young musicians, I advise them not to choose a career in music if they think it will make them rich or famous but only if music is their reason for getting out of bed in the morning! This is a difficult and unstable profession.

Being a professional musician requires hard work, humility, curiosity, passion and stubborn persistence! It requires an ability to “bounce back” from rejections.

Keeping fit and well in order to deal with the rigours of practice, performance and travel is vital; regular exercise, meditation and control of the breath also aid relaxation.

In practice, it is important to work from the inside out, from the notation, not outside in, imitating a favourite recording; it is essential to understand how the music is put together. Every performance should sound like a first performance even if the repertoire is very familiar.

I encourage young musicians to remember that while there is a vast legacy of repertoire from the past, we are living in the 21st century and there is a wealth of music being created right now which deserves some of their attention!

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

I hope I will still be excited about playing new music.

What is your most treasured possession?

Peace of mind.

Renée Reznek’s new disc ‘From My Beloved Country’, new piano music from South Africa is released on 31st March on the Prima Facie label
Renée Reznek was born in South Africa. As a child she studied with Adolf Hallis, who was a pupil of Tobias Mattay. She graduated with distinction from the University of Cape Town with a Bachelor of Music degree. During these years Lamar Crowson was her teacher.
Read Renée’s full biography here

Meet the Artist……Jonathan Biss, pianist

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

I have two musician parents and had a musician grandmother. I grew up in a house where music was quite literally everywhere, and I think that was probably the single most important influencing factor. I really do believe in this idea that music is a language and you feel comfortable in the language that you hear from the beginning of life. I heard music from the beginning of my life, and I think I just wanted to speak that language

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

You go through a musical life and you’re exposed to so many people and it’s not easy to narrow this down. But probably studying with Leon Fleischer was the most formative experience in my life, beyond growing up in the house I grew up in.

I had grown up hearing his recordings long before I met him, and he was a huge influence before I even knew what he looked like. And then I met him and spent four years studying with him. He’s one of those rare musicians who is equally eloquent as a player as a teacher – a musical philosopher. Hearing music described by him and seeing the unbelievable integrity with which he approached music, I think that really marked me.

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

It’s all hard! I don’t mean that in a negative way, but basically you spend every day touching these masterpieces but you never come to some end point where you can say “that is just the way I want it” because you’re always looking for more in them. That is exactly what is so wonderful about them too, but it is simultaneously what is very difficult. So I guess maybe the challenge is finding a balance between being very driven and determined and ambitious (and I don’t mean ambitious in a career sense), but to also take a real joy in playing these works.

There’s a wonderful quote from Schnabel that over the years he taught, relatively many students who could convey sorrow in their music making, but only a couple in all of those years could really convey joy. It’s a huge part of music’s expressive vocabulary and hugely important not to lose sight of that.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I have certain love for Schumann’s music. Not that I love it more than other pieces, but I feel a kind of closeness to it, that it speaks to and for me in a way that it is different from other works.

And of course I feel unbelievably pulled towards Beethoven – who couldn’t be?! – so I can’t say I have any real favourites. But this is the music that is most important to me in my life at the moment.

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

The first thing is that I have to love the music that I play. I have to really want to play it. And then I start thinking about recital programmes, how a good programme would be to put together. What programmes work well, how much repertoire can I handle in a season without becoming overwhelmed, how much do I need to feel there’s enough variety

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

I have many. I have had a very long, very very happy association with the Wigmore Hall, which I think is a really very special place. I love playing at the Concertgebouw, in the big and small halls. I’ve lived in NYC for 16 years now so Carnegie Hall has a special resonance for me as well.

I played at Milton Court (London) in November (2016) and it was a fantastic pleasure. This is another small-ish hall in London which is totally different in vibe, has a different audience, with an excellent acoustic

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

The first thing is that as you work – and as a young musician you have to work hard – you must never lose sight of what made you fall in love with music in the first place. You have to find a way, and it’s a question of hours where you really strive to improve, but you never move away from that aspect of music which drew you to it. You should never let the work become a distraction or be dutiful. That I think is incredibly important and not easy to achieve.

I think the other main thing that you have an incredibly profound responsibility to try to understand the mentality of the composer. It’s very difficult and you will never do it perfectly: notation is so abstract, but that does not absolve you of the responsibility of trying. You have to really, really try to look for what this person is trying to communicate – if you choose to play music which is not your own music, you have a responsibility to do more than just play the notes.

How do you feel a musician should approach this?

I think a close interrogation of the music is necessary and it takes many forms. Even though in Beethoven piece to piece he changes enormously, you should not play the piano sonatas without knowing the quartets and symphonies. I really believe that

Understanding structure, the way the music is put together, the way it functions psychologically is unbelievably important – I don’t think it’s that important for the audience, but it’s especially important for anyone who wants to play music. This is abstract music, not a literal reflection of the life of the composer, but I do think especially when talking of the music of the past, because the world has changed so much, trying to understand the world these composers lived in – and it will only get you so far – remains a real responsibility.

Talking specifically of Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata, D959 (which Jonathan Biss will perform at his concert in London on 2nd May 2017) do you feel the slow movement of this sonata is a reflection of the composer’s mental and physical state?

All this is intensely subjective, but I would say yes. When I play the second movement I really do think it’s a composed hallucination. There’s no other piece by Schubert or anyone else that is like it. The are little moments in his earlier music, but in the late music alongside the lyricism, which is so incredibly beautiful, there is this sense of real terror, and I think when you know this is a person who was months away from death, it’s very difficult not to think there is a connection [in the second movement]. The warmth of the finale is really astonishing in contrast to that.

Tell me a little more about your Late Style project. What drew you to this examination of composers’ late music?

As with all my programming this is music which is important to me. Beyond that, it really has interested me that there are so many composers who were already writing great music but still at the end of their lives moved in new directions. For example, with Beethoven because the late works are so special, had he stopped at Op.80, we’d still say he’s one of the greatest, but he still found a new language in later life. This is also true of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and figures as diverse as Britten, Bartok, Shostakovich and Gesualdo. I am just fascinated by this idea that the combination of accumulated wisdom and the sense that time is finite, limited, seemed to have focussed so many composers’ imaginations in a very specific way. Either age and/or coming to the end of life it seems you reach the point where you just say what you need to say, you don’t worry about how it will be received. All of these works are very different but I think the link is that these people have the freedom to say what they need to say.

 

Jonathan Biss performs late works by Schumann, Chopin, Kurtag and Brahms at Milton Court on 27 March, and Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A, D959, and Schwanengesang, with Mark Padmore, on 2 May. Further information here

(Interview date 28 January 2017)

Jonathan Biss’ biography

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

 

 

Meet the Artist……Kirill Gerstein, pianist

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

I think for me, music and the piano emerged from the fog of my earliest memories because the piano was always in the house for as long as I can remember. My mother was teaching in a music college but also at home, so in that sense the piano, and especially music, were always there. It started as a sort of game with my mother: that was the trigger.

As for this whole music “career” business, I didn’t know until I was about 10 or 11 that I adored the piano. I loved music more than the instrument to begin with and then the love of the instrument came at a later stage. So I knew I wanted to do something with music but not whether I would or could be a concert pianist. But from about the age of 10, I switched to a better teacher and all of a sudden I had this tremendous interest in the instrument. Then I won a children’s competition in Poland and one thing led to another…

I can’t point to an earth-shattering moment when I knew “this is what I want to do” – it was more of a gradual, organic process.

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

The most significant teachers (and this is not to do any disservice to other people from whom I received advice) and musical influences would be Dmitri Bashkirov with whom I studied in Madrid, and Ferenc Rados, who I studied with in Budapest, and wherever else we would meet. Those two are really the most significant musically speaking. But then I have received a lot of inspiration and ideas from Andras Schiff, for example, and Alexis Weissenberg, who, when he was still alive, gave me some very important impulses. Then there are conductors, like Semyon Bychkov, who have given me a lot of inspiration and advice, so I must say I feel very fortunate. It’s always been purposeful, because I seek out these people to learn something from them and that has been incredibly fruitful and stimulating. But when thinking about music and playing music, Bashkirov and Rados have been the most significant.

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

Well let’s start with the fact that music is difficult and the piano is a bloody difficult instrument to play! On the one hand it’s challenging, but on the other hand, it’s what keeps it so incredibly interesting and vital to continue, otherwise life would be terribly boring. Playing music on an instrument with one’s body is an extremely challenging occupation. Then there’s the fact that as an instrumentalist, you are forced to reflect on everything inside yourself – psychological limitations, fears, advantages, disadvantages. So staring at your reflection day in day out with such great intimacy and with the purpose of self-improving is also a challenge but is one that I nevertheless love and think is a great way of reaching a better understanding of oneself.

Other challenges include not allowing oneself to be distracted by the so-called “business” of a musical career and everything that that entails, to maintain a good level of mental and spiritual energy, trying to improve every day, learning new repertoire, getting better, and so on.

I think this balancing act is quite hard. And as everybody knows, the so-called “music business” is challenging because it comes with a lot of hurdles, but at the end of the day, it’s not the most significant thing in the world. To keep the soul in balance is a challenge, but generally balance is difficult to find in life! And what is important to know is that this balance is ever-changing.

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

Eclectically (!) which I think is important and also in some ways purposeful. It has to start with something that deeply interests me: for example, the Transcendental Études are an interesting challenge for myself but one that I hope I can make interesting for audiences too because it’s not just for me.

It also comes from particular personal interests. I hate programming that looks like “Oh here’s another piece I learnt so let me play that for you”, so eventually there needs to be some kind of coherence or connection or inner logic which isn’t necessarily musicological or historical. This then influences what I choose, what goes well with what, a bit like making a menu… Alexis Weissenberg once said to me, “nothing betrays the personality of the pianist better than the way he puts together his recital programmes and the height of his stool at the instrument” and I think there is some witty wisdom in that comment. Especially in the case of concertos, less so with recital repertoire, I’ve been quite open to external impulses or suggestions from a conductor. There are a number of concertos I would not necessarily have thought of learning but then you fall in love or become intimately associated with the piece. So I enjoy external influences in that sense. But essentially I don’t agree to do anything that I don’t like or can’t believe in.

What is the special fascination of Liszt’s Transcendental Études for you?

It’s multi-faceted: I think Liszt is a great fascination because as modern pianists we owe the majority of our musical and pianistic lives to him in the sense that he has shaped our hands through the pianistic advice he has created, and he influenced the majority of what is played since his time. Everything that came later – Busoni, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Prokofiev – is the result of everything that Liszt came up with during the 20-25 years he was occupied with the Transcendental Études in their various incarnations. So the Transcendental Études are the Everest of piano literature, but also a distillation of Liszt as a pianistic experience. But obviously we owe him far more than the pianistic experience: there are the musical inventions, without which we would not have Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Debussy, Busoni etc. There’s also the whole business of performing recitals as a soloist which we owe largely to Liszt – as Busoni said, “Liszt is the tree and we are all branches of that tree.”

It’s also a personal project. I wanted to take the “Transcendental Études journey” in order to self-improve through working on it and pursuing it as a cycle as I don’t think it is a random collection of 12 studies. It’s also of course so much more than a technical journey. Arthur Friedheim, an important student of Liszt, said something like “I had the privilege and honour of walking in the footsteps of the great” and I think the sentiment relates to Liszt, and essentially all the other great composers that we play. We get to follow in the “finger steps” of these great minds and spirits that have walked the keyboard, and in that sense it’s really a tremendous experience to be in touch with history in this way. But it’s not just a question of digging archaeologically; it’s about making the music, and therefore history, alive again so it can be felt in the air until it dissipates. This is one of the great privileges of being a performer. When playing Liszt, it’s the most amazing experience when you let him take over your hands, body and mind.

Having said that though, this wasn’t the intended outcome. When I started studying the Transcendental Études a year before I recorded them, I wasn’t certain whether I would be able to play them let alone very well. Everything began to emerge as I went further along the journey.

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

There are very divergent styles of concert venues – old concert halls, such as the Musikverein, are incredible. Boston Symphony Hall is also of this kind. Those two could easily be named as favourites. Then there are the great American halls of the turn of 20th-century and the 1920s – Carnegie, Severance Hall (Cleveland), Orchestra Hall (Chicago). There are also some really excellent new venues, but they are hard to compare to the old ones because of the different mentality towards sound.

Symphony Hall in Birmingham is also wonderful, and I quite like the hall in Copenhagen and the KKL in Luzern … but it would be hard to say if I prefer a particular hall. They are all different animals and it’s wonderful to have the variety.

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

Generally, at the risk of sounding condescending, I do feel it’s important to share one’s experiences because they may resonate with a person who is on an earlier but similar path to yourself – and this is one of the reasons why I started teaching relatively early at the age of 26. I am not sure whether it’s possible to “impart” curiosity but it’s important to stimulate it along with a love of what we do. Love and curiosity are almost one and the same thing or at least are closely related.

The curiosity about the big and small aspects of we do – how your index finger may depress that one key, curiosity about the repertoire, the culture, what role music and art can play in our lives – these are all a big part of that. If someone is not curious, you cannot impart curiosity. But when someone is curious, I think it is our responsibility to nourish and stimulate it.

Kirill Gerstein performs Liszt’s Trancendental Etudes, together with music by Brahms and Bach on Sunday 12th February at St George’s Hall Concert Room in Liverpool. Further details here

The multifaceted pianist Kirill Gerstein has rapidly ascended into classical music’s highest ranks.  With a masterful technique, discerning intelligence, and a musical curiosity that has led him to explore repertoire spanning centuries and styles, he has proven to be one of today’s most intriguing and versatile musicians. His early training and experience in jazz has contributed an important element to his interpretive style, inspiring an energetic and expressive musical personality that distinguishes his playing.

Mr. Gerstein is the sixth recipient of the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, presented every four years to an exceptional pianist who, regardless of age or nationality, possesses broad and profound musicianship and charisma and who desires and can sustain a career as a major international concert artist. Since receiving the award in 2010, Mr. Gerstein has shared his prize through the commissioning of boundary-crossing works by Timo Andres, Chick Corea, Alexander Goehr, Oliver Knussen, and Brad Mehldau, with additional commissions scheduled for future seasons. Mr. Gerstein was awarded First Prize at the 2001 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition in Tel Aviv, received a 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award, and a 2010 Avery Fisher Grant.

Kirill Gerstein’s full biography

 

(photo: Marco Borggreve)

Meet the Artist……Alexandra Dariescu, pianist

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

My mother was the one to introduce me to the wonderful world of music. I grew up in communist Romania, where kids didn’t have piano lessons as an after school thing but my Mum saved up lots of money and bought a beautiful mahogany upright. I got into the specialist music school in Iasi age 7 and had my debut with an orchestra 2 years later with Mozart D major concerto. I remember walking on stage, surrounded by adults, tripping over, conductor panicking, music stands falling, scores flying all over the place. My mum freezing in the first row. But I stood up, smiling and loved every single second of that performance. I came out and said “I want to become a concert pianist!”. I feel blessed to have had very encouraging people in my life, who believed in me and gave me a chance. I learnt from a very early age that hard work will always take you a long way. I don’t come from a musical family, therefore I didn’t have any expectation on how things should go. I didn’t set myself a target, I simply followed my intuition, learning from every situation and felt grateful for every opportunity that came my way. And the same as my falling, I learnt I can always stand back up and keep going.

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

My teachers have had the greatest influence on me, starting with my high-school teachers in Romania, to the late Mark Ray, Nelson Goerner, Alexander Melnikov, Dina Parakhina, Ronan O’Hora, Andras Schiff and Imogen Cooper. I have been incredibly privileged to study with fantastic musicians, who taught me not just about music, but enriched my life through advice on staying true to myself and always discovering new things. The thirst of knowledge and curiosity is one of the most beautiful things in life.

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

I believe we all find ourselves at crossroads at some point in our lives. The greatest challenge is to take the right path for you. I usually analyse and over-analyse and once I have taken a decision, that’s it! I try to never look back and believe in the power of instinct- after a lot of research has been done!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Every recording I have ever made is the result of hard work, a long time planning, creating a vision and sticking to a plan.This year saw the release of my concerto debut disc- Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 1 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Signum Records coupled with the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ arranged by Pletnev. The joy of having my first concerto disc out is not easily put into words- honestly, a dream come true!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I try to identify myself with whatever piece I am playing. I like reading about the story behind the music, I like to find out about the political situation of that time, where the composer was at the point in his life, what were his fears, his joys. The notes on the page are just the start of the journey.

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

I think long term. I like creating projects and putting programmes together that make sense. I am working on my Trilogy of Preludes at the moment, a project supported by the wonderful team at Champs Hill Records, who have very enthusiastically welcomed 3 CDs of complete preludes: vol I Chopin and Dutilleux, vol II Szymanowski and Shostakovich (both released) and vol III Fauré and Messiaen coming out next year. I enjoy introducing my audiences to new pieces, I like to challenge them with something they might not know they would love.

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

Every venue has its own personality, the same as pianos do. As a pianist, one has to adapt very quickly – I simply cannot describe how thrilling it is to step into a hall where so many of the great legends have played. There’s a huge pressure but in the same time there’s something humbling and magical about it.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing the Nutcracker Suite. I feel the versatility of the piano makes it possible to recreate the orchestral sound and it allows me to imagine all the magical world the story tells in a very intimate setting. I love listening to everything, from jazz to folk, pop to classical.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Goodness me, where should I start?! Every concert is memorable, from a little hall in the middle of nowhere to the big giants. My first time at Carnegie Hall will always be the icing on the cake (and lots of the readers will know I love cake!). Getting a standing ovation at the Concertgebouw was quite something. My Buenos Aires concert in front of a packed 5000 seat hall (at lunchtime!) had me on my toes (I was told Beyoncé performed there the night before- make of that what you will!). Performing with youth orchestras is always truly rewarding- we all learn from each other and I always feel happy amongst them.

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

Always be true to yourself. Never give up. Always follow your dream- patience and perseverance will get you a long way. Never stop learning, from anyone and from every situation!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being able to enjoy each moment as it comes, living in the present. Making a difference, standing up for what I believe in. Change lives through music!

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Play my piano, communicate, bake, cycling with hubby, being with people.

What is your present state of mind?

I am truly grateful for everyone and everything I have around me. I feel blessed to be able to follow my dream.

 

From London’s Royal Albert Hall to Carnegie Hall in New York, the young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, recently named as one of 30 pianists under 30 destined for a spectacular career (International Piano Magazine), dazzles audiences worldwide with her effortless musicality and captivating stage presence.

Read more about Alexandra Dariescu here

Meet the Artist……Natalie Burch

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

It was my mother who first took me off to piano lessons age five although I can’t really say it was a particular calling at that age – I’m fairly sure I was going to be Prime Minister. It was not until I was a bit older and not really practising enough that my mum made me sign a contract promising that I would practise every day or the piano and the lessons would be gone! It was only then that I began to realise just what an important part of my life music was and became determined to dedicate myself to it further. Actually pursuing a career in music was never a particular ambition, however, until age 16 I was on the Chetham’s Piano Summer School and one of the professors simply said ‘why are you not here?’. Well, I didn’t have an answer so the next year I enrolled as a student and haven’t looked back since!

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

I’ve been so lucky with my piano teachers over the years and they have all been hugely influential, but the person who really believed in my abilities as a pianist and really challenged me to be the best I could be, was John Railton. John was an astonishing man – with only one arm he managed to have a successful career as a pianist and conductor, recording for the BBC, conducting at the major concert halls and being the central point of many different communities music making. He had a total disregard for potential obstacles and just believed firmly that I would be a pianist – I really wouldn’t be here without him!

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

The biggest challenge for me is performance anxiety – I wouldn’t say I get crippling nerves but I have found it frustrating sometimes when I can’t achieve the same focus on the music because my mind is worrying about being worried! The challenge is to find techniques to control any anxiety and transform it from something destructive into a positive energy. As an accompanist I have also had to become very time efficient. Our job often involves learning lots of repertoire in very short periods of time and the ability to practise efficiently without getting injured is paramount.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I recently launched the Devon Song Festival and I was so pleased with our inaugural concert. There was an unusual amount of pressure in organising the event, trying to keep the audience happy and performing but it went brilliantly and our reception was so enthusiastic. I’m so thrilled it was success and we can expand the festival next year.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I definitely feel most at home in the song repertoire, specifically German lieder and English song though I also love the sound world of cello and piano sonatas and am beginning to explore this further. I love playing with singers because I am able to find a deeper connection to the music when text is set. I rarely perform as a solo pianist these days but when I do it’s nearly always Russian: Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev being particular favourites!

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

Last year I played at the Wigmore Hall for the first time and I absolutely loved it. It’s such an intimate space and from the piano it feels perfect as a hall for song. There is incredible clarity in the acoustic and you can really challenge yourself as to how quiet you can play and what extremes of articulation you can reach. It of course helps that the piano is absolutely beautiful too!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This year I’ve been working on Stephen Hough’s ‘Other Love Songs’ (for a performance at Wigmore in May 2016) and it is just the most brilliant cycle. It was written as a companion piece for the Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes and really cleverly picks up on themes from the original work but set to a wonderful selection of texts covering all forms of love and emotions from the heart-breaking to the comic. My personal highlight in the performance comes near the end where the pianists get to join in singing and my part is mostly just hitting the piano!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I’m lucky enough to be taught by one of my favourite musicians, Eugene Asti. I have huge admiration for his attention to detail and respect for the score and the history of every work he plays. Importantly it is not only theoretical but you can really hear all that detail in his playing and it brings the music to life amazingly. Another is Iain Burnside, his playing is so robust and clear and I find his recordings of English song especially moving in their simplicity.

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

I suppose as I’m still a student I would consider myself to be still aspiring! But I definitely think all young musicians need to think about more than just practise and performing. I’ve been working with Alisdair Hogarth recently and he has shown me the importance of being savvy when it comes to self-promotion and the commercial side of music making. He suggested that we should be spending as much time promoting performances and developing our career as we do practising. Whilst I can’t quite bring myself to do that just yet, I can see that when I leave music college, working hard to find performances and creating appealing programmes will be just as important as working on technique!

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

In ten years’ time I would like to be living in London enjoying a fledgling career as a song accompanist and working as a broadcaster for Radio 3. Basically, I would like to follow in the footsteps of Iain Burnside!

Originally from Devon, Natalie Burch initially studied with John Railton before moving to Manchester to study solo piano with Peter Lawson at Chetham’s School of Music. In 2014 she graduated with first class honors from King’s College London where she studied musicology and took lessons at the Royal Academy of Music with Daniel-Ben Pienaar and Andrew West.  Natalie is currently studying for a masters in accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama under the tutelage of Eugene Asti and Andrew West.

Recent and future highlights include performing at the Wigmore Hall alongside Alisdair Hogarth and the Prince Consort, a new commission for the Leeds Lieder festival, rehearsal pianist for Tchaikowsky ‘Rococo Variations’ with Guy Johnston, a recital for the Elgar Society and a number of concerts and masterclasses as resident pianist for Opera Prelude.

Read more about Natalie here

 

 

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.