Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I started playing the piano aged 3 when my parents bought an upright after I seemed enthusiastic about a two-octave keyboard toy! My earliest listening memories are the recordings of Alfred Brendel playing Mozart and Beethoven Sonatas, which I studied alongside the scores long before I could play them. Brendel’s Hammerklavier video recording is just phenomenal.

The next influence which inspired me the most was Vladimir Horowitz, who I initially heard on “The Art Of Piano” documentary playing his spectacular Carmen-Fantasie. When I heard his Rachmaninoff 3rd for the first time I hadn’t heard any other Romantic concertos to relate it to and had very limited harmonic understanding, so it felt like jumping into a whole parallel universe.

The most important influence was certainly my professor Andrew Ball who I met in 2015. He represents the perfect blend of intellect and devilry for me and has always been very interpretively open-minded which I’ve hugely appreciated. He’s introduced me to many fascinating pieces including Taneyev’s Prelude and Fugue and Reubke’s Piano Sonata.

There are many contrasting pianists who I admire, some names are: Richter, Gould, Michelangeli, Pletnev, Hough, Hamelin.

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

I lost direction around the age of 16 and had stopped practicing properly for a year before I met Andrew at the Purcell School, who thankfully kick-started me. It’s a very tricky challenge raising a potential young pianist in this country, choosing between the inflexibility of state schools, home-education and British boarding schools. It can be a thankless task for parents, but I am certainly very grateful for how my first years were handled and being limited to two/three hours of practice a day for many years. That restraint meant that I still had the hunger to focus as much as I wanted at an older age when piano was a career choice I consciously wanted to pursue. I really wish state schools were more flexible with music, as going to a boarding school can be intimidating, especially straight from home-schooling. However, I think I went to Purcell at the right time, they supported me fantastically well, and I feel everything is working out thus far!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

There is a performance of Schumann’s Carnaval and Toccata in an internal Royal College competition which I will remember with pride; Carnaval is such a kaleidoscope of a piece!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Tentatively, the works of Beethoven, Brahms and Prokofiev – I find I relate to their (very different) musical languages the easiest.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

My off-stage hobbies and interests tend to be quite separated from my musical thoughts and practice. What I find relevant are: conscious memories, especially of states of feeling; the subliminal, i.e. what I couldn’t or shouldn’t say in words. Everything that’s optimistic which might resemble “faith”, that a piece is a life in itself, which carries meaning and achieves something through its existence. And conversely everything in the mind that is destructive or neurotic, which exists necessarily in all of us and can in an ideal world be somehow ennobled by being channelled through a piece of music.

I wonder what I’d be doing if music wasn’t an option! I’ve never played video games mostly because any craving to explore alternate worlds I find satisfied in music, certainly to the extent that I can’t be bothered catching up with Xbox proficiency! Being able to directly affect audiences is something that I would miss. The Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp talks about playing football in such a way that the fans forget about their daily lives and problems for just 90 minutes every week. I think that’s a similar duty for all entertainers and artists!

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

I’m still firmly in the stage of developing my repertoire! It’s really a balancing act of trying to perform my strengths whilst working on weaknesses in the background. I love trying to find great music that few other people perform, and I’d love to explore programming options in the future including potentially altering the whole structure of evening concerts.

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

It is a thrilling experience to play at the Wigmore Hall, and the acoustic is unsurpassable. St Mary’s Perivale run a unique and very supportive concert series, and I always enjoy travelling and discovering new venues abroad, I can’t wait to visit more places after the lockdown! I once played at the Teatro Del Sale restaurant in Florence which was perfect as I genuinely can’t perform with an empty stomach!

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I think communication is the key, because there can be no questioning the strength of our art, or the validity of devoting one’s life to it. I’ve rarely heard anyone decry the artform, and the majority of people who aren’t listening just haven’t been personally persuaded yet! Whilst classical music and advanced education go hand in hand, a great performance shouldn’t exclude anyone. If I had any constructive suggestions from an audience’s perspective, they would mostly be practical. For example, especially with the accessibility of YouTube and Spotify, I think acoustic deserves to be taken extremely seriously. I find balancing with the orchestra and being heard crystal-clear to be one of the great challenges of performing concertos, and I would appreciate any help from the hall’s acoustics at least. Programming is the classical pianist’s greatest liberty, and I loved many of Stephen Hough’s suggestions in his book “Rough Ideas”, especially concerning the creative use of the drinks interval!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably going to see a friend give a full recital at Wigmore Hall – he is amazing to start with, but a personal connection with the performer really heightens one’s experience of the music! I also have great memories in Birmingham 2013 of hearing Uchida playing the Mozart G Major Concerto in the 1st half and Andris Nelsons conducting Scriabin’s Poem Of Ecstasy in the 2nd.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Achieving the perfect balance of sincerity and charisma onstage and speaking directly to every audience member through the music.

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

Above all the quality which Andrew has taught me by example, which is patience! It’s our artistic growth and how we play and understand music in our 30’s and beyond which is paramount, whether that involves a performing career or not.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A post-concert lasagne.


Since 2015, Thomas Kelly has been studying with Andrew Ball, initially at the Purcell school of Music and now at Royal College of Music where he is in third-year undergraduate. Thomas has won first prizes including Pianale International Piano Competition 2017, Kharkiv Assemblies 2018, at Lucca Virtuoso e Bel Canto festival 2018, RCM Joan Chissell Schumann competition 2019, Kendall Taylor Beethoven competition 2019 and BPSE Intercollegiate Beethoven competition 2019. In addition, he has performed in a variety of venues, including the Wigmore Hall, the Cadogan Hall, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, St James’ Piccadilly, St Mary’s Perivale, St Paul’s Bedford, the Poole Lighthouse Arts Centre, the Stoller Hall, Oxford Town Hall, at Paris Conservatoire, the StreingreaberHaus in Bayreuth, the Teatro Del Sale in Florence, and in Vilnius and Palanga. He has benefited greatly from lessons and masterclasses with distinguished professors including Dina Yoffe, Paul Lewis, Mikhail Voskrosensky, Valentina Berman, Justas Dvarionas, Riccardo Cecchetti, Vanessa Latarche and Ian Jones. Thomas’ studies at RCM are generously supported by Ms Daunt and Ms Stevenson, Pat Kendall Taylor and C. Bechstein pianos. 


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

When I think back to the moment that led to me majoring in music, it’s funny that it wasn’t some Hollywood-style lightbulb thing—the way it happened was almost forgettable. I’d seriously played music my entire life, but I was also one of those obnoxiously accomplished kids who did everything and was proficient at every subject, so when it came time to do college applications I applied for programs in multiple fields. I ended up applying to and attending conservatory because my piano teacher stopped me after a performance and told me, seriously, that I couldn’t ever give up music. No one else had given me that kind of direction, so I took that bit of counsel and ran with it.

I figured I would follow music as far as it would take me; I promised myself that if there came a day where it no longer brought me joy and I’d wrung all the love that I could out of it, I would stop. That day hasn’t come yet.

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

When I was really little, I would watch Victor Borge on PBS, and I just adored everything about him; he made music so funny but he was also just a phenomenal musician. He was warm and silly and the silliness didn’t detract from the beauty of the music, and I think that was a really crucial thing for me to absorb at an early age, since classical music in general can take itself way too seriously. A lot of people get hung up on things like “greatness” and “nobility” and “transcendence” in classical music, and don’t get me wrong, those elements exist, but there’s also a lot of humor and irony and self-deprecation in music as well, and I think we do ourselves a disservice if we pretend the art form doesn’t contain all these very human things.

He was just a master of presenting music to audiences in a way that was really accessible and entertaining. When I was little I didn’t know much about music history or advanced theory, and I didn’t have to to enjoy Victor Borge’s performances. That’s something I keep in mind whenever I prepare performances, since I like to talk to the audience about the music; how do I teach them something about the music in a way that’s entertaining, where you don’t feel like you’re being lectured? I don’t get as slapsticky as Borge, and I’m nowhere near as funny as he is, but that accessible humor is something I always aim for.

There have been a lot of other influences in my life, of course, and I’ve been lucky to have amazing mentors in the field of music, but I think a lot of my guiding philosophy all goes back to Victor Borge.

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

I’m really self-conscious about the fact that I’m not on the traditional track that pianists usually take. I didn’t do competitions when I was young because my teacher was very rightly concerned that competition culture would be really rough on me, since I was a pretty shy and sensitive kid. I didn’t go to a big-name conservatory, I haven’t won any major competitions or been picked up by a label or agency, and I’m not pursuing a career in academia. I’ve read biographies and memoirs and interviews by pianists I deeply admire where they actually, literally say, if you haven’t hit these traditional milestones by the time you’re eighteen, you need to give up, because you will never make it.

I know objectively I’m pretty good at playing the piano, but I still have trouble believing that anyone will want to listen to me. I also know that I’m not remotely the only person who feels this way, and that there are a lot of independent classical musicians out there who have overcome the same problems, but doing your own thing still feels very lonely sometimes.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I think my recording of Cécile Chaminade’s concert etude “Automne” (released in May) might be my favorite recording that I’ve made yet. I’m at a point where I feel like I’m constantly torn between wanting to sound like other people, following the rules that my teachers have drummed into me, and trying new things and finding my own voice. I feel like the Chaminade recording is, so far, the closest I’m come to playing something in a way that sounds really like me.

I’m sure in X number of years or after X number of recordings I’ll look back on it and go, oh my gosh, this is terrible, why did I make these musical decisions or play like this, but you gotta start somewhere.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I absolutely love playing Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, etc. but I have this horrible anxiety whenever I perform their music, particularly the really famous pieces, because there are all these legendary recordings and performances that I feel like I have no chance of living up to them. And when you play that music, even if you have something really strong to say and have put your own stamp on it, you feel like everyone’s bringing their own different expectations to listening and you’re just set up to fail.

I think, personally, I perform best when it’s music that I love but that isn’t as well-known, because instead of trying to meet this invisible expectation, I’m coming from a place where I know it’s likely the audience doesn’t know what to expect and it’s on me to create something that makes it worth their while. Sometimes that’s lesser-known works by canonic composers, like Liszt’s “Les jeux d’eaux à la villa d’Este”—I just love performing that piece so much, it’s not what you’d expect but it’s such a crowd pleaser. And lately I’ve been adding music by traditionally underplayed women composers to my repertoire, and the amazing thing is that audiences love those works. I’ve had amazing responses to the Clara Schumann and Cécile Chaminade pieces I’ve played in concert, and oftentimes I’ll get feedback that people actually enjoy those pieces more than the famous stuff they’ve already heard a lot.

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

My teacher usually recommends pieces—he has an uncanny way of picking unexpected crowd-pleasers for me—and I often go completely off-book and will learn other pieces when something really grabs me. The Louise Farrenc etude I recently released is one of those; I heard Konstanze Eickhorst’s recording of it, and was so utterly smitten that I dropped everything to learn it immediately, and then recorded it just a few months later.

I also pick my repertoire so I can have options putting together balanced programs that work for different audiences; I kind of think of a concert program as being like a really good meal, where you have a variety of flavors that all complement each other and take you on a journey.

Incorporating a 50/50 gender balance into my solo programs has also been a really interesting challenge, because when I’m presenting less-heard music to audiences, I have to think both about how certain pieces go together thematically as well as how it feels for the listener, going from something they know well to something that’s new, and vice versa. I also have to make sure

I’m not unintentionally reinforcing lazy stereotypes, like having a program where all the male composers ’works are really fast and agitated and all the female composers ’works are slow and lyrical. I know I’ve done my job when I’ve put a bunch of disparate stuff together and people say that they enjoyed the whole thing.

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

There’s a private house concert I do every year at the home of a dear friend with a wonderful Steinway grand; it’s just an incredibly lovely experience because she rustles up a whole audience of people who just really love classical music and enjoy listening to me talk about it and it doesn’t feel like a performance so much as a warm and nerdy afternoon. I wish I could share that kind of experience with the whole world, because it’s just so much fun.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Ha, the first thing that comes to mind is that time I had a memory slip performing the Prokofiev Third Concerto with orchestra—I noodled around for a bit and somehow got out of it fine, but I still get panicky reliving it.

On further thought, I gave a lecture recital last year (2019) on Clara Schumann’s G Minor Piano Sonata, and I still feel all warm and happy remembering it, because the audience was so wonderful and engaged. It was put on by a nonprofit that does free community events, and the audience was primarily older classical music enthusiasts, who conventional wisdom says are typically the people least willing to listen to new stuff. But I just talked about how awesome Clara Schumann was, why her music isn’t as well known, and what makes her sonata so compelling; I can’t describe how amazing it feels to see a room full of people fully engaged and interested while you talk at them about something you really care about. And you can tell how engaged your audience is while you’re performing! Even if you can’t see them, there’s a certain energy you can feel. When I played I felt like that audience was with me the whole time, experiencing every phrase and going on that emotional journey. And afterwards we had a Q&A session, and they asked so many questions about Clara Schumann and the sonata, and a lot of them based their questions on what they heard in the performance. It felt like a culmination of why I love this art form so much.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When I was younger I equated fame with success and I just wanted to be, like, mega-famous. Now the idea of being recognized on the street is horrifying to me, and I feel a lot more wary about the idea of being treated as some kind of product or commodity. I also have my reservations about the very concept of celebrity, the idea that people might feel like they know you, even though they only know this small part of you that you’ve put on display. So my personal definition of success is a lot more nuanced now.

I think success is a state of being where you’re doing work you’re passionate about, where you feel like you’re being true to your own voice, and you have some audience who your work resonates with. I think, especially in classical music, a factor of success is also how much your work reaches people who aren’t already deep in the field. I feel really validated when people who say “I don’t know anything about classical music” tell me they really enjoyed a performance or a recording, or that I taught them something. Art has to keep finding bigger audiences in order to survive, so I think a truly successful artist is one who continues reaching those audiences.

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

I’ve learned so much from the past couple years of working that I feel like I could write a whole book of unsolicited advice. I think the first concept that aspiring musicians absolutely need to know is that classical music is not a meritocracy. You are not necessarily going to get anywhere purely based on your talent or even your work ethic, because like any other industry, connections are everything and in a chaotic world, luck can be everything. And it’s really unfortunate, but first-generation musicians are always going to have a much harder time making it than people from families who know the unspoken institutional rules of classical music. The flip side of that is that if you recognize that talent isn’t the only thing that matters, you can leverage your other skills and qualities. You don’t have to be the most talented musician in the room to be successful—there will always be people who are better than you are, but that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for you. You just have to figure out what you have to offer the world.

I think it’s also really critical to get rid of this expectation that if you’re a musician, your whole personality has to revolve around music. I think that’s part of why some young musicians get prematurely burnt out and jaded—I know people who got disenchanted with music in their teens and early twenties and ended up without any other identity to cling to, which is just really tragic. I really do think you should be a whole person outside of music, and it’s okay to be into non-classical music and non-music media and pop culture and whatever else floats your boat. The world is full of so many fascinating things for your brain to chew on, you know?

What is your present state of mind?

I’ve been really thrown—along with everyone else—by coronavirus. I’m very, very lucky to be able to shelter in place. But it’s shocking how uncertain everything is now, and how my routine and short-term plans have been totally upended. This is the time of year I usually do a whole slate of concerts, and that’s not happening. I was working on some really cool projects that were supposed to unfold next season; I’m not sure about the status of those projects anymore, due to arts org budgets imploding, gatherings being risky, etc. We’re all in this suspended state right now. Performing is such an important part of my life, but I don’t know when we’ll be able to have concerts in-person again. It’s very hard to visualize what a career in music looks like after this is all over.

In this state of limbo, it’s really hard to continue working day-to-day like everything is normal. I don’t do well when I don’t have immediate deadlines, so it’s really hard for me to practice like there are still performances on the horizon. On top of that all, I just feel so emotionally drained. I mean, people are literally dying right now, and the level of suffering is just breathtaking. Even if you’re safe and doing fine, you know way too many people who aren’t. It takes a lot of energy and brainpower to work on music—or anything, really—and it’s very exhausting just being a human being right now.

I’m just taking everything one day at a time and being nicer to myself—well, I’m trying, anyway. I still have to practice on a daily basis because physical things like stamina, control, flexibility, etc. evaporate if you don’t keep them up. I used to beat myself up for not practicing enough hours a day or not making enough progress, but now if I’m able to squeeze out one or two hours of meaningful work, I’m genuinely grateful.

(Interview date: 27 April 2020)


Sharon Su is a professional finger wiggler. While she hails* from a very sunny state (California), her work has taken her to concert halls, churches, ballrooms, and the occasional palace throughout the cloudier sections of the world, both as a solo and collaborative keyboard-masher. She has extensively performed pieces from the classical canon (sadly, that is “canon” with one “n” in the middle) as well as premiered a number of newly composed works, likely because the composers were in a hurry and couldn’t find a better pianist to perform their works for the first time. Her work has earned her recognition as an American artist and, most importantly, she has recently been hailed by her mother as being “pretty good at noise-making.”

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Sharon Su play’s Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto – more information

Louise Farrenc – Etude, Op 26/10


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

Whilst toddling around my house, aged 3, I banged my head on something and lashed out. To my surprise, it made a beautiful sound, and I’ve played the piano most days since.

Choosing music as a career took a bit longer. Despite feeling elated and richly fulfilled as a chorister touring the Eastern Seaboard with St David’s Cathedral Choir, many years ago, I expected to continue my pastoral life in Pembrokeshire and become an accountant… until I heard about music college auditions. I applied and have never looked back!

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

Such a tricky question! Being a former cathedral chorister was certainly the most important influence on my formative years and still influences me greatly. The training and performance opportunities I received were incredible and now inform the way I collaborate with singers. Working with Pascal Nemirovski during my undergraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music was a very important influence, and more recently being the Viola Tunnard Young Artist at Snape Maltings (where Flax and Fire was recorded) gave me the chance to explore new ideas and skills.

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

Lockdown! And secondly, having the courage to admit how dearly I wanted a family, and taking a leap of faith to start it. I was really afraid of losing work – and there were a few engagements I surrendered or postponed – but in retrospect it was the best thing I ever did. It has brought a sense of balance and practicality to my work that I’d only dreamed of before.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Curating ‘Flax and Fire’ was a pivotal moment for me: I developed holistically as an artist during the process, and it taught me a lot about my creative practice.

Building SongEasel from scratch and performing in the series has been a really affirming activity, and bringing it online this July is something I’ll remember for years to come.

I am also really proud to have performed Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto to a packed Oxford Proms audience several years ago – the emotional and physical stamina required meant that it was something of a personal triumph!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a particular affinity with dramatic, lyrical works, such as those by Liszt: romanticism is a period close to my heart. That said, many of Schubert’s Lieder are mini-dramas in themselves, and the clean slate of a new composition is always inspiring.

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

As a collaborative pianist, a lot of my repertoire choices are a joint venture. I will often be guided by a voice type as I construct a programme for singers. In parallel, I aim to curate and tour programmes that fascinate me – for example repertoire that I’ve loved since I was a child; or a little-known work that has captured my imagination. I feel lucky to be able to follow my curiosity a great deal of the time.

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

There are so many lovely venues, it’s very difficult to pick one! I’ve had some really amazing experiences at Wigmore Hall, and also playing at home in Wales is always a pleasure.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Recently I’ve been listening to Martha Argerich and Vladimir Horowitz. Their pianism is second to none. I also love the recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – he was an iconic interpreter of Lied, and Carlos Klieber’s discs with the Vienna Philharmonic are wonderfully emotional and energised. I’m also a fan of Bon Jovi!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few works which, when I perform them effect me deeply and leave me feeling hollow from the rawness of their emotion. These memories are frozen in my memory, like a very special place in time. The first was accompanying a production Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd as a student; the second performing James MacMillan’s Kiss on ‘Wood’; the third was Rhian Samuel’s The Gaze with Elin Manahan Thomas; and most recently, Shostakovich’s Four Pushkin Romances with Gareth Brynmor John.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

It has to be loving what you do, above anything else, otherwise there’s really not much point!

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

Know and love your unique weaknesses – nobody else will be able to do this like you can, and others most frequently focus on your strengths.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I used to think that achieving the perfect work-life-family balance would bring me happiness. Now I believe that happiness is actually the process of aspiring to this perfect equilibrium, working towards it each day, and the hope brought by such a unachievable concept!

 

‘Flax and Fire’ is the debut album of tenor Stuart Jackson and pianist Jocelyn Freeman, featuring works by Britten, Wolf, Liszt and Robert Schumann and released on the Orchid Classics label on 17 July.


Award-winning collaborative pianist Jocelyn Freeman is founder-director and curator of SongEasel, a new initiative established to provide a platform for song in South East London. Her artistry has been described as “outstanding”, “brilliant”, “sparkling” and “one to watch”, including accolades from The Observer and International Piano Magazine.

Jocelyn’s versatility ranges from Lieder to chamber music and concertos, often championing lesser-known composers alongside standard classical and contemporary repertoire. She has premiered and recorded works by John Brunning, Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Rhian Samuel. Her imaginative approach to programming is evident in projects with award-winning artists including Jamal Aliyev, Gareth Brynmor John, Elin Manahan Thomas and Julien Van Mellaerts, and her discography includes releases for Kissan Records, Orchid Classics and Ty Cerdd.

Jocelyn is a prize-winning graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, Phoebe Benham Fellow 2012 at the Royal College of Music, a Samling Artist and Britten–Pears alumnus. Prizes include the Viola Tunnard Young Artist Award, Marlow International Concerto Competition and the Internationalen Wettbewerb für Liedkunst in Stuttgart with Stuart Jackson.

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Pianist Emmanual Vass was one of the first interviewees in the Meet the Artist series, back in 2012. Now, 8 years on, to coincide with the release of his third album, Manny has updated his interview to reflect on his influences and inspirations, and his career path to date and beyond…


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

All my life, I wanted to connect with people, and be creative. As mentioned in my first interview 8 years ago, I started playing piano by complete chance, and it has always been my outlet and my joy. Pursuing a musical career made complete sense; it still does now, aged 31!

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

Picking myself up, and getting back on my horse after having been knocked off yet again. I wasn’t quite prepared for how much rejection, “no” answers, and unsuccessful attempts I’d face as an artist. It’s definitely easier as I get older, thankfully. Perspective is important.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My third album, “The Naked Pianist” released 19th June 2020 is by far my best recording to date. I’m really proud of it because I sound the best I have ever sounded, and the mix of pieces are very well suited to me: you’ve got the big guns from composers such as Chopin and Rachmaninov; popular classics by Beethoven and Debussy, and I’ve also included 3 of my original compositions which I’m sure listeners will love.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Bach and Debussy, but for opposing reasons! Funnily, I’ve just seen that I answered Bach 8 years ago, too. I’m clearly obsessed with him.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I’ve become fascinated by cosmology and astronomy; it’s absolutely mind-boggling! There are at least 50 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, the Milky Way, then at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable Universe! Here we are, little old earth, with intelligent, sentient life that wants to create and express. Utterly inspirational!

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

“What do I want to play, and what might audiences like to hear from me?”

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

No – as per my original answer 8 years ago: anywhere with a half-decent piano.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

In 6 words: continue spreading the joy and love.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I love watching amateur concerts; they really inspire me. The word “amateur” comes from the verb “to love”, and it’s always a joy to watch other human beings be creative purely for the love of the music and the instrument.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To feel happy and fulfilled.

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

I say this regularly as part of my role as a lecturer: being a 21st Century musician is incredibly different and contrasting to past generations of musicians. We no longer live in the, “Beethoven sonata + tailcoat = money”, or the, “Orchestral excerpts + audition = job for life” age. Arguably, we never really did!

Did I ever imagine myself doing two UK reality TV shows as part of my career? No. Did I think I’d own a record label, from which I am to self-release my 3rd album? Certainly not. Did I ever envisage discussions with talent executives about some potential TV/radio presenting opportunities? Never. But alas, welcome to life as a 21st Century musician! I tell you what though, I’m happy, thriving, and thoroughly enjoying my life. I can’t ask for much more!

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

This is a particularly poignant question for me right now! I’m 31, and incredibly happy with where I am in life overall. I’ve recently appeared in two huge reality TV shows here in the UK: Britain’s Got Talent and First Dates Hotel both aired in May 2020. There’s a bigger picture/purpose for me doing these shows.

All I’ll say is dear Emmanuel Vass, aged 41, I hope it’s all worked out in the end, dude! And if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end, is it…?!

Emmanuel Vass’ third album The Naked Pianist is released on 19 June.

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A Yorkshire lad who has performed for the Prince of Monaco; crowdfunded a #1 album, broadcast on ClassicFM, BBC World Service, and BBC Radio 3, and featured extensively across 30 countries. He became a senior lecturer at just 28 years old…

Named as ‘one to watch’ by The Independent newspaper, ‘rising star’ by BBC Music magazine, and ‘unsigned artist of the month’ by Yamaha, thirty year old Emmanuel Vass has established himself as, ‘one of the most charismatic pianists on the contemporary scene’, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Following a successful crowd funding campaign which ended at 165%, Manny self-released his 2nd album, Sonic Waves, an album of water themed classical music, and his own arrangements of traditional, British sea shanties. Following broadcasts on ClassicFM, BBC Radio 3, and BBC World Service, the album reached #1 in the UK specialist classical charts; spent a month within the top 10, and featured across national print media in Attitude magazine, and Cheshire Life magazine.

His first CD, From Bach to Bond, and Sonic Waves CDs and tour titles reflect both Manny’s eclectic taste in music and his versatility as a pianist. He is as at ease with the challenges of Bach as with the demanding pianistic technique required for his own arrangements – in the manner of Liszt – of the James Bond theme, traditional sea shanties, and Bohemian Rhapsody.

This supreme versatility is also revealed in the calibre and variety of his recent engagements. Manny’s busy performance diary has included The Bridgewater Hall (Manchester); Edinburgh Fringe, Sheffield Cathedral, the Welcome to Asia festival, Castle Howard, and Hexham Abbey, as well as at the prestigious London venues Steinway Hall, Queen’s Theatre West End, Kensington Palace Gardens, 1901 Arts Club Waterloo, St Lawrence Jewry, and St James’s Piccadilly.

He has performed for Lord Levy and the Russian ambassador in the Golden Room in Kensington Palace Gardens, for the Filipino ambassador at St. Sepulchre’s Church London, and for the French ambassador at The Lowry Theatre in Salford. At the Variety Club Jubilee Ball he played for the Prince and Princess of Monaco on the same programme as international artists The Manfreds, the boy band Blake, and Lulu.

Manny is a qualified, award-winning educator. He was a senior lecturer at Leeds College of Music in music business; marketing, and e-commerce. Here, he was nominated for “most innovative”, and “best feedback” awards, and won “most inspirational” in 2017.

Emmanuel now lectures at both the University of Liverpool, and BIMM Manchester. He frequently gives guest lectures and talks across the UK and internationally; most recently at Music and Drama Expo 2017 (London), the BSME Arts conference (Dubai), Reeperbahn Hamburg, and the Norwegian Academy of Music (Oslo).

Emmanuel Vass was born in Manila, Philippines and grew up in East Yorkshire. Having passed Grade 8 piano with distinction at the age of 15, he subsequently studied with Robert Markham at Yorkshire Young Musicians, a centre for the advanced training for gifted young musicians. This was followed by four years at the Royal Northern College of Music, where Manny studied with John Gough, and was supported by scholarships from the Leverhulme Scholarship Trust and the Sir John Manduell Scholarship Trust. He graduated in 2011

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

It was a long time coming. Though I had already played the piano for six years before entering the Curtis Institute of Music, it was the colleagues and friends I made there that really inspired me to see music as a way of life.

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

My teachers at Curtis and the Hannover Musikhochschule have shaped the way I see music. My family and friends give the life experiences I need to tell interesting stories. In an ever-changing environment, I’m grateful to have a stable network of people I can trust and count on for advice.

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

There are many difficult things about being a concert pianist, whether its learning a particularly tricky piece, getting over a defeat at a competition, but these are so minor in the grand scheme of things. It’s an ongoing challenge to give your all every time you step out on stage. Even if you’re tired or fatigued, it’s a musician’s responsibility to inspire and bring memorable moments to audiences. But this is a challenge that I cherish.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Certain concerts stick out in my memory. I had a wonderful experience performing a benefit concert for the Multiple Sclerosis society with Howard Griffiths and the Camerata Schweiz at the Tonhalle Maag. We performed the Beethoven violin concerto in the piano version and as an encore, Hallelujah, where the audience joined in the chorus. A moment of goosebumps, the good kind.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I can’t answer such a question, but I have lots of music I love to perform. At the moment, I’m particularly interested in the Viennese classics of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

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

It’s a given that I only perform works I feel I have something special to express. I’m very open to learning different repertoire, and I gather a lot of inspirations through regular trips to different opera houses and symphonic concerts, something Germany abounds with. Finding a central work is important in each program, then it’s a question of finding matches and themes.

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

Hamburg Elbphilharmonie kleiner Saal is fantastic, not least because of its prestige. The pianos there, the acoustic and an enthusiastic audience are unique.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Cecilia Bartoli, Kristian Zimerman and Sviatoslav Richter.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I performed in Beijing NCPA last year, and my three grandparents came, all over 90 years old. I was so proud and happy to share with them one of my favorite pieces, Chopin concerto No. 2.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Staying true to yourself and never wavering in your faith in music.

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

Live a full life, embrace multiple interests, because the more you know about the world, the more you can share.


Claire Huangci, the young American pianist of Chinese descent and 2018 Geza Anda Competition first prize and Mozart prize winner, has succeeded in establishing herself as a highly respected artist, captivating audiences with her “radiant virtuosity, artistic sensitivity, keen interactive sense and subtle auditory dramaturgy” (Salzburger Nachrichten). Her unusually diverse repertoire, in which she also takes up rarely performed works, is illustrative of her remarkable versatility.

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

I come from a very musical family of parents who are professional musicians, two sisters who are professional musicians, and one brother who used to play the violin. As you can imagine, growing up surrounded by music was incredibly inspiring and stimulating! I started playing violin at age 3 and piano at 5, and I remember making the decision around 11 years of age to become a professional pianist. At that time, I had attended an international summer institute for young pianists, and something just “clicked” with being surrounded by so many wonderful musicians. I thought something to the effect of “I have to do this!” and I’ve been devoted to the profession ever since.

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

I have been blessed with fantastic teachers throughout my life, teachers who not only gave me a foundation of musicianship and technique at the piano, but who also supported me as a person (and continue to do so). In this business, I think it is so important to have teachers who care about students in their development as musicians AND human beings. One person in particular who has had an extraordinary influence in my life is a Brazilian pianist named Luiz de Moura Castro. He also taught my eldest sister, and from the time I was ten, he has had a great impact on my approach to music. In addition, I come from a lineage of Russian teachers including a wonderful woman by the name of Zena Ilyashov (whom I studied with as a young pianist) and the well-known pianist and pedagogue Boris Berman (while at Yale School of Music). Both teachers gave me imperative tools for approaching the keyboard, perhaps most specifically in how I create “sound.”

As for performers who influenced me, I remember being spellbound at a young age by violinist Jascha Heifetz. There was something about the electricity of his playing which enamored me, and he’s one of the performers who still gives me goosebumps every time I hear one of his recordings. Likewise, Vladimir Horowitz has always been close to my musical heart; there’s a similar electricity and emotional impact when listening to him. I always try to tap into this kind of excitement/fire when performing.

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

I’ve done quite a lot of competitions, and that can be a brutal part of the learning process for any young pianist. As so many people know, there are variables quite often out of one’s control (politics, personal preferences, etc.), which can be disheartening. I did very well in some and less well in others, but at the end of the day, I learned about myself in the process: not just about playing at a consistent, high level, but what it means to believe in one’s self as a musician.

As with any profession, people can be dismissive, and especially when something is as personal as art. Therefore, it is imperative one believes in one’s worth and what one has have to offer as a musician. As clichéd as it may sound, I do what I do because I believe music needs to be shared with people; to me, being a performer is not about my ego or another person’s ego, but rather being a conduit for great music. This gives me the confidence to believe in what I am doing.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I absolutely love performing with orchestras, and my first performance of Brahms’ D minor concerto will always stand out in my memory. There’s something about that piece that requires extreme vulnerability and strength, and performing it was powerful beyond what I expected. The way Brahms conceived of the orchestral writing is stunning, and it truly feels chamber music when performing it.

It seems my most memorable performances are with orchestra, but another one was performing Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto a few years back. Of course it is a powerhouse of a piece, but there was a particular performance which felt like the highest energy I’ve ever had onstage, both in how I felt with the piano part as well as the interaction with orchestra. Both the Brahms and Prokofiev are extraordinarily powerful pieces, but the Prokofiev is powerful in a way that’s primal.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That’s a great question, as I think I’ve “evolved” over the years in both my tastes and what I’ve excelled at. I used to gravitate primarily toward Russian repertoire, but in the past few years, I’ve come to adore J.S. Bach (even more than I used to) and much of the Spanish repertoire. Perhaps that’s an odd combination, but I would like to explore more of Bach in performance (although it can feel scary/exposed!) as well as the Spanish repertoire (would like to finally perform Granados’ Goyescas in its entirety).

I would be remiss not to mention the works of Australian composer Carl Vine, as I have recently released an album of his solo piano music including the world premiere recording of his Piano Sonata No. 4, a work written for me this past year. I adore his music, and much of the last year has been devoted to performing and recording Vine. In particular, the sound-world he creates is fascinating to explore, and there’s also an aspect of virtuosity that makes performing his music incredibly exciting (his writing is challenging yet idiomatic to the instrument).

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

Well as I mentioned, the past year has been greatly focused on Carl Vine, in particular because I commissioned a piece from him and knew I would be giving several premieres internationally. Usually, I make repertoire choices based on particular pieces I would like to play or composers I would like to explore more of. There are also times where presenters will request a particular piece(s), so it can be a combination of reasons.

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

I recently gave a solo recital at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, and it was a pure delight. The acoustics are fantastic, and there’s an intimacy to the hall that I much prefer in a solo piano recital rather than a hall which seats 4,000. I had a similar impression performing at the Salzburg Mozarteum, having a beautiful intimacy to the hall. That said, I performed with the Montreal Orchestre de Metropolitain in Montreal’s Place des Arts, and that was a fantastic hall and huge space. So, it also depends on the context of what and with whom I’m performing!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a superficial level, one could say success is defined by how many prestigious halls one plays in, how many recordings one sells, how many successful musicians one performs with. While those are all wonderful and important things to use as professional goals, I think they are also things which can be distracting to leading a fulfilled life as a musician. There are so many times when a musician will come to a crossroads in their career, asking themselves why they do what they do. I’ve come to realize that success as a musician can only truly be measured by how much one is enjoying what one does and how genuinely one is connecting with the audience, no matter the size or prestige. If I give a performance where even just one person has found inspiration or comfort through the music, or I’ve managed to inspire a young musician to get excited about classical music, that to me is true success as a musician.

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

Follow this career path because you love it and will do it no matter what difficulties come your way! It’s a very difficult career to choose, but one that can bring incredible good and beauty to the world.

What is your most treasured possession?

If I can count my cats as possessions, then I’ll say my cats!

What is your present state of mind?

Honestly, I’m grateful to be a musician. Without it, life would make a lot less sense!

Aphorisms: The Piano Music of Carl Vine is available now


Pianist Lindsay Garritson has performed throughout the United States and abroad since the age of four. She has appeared on stages such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and Place des Arts (Montreal), and has been featured as soloist with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra (Texas), Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), Atlantic Classical Orchestra, Orquestra Sinfônica Barra Mansa (Brazil), the Yale Philharmonic Orchestra, and the European Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.

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