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

I actually never dreamed of becoming a classical musician, and I feel very privileged to have had such a natural and in many ways unexpected career path. The piano choice was purely practical – it was an instrument that was offered to us by a friend so I could start lessons. Of course, now I can say that I was very lucky because I love my instrument for the endless colours and possibilities it offers, for the many sounds – big and small – and the vast repertoire.

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

Influence on my musical life and career can be linked directly to the influence on my life, and that has been mainly by my parents, who have instilled morals, discipline, and enjoyment upon my life. I gather inspiration from everything that surrounds me, the experiences I have, and those I encounter both on and off stage.

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

I cannot, with certainty, separate challenges from successes, as these are inextricably linked in my mind. On the one hand, I do not come from a musical family, but I have learned everything from scratch. When I persevere through the most challenging segments of my calendar, they make me stronger, and enable me to know what I am capable of and what I wish (not) to do.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I hope to be proud of every performance, and especially of every recording. The way I judge past performances includes elements such as the piano, the hall, and the audience, and these are intertwined with the memories I kept of that particular week – a very large cauldron. I have especially fond memories of some performances, such as the first time I performed in Warsaw, where all my grandparents heard me perform in a concert environment for the first time ever, or my BBC Proms debut in sweltering London summer weather.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I would not programme works I do not think myself capable of performing, and I hope to add something unique with my interpretation.

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

As a pianist I am in the position of having seemingly endless repertoire to choose from. I have certain pieces on the horizon that I would like to perform, and when there’s the opportunity to do so, I will add them to my repertoire. Recordings dictate the choices of repertoire somewhat, in that I need to prepare it beforehand and perform it after. Large multi-concert tours likewise; these decisions are mutual, made years in advance.

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

I’m terrible at picking favourites (favourite colour, country, person, city, etc.) and this extends to all walks of life. I enjoy the variety of concert halls, and believe it is a skill to adjust appropriately to each environment, from the ultra-accurate 21st-century “high-definition” halls, to some beautiful 19th-century acoustically warm ones, to the Italian opera houses which make you feel suffocated (acoustically, of course), not to mention everything in between. Every hall presents a challenge – and an opportunity – and overcoming the challenges while exploiting the opportunities is part of what makes a performance successful.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have too many to name – from those I’ve worked with and admire, to those I am friends with, to others who may inspire me in performance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I flew to a remote community in Saskatchewan, Canada; an outreach concert from my performance with the Saskatoon Symphony. In La Ronge, most people had never heard a piano before – it was also sent for the recital. The concert was packed, the excitement was palpable, and the genuine appreciation was unlike anything I’ve felt before or since. Falling snow, children in “Sunday’s best” sitting on the floor of the school gymnasium in complete silence. A concert I will gather strength from for years to come.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is deeply individual, and I consider myself very fortunate to be where I am today.

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

Make sure you stay true to yourself, practice only just enough, and learn about other things beyond music.

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

Walking on planet Earth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Enjoying the small things that make life magical.

What is your most treasured possession?

My memories.

What is your present state of mind?

Always the same – happy.


Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki has won acclaim for his extraordinary interpretive maturity, distinctive sound, and poetic sensibility. The New York Times has called him “a pianist who makes every note count”. Lisiecki’s insightful interpretations, refined technique, and natural affinity for art give him a musical voice that belies his age.

Jan Lisiecki was born to Polish parents in Canada in 1995. He began piano lessons at the age of five and made his concerto debut four years later, while always rebuffing the label of “child prodigy”. His approach to music is a refreshing combination of dedication, skill, enthusiasm and a realistic perspective on the career of a musician.

Read more

 

(Artist photo: JL Holger-Hage)

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

My childhood dream was to become an astronaut. The infinite, remote worlds, the unknown, mysteries, everything that has to do with indeterminate intrigued my imagination. Than, playing and discovering the nature of sound itself, the same infinity unfolded in music…..

This child’s desire to become an astronaut was also a yearning for contact, the desire to meet a different Other. That longing has evolved into a deep encounter while performing, while being at one with the music that reaches out to the others and creates the moment of grace, the ultimate, most intimate yet transpersonal union.

Having heard for the first time the Allegretto of Beethoven’s 7th I shivered. The tragic and grandeur of human expression left an indelible mark forever. My childhood fascination with Beethoven’s personality made of him einen fernen Geliebten (a “distant beloved”) and his oeuvre has become that place of encounter; love, belonging, togetherness and utopia.

My first instrument was my voice. In my early childhood I often sang the solo part in children’s choirs.

Than one day, standing in front of the shopwindow with my mother in Belgrade, I was mesmerised by the blissful black August Foerster upright piano – it looked exactly as my toy piano yet huge and gleaming. Mom bought it and I raved about that jewel that had a marvellous singing tone. No one ever forced me to practice. I stayed the long hours wrapped up in playing my huge toy. Later in my adolescent years, mom used to say ”do not play so much, go out and meet the boys….

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

Singing voice, the astonding beauty of voices and songs …songs my (grand)mother taught me……

In my music education the most impressive encounter was with Tatjana Nikolaeva. It was the deftness of her touch, that ineffable legato that I was trying to reproduce by listening to her and her recordings on Melodiya. It was Nikolaeva’s otherworldly Bach that influenced me the most. That’s how my piano epiphany commenced.

I always wanted the piano to sing in a velvet tone as if the hammers do not really touch the strings. Later I read that Debussy expressed the same about the art of touch.

Rudolf Kehrer, whom I met in Weimar, was a fascinating personality who inspired me a lot. When I settled in Paris I was lucky to work with amazing Eugen Indjic who has incredible gift for teaching; one feels confident and masters the instrument like an absolute wizard!

However – I hope it does not sound pretentious – what formed me as musician was discovering and understanding the language of music by myself alone.

The one thing that really matters is to have a personalised sound.

Now in the time of revival of the music of my grandfather, Czech-born composer and conductor Jan Urban ( 1875-1952) who passed away before I was born, everyone considers that he and his music influenced me the most in the bosom of family. It was not so. The story is less idylic, rather heavy. As my parents divorced when I was three years old, I was separated from my father and the paternal Urban side was covered by silence.

But the silence is inhabited.

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

Paradoxically – to avoid “career”….

Schnabel said ”Safety last.” Taking a risk on the podium has been the most challenging issue for me. The intensity of human expression dwells in intuition, to play at the very edge of control to deliver the music most spontaneusly, directly, to be totally wrapped up in the very moment of the execution. I recall Thomas Bernhard citating Glenn Gould ”you enter the music or you don’t.” The price to pay might be less perfection.

Further, I refused to participate the competitions. I dare say that competitiveness is not the way of dealing with music. Deciding not to compet has probably cost me a wider popularity.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my recordings of the complete piano legacy of the Czech composer Jan Vaclav Hugo Vorišek – three CDss on Grand Piano record label.

One perfomance at the Orlando Festival in the Netherlands is very dear to me. I shared the stage with the great Menahem Pressler who put me at ease with his wise remarks and divine lightness.

Invitation to perform in the jubilee year of the renowned American Philip Lorenz International Keybord Series was an honour. The series presents exclusievly the world’s greatest pianists, such as Emanuel Ax, Garrick Ohlssohn, Trifonov, etc.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Difficult question. There are two forces in human nature – Apollonian and Dionysian.

I feel at home with sonatas of Beethoven. Through him I can structure, form, build and forge. The affirmative experience of enlightenment prevails the tragic and reaches the Apollonian shor . Through his music one conquers the state of pain and humiliation and reaches dignity – a cathartic experience.

The other part of me dwells in the sensuality of Debussy’s works. Seeking for deepest sensors to catch the immediate, the instantaneous is in essence an erotic experience….. The hands are touching the nude nerve of the instrument.

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

This question reveals for me an other issue related to it.

I feel the larger music works of my repertoire as if they were human beings. Most of them I have known and lived with for a long time. There is an alive interaction between me and an oeuvre in the subconcious. That’s why the choice of programme is very spontaneous and comes from the bottom of soul. Giving the programme sp far in advance, as it has to be in today’s concert planning, is very frustrating.

Whenever possible I choose to perform the gems of lesser known and undeservedly neglected composers.

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

No – yet I dream about Viennese Musikverein for its Boesendorfer and its acoustics.

Who are your favourite musicians?

To mention a few – Alfred Cortot, Tatiana Nikolaeva, Alexander Jocheles, Arthur Schnabel, Claudio Arrau, Radu Lupu, Carlos Kleiber, Gregor Piatigorsky, Georg Prêtre, also Jacques Brel, Léo Ferré, Leonard Cohen….

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A long time ago, a concert in the Jeanine Rose series in Paris with Argerich and Hirschorn…..

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I am a sort of ‘anti diva’. Music making is about touching souls. In that ability lies the success.

I feel succesful when I open my music studio and I recognize in me that ebullient child that was in love with that black Foerster piano and the feeling of gratitude fills my heart. If I finish may days with such a feelings, I will consider I’ve had an amazingly successful life.

Of course the recognition is very important but the glory is infirm……….

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

Highly idealistic – to be free from the dictats of entrenched values or prevailing musical tastes. To be free from competitivness and the industry of competitions. Sharing, loyalty, solidarity, mutual support, imagination and truth – everything that musicians aspire to give to and create in the world should be cultivated more between musicians themselves.


Biljana Urban comes from a family with a rich musical tradition. Her Czech-born grandfather, Jan Urban (1875–1952), was a composer and conductor. Biljana Urban received her Ph.D. in Music (Piano Performance) summa cum laude from the Academy of Music in Zagreb. In her native country she received the most prestigious awards. She also studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris – Alfred Cortot and settled in Paris in 1985. Her musicianship has been strongly influenced by Elisso Virsaladze, Tatiana Nikolayeva, and Eugene Indjic. Since 1991 she has been based in Amsterdam and has Dutch nationality. Urban has performed in the most renowned international concert halls, including the Fresno Concert Hall, California, for the Philip Lorentz Memorial concert series. She has taken part in international music festivals, including the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, the Festival of Flanders and the Orlando Festival in The Netherlands. As a chamber musician she has performed with soloists of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Monnaie Orchestra, Brussels, and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Her recitals and recordings have been broadcast by BBC Radio 3, Radio France Musique, Radio 4 in The Netherlands, Radio Klara in Belgium, by radio and television companies in Croatia and Slovenia, and by Valley Public Radio in the United States. Urban is a commited teacher, having her own piano school in Amsterdam and giving masterclasses and lectures world wide. In Paris she has taught at the École Supérieure César Franck and the Conservatoire de Neuilly. In 2012 she was artist-in-residence at California State University in Fresno. In 2010 Biljana Urban released an acclaimed recording on Naxos [9.70120] of the piano works of her grandfather Jan Urban. Her first album of Voríšek’s Complete Works for Piano, released on Grand Piano, was recognised as one of the best albums of the year by Culture Catch.

p

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of which works are you most proud?

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

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

How would you characterise your compositional language?

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

How do you work?

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

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

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

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

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

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

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

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

Primarily outside.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

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

What do you enjoy doing most?

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

What is your present state of mind?

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

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


D0f5cS9XQAAOaoG

 

 

(Photos by Özge Cöne)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

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

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

Which particular works do you think you play best?

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

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

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

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

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

Who are your favourite musicians?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

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

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

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

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

emmanueldespax.com

 

Artist photo: Luca Sage


If you enjoy the content of this site, please consider making a donation towards its upkeep:

Buy me a coffee

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

Growing up, I was an avid collector of records (even cassettes, as they existed then!). I remember the first time listening to the Rachmaninoff concerti, and falling in love with the monumental scale of the music. I was also extremely fortunate to have an inspirational mentor during my early study – Emily Jeffrey, who made it possible for me to have a career.

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

First, my teachers have been hugely important: Emily Jeffrey, as I already mentioned, and then Ronan O’Hora. I feel very lucky that both teachers allowed me to develop my own ideas. Masterclasses and performances with some wonderful masters have also been influential – in particular Richard Goode, Stephen Kovacevich, and Diego Masson. My family have also been incredibly supportive.

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

I think it is the things that affects most musicians – having to learn a great deal of repertoire at short notice, keeping your artistic integrity at the forefront, and finding time to deal with the business side of the career. On a side note, learning statistics for my doctorate (examining musical memorisation) was perhaps the most unusual challenge!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I hope that all of my performances have some kind of meaning or importance. There are a few that stand out. Performing recitals on consecutive days (with different programmes!) at the Barbican and Royal Festival Hall was an exhilarating – and exhausting – experience. At the end of my postgraduate study I also performed Messiaen’s vast tone poem Des Canyons aux Etoiles with the Guildhall Sinfonia in Milton Court – an absolute privilege!

My debut album is available now, featuring the solo works of Boulez, Dutilleux and Messiaen. It’s an exciting project supported by the City Music Foundation.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I have an affinity for French 20th-century repertoire: Boulez Notations, Messiaen Des Canyons aux Etoiles, Dutilleux Sonata. Beethoven Sonatas are also the works I return to the most. Variety is important!

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

There’s so much to choose! I generally try to pick one big work and try to build something interesting around it, often combining with some contemporary repertoire. Next up is Beethoven Op. 110.

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

I’m very fond of Milton Court – as it feels sort of like a second home from my study at Guildhall. The Bridgewater Hall and Wigmore Hall also.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Richard Goode, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Oliver Knussen, Paul Simon

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing Stravinsky’s Les Noces in a huge barn in France with some wonderful colleagues stands out. It was so cold that everyone had to wear thick coats, and there was grain and machinery everywhere. Despite this, it was a great concert!

From a listener’s perspective, Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s performance of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards at Milton Court in 2016 was indescribable.

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

Be comfortable in your own skin, and keep learning!

What is your most treasured possession?

Friends and family.

 


Praised as a pianist of “huge intensity” (The Telegraph), Alexander Soares is developing a reputation as an artist of formidable technique and virtuosity, with performances of “diamond clarity and authority” (BBC Radio 3 ‘In Tune’). In 2015, his performance in the BBCSO / BBC Radio 3 ‘Boulez at 90’ celebrations received widespread critical acclaim in the press, described as a “brilliantly unbuttoned account” (The Sunday Times) and “most memorable of all” (The Financial Times). The 2014-15 season began with a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the rarely heard piano repertoire of John Tavener, and included Alexander’s debuts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the latter performance applauded for its “explosive sound world, pulling out a rich array of colour and texture” (The Herald). He was awarded 1st prize and Gold Medal in the prestigious Royal Overseas League Competition, and was subsequently selected as a 2015 Artist by City Music Foundation. 2016-17 highlights include returns to Wigmore Hall, St-Martin-in-the-fields, St. James’s Piccadilly, and Alexander’s debut in the USA.

Contemporary French repertoire forms a major part of Alexander’s programming. Since a U.K. première of Tristan Murail’s work in the BBCSO Total Immersion series, he has performed this repertoire in his debut recitals in the Royal Festival Hall, the Purcell Room, and the Bridgewater Hall. In 2014, he collaborated with Diego Masson performing Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Étoiles in Milton Court Concert Hall. The following year, he performed Boulez’s Dérive with David Corkhill in LSO St. Luke’s. He worked with the renowned recording producer Andrew Keener to record his debut album of solo works by Boulez, Dutilleux and Messiaen.

A keen chamber musician, Alexander has performed on numerous occasions in the Barbican, working with notable artists such as Boris Brovtsyn and Alexander Baillie. Collaborating with violinist Mihaela Martin, he debuted in Spain at the Palacio de Festivales, Sala Argenta. He has also toured France, in venues including Auditorium St. Germain and Opéra Rouen, performing Stravinsky’s Les Noces on Pleyel’s original double grand pianos, manufactured in the late nineteenth century. Alexander has greatly benefitted from the guidance of pianists including Richard Goode, Stephen Kovacevich, Stephen Hough, and Steven Osborne.

Alexander graduated with first class honours from Clare College, University of Cambridge. He then pursued postgraduate studies with Ronan O’Hora at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, achieving a Master’s with Distinction. In 2015 he completed a doctorate investigating memorisation strategies for contemporary piano repertoire, under the supervision of Professor Daniel Leech-Wilkinson. He is most grateful for generous support from the Guildhall School Trust, Help Musicians UK, Countess of Munster Trust, Martin Musical Scholarship Foundation, Park Lane Group and Making Music. 

www.alexander-soares.com

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

There are no musicians in my family. My parents enrolled me in a music school when I was five and there I started discovering this world from scratch. I chose the piano from the beginning because it was a magnificent instrument with a huge range of registers and possibilities.

Over the years, my interest for music kept growing and I started expanding my skills. I began playing the drums in a band, I learned how to play the guitar, I became an active member in several choirs and I composed. Although I was still pursuing my main musical studies in piano, all these new experiences enriched my relationship with music and allowed me to gain new perspectives that probably I wouldn’t have had if I had solely focused on a ‘keyboard’ approach.

Nevertheless, when I started my Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics I had to prioritise and I eventually ended up focusing on the piano. During my undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the Catalonia College of Music (ESMUC) and the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London, my personal commitment to performing became even stronger and determined my pursuit for a career as a pianist. However, if I have to say what really inspired me, I think that is becoming addicted to the excitement of creating a live performance on stage that is different every single time.

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

My musical taste has changed a lot and I have admired and worshiped artists and bands from all sorts of musical genres: rock, punk, pop, indie, funk, jazz, and of course, classical music. Playing different instruments and styles also allowed me to experience those genres from inside, and that significantly made a difference for me. With time, classical music became the main influence, but I have remained open-minded.

Glenn Gould’s distinctive recordings was one of the earliest and more determinant musical influences for me. I found it tremendously compelling that he could play so rationally, while being extremely creative and artistic. A model that pushed me to find my own voice between mathematics and music. I truly admired his originality of thought and his conviction to build a controversial but unique sound world. Another was Friedrich Gulda, and his incredible range both as a classical and jazz pianist.

However, probably the most distinctive revelation for me was to discover the masterpieces from the 20th and 21st centuries, too often neglected by the conservatoire’s tradition. A repertoire that I felt artistically closer to and that stimulated my curiosity to work and premiere new music by living composers. Each collaboration challenged and transformed my understanding of music, especially for the core repertoire.

Probably the musician that has influenced me the most and the one I’ve been studying the longest with is my piano professor at ESMUC, Jean-François Dichamp. He taught me a very solid technique and an extraordinary musicality which significantly transformed me as a performer. While studying with him, I fell in love with the music of Messiaen and Dutilleux, and, as a consequence, I started exploring further the more recent French repertoire to which I dedicated my first album ‘The French Reverie’.

My piano professors Jordi Vilaprinyó and Stanislav Pochekin were also a determinant influence and, along with Jean-François Dichamp, have been my mentors over the years.

During my Master’s at the Royal College of Music I specialised in contemporary repertoire with Andrew Zolinsky, where I had a wide range of performing opportunities that allowed me to reinforce my experience with new music. I also became acquainted with Crumb’s, Stockhausen’s and Lang’s piano music which became an important influence for me.

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

There have been many, but probably one of the craziest ones was to combine simultaneously a Bachelor’s degree in piano performance and a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics at two different universities.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My first milestone as a professional musician has been without doubt the recording of my debut album ‘The French Reverie’, featuring works by Messiaen, Dutilleux, Manoury, Escaich, Ben-Amots, Järventausta and Djambazov. It has been a risky project because I chose non-standard repertoire by mostly alive composers. However, before I recorded it, I visited and played for all of them, and precisely for this it has become an exceptional and unprecedented experience.

In addition of recording, I have also been the producer and the fundraiser of the album, which was generously supported by 208 patrons from 28 countries across the five continents! Although at the beginning it was scary, it allowed me to gain a lot of insight on the music industry and which strategies work to engage an audience and the press to promote your project.

At the moment, I’m currently planning a concert tour of the countries of the composers involved: France, Finland, Bulgaria, Israel and USA, along with Spain and the UK.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that what I play best is the Contemporary Classical Repertoire, especially because it is what I enjoy the most to perform. Also, Debussy, Ravel, Falla, Brahms and Bach.

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

I have a huge predilection for rhythmical pieces, so I always try to include some in my repertoire. Above all, I focus on finding or selecting works that I’m looking forward to play and try to arrange them in terms of a story or a concept. I also try to link major works from the core repertoire with masterpieces from the 20th and 21st centuries.

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

I like to play in venues in which architecture has a strong artistic component. I think it adds an additional layer of spirituality to the performance. However, any venue with good acoustics, an enjoyable piano and a receptive audience is equally special.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Miles Davis, Hayk Melikyan, Alicia de Larrocha, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Maika Makovski, Martha Argerich, Glenn Gould, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Grigory Sokolov, Daniil Trifonov, Ivo Pogorelich, Elliott Smith, Zoltan Kocsis, Malena Ernman, Valentina Lisitsa, Sviatoslav Richter, András Schiff, Bill Evans, Maria Callas, Evgeny Kissin, Belle and Sebastian, Cecilia Bartoli, Friedrich Gulda, Art Tatum, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Lennie Tristano, Arcadi Volodos, Hole, NOFX, Art Blakey, Murray Perahia, Pearl Jam, Muse, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Leonard Slatkin, William Bolcom, Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Anna Netrebko, Renée Fleming, Simon Rattle, Joshua Bell and Isabelle Faust.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It is really difficult to choose a single performance because each one has something special. However, maybe one of the most distinct and unforgettable experiences I had is when I performed George Crumb’s Makrokosmos I. This is a set of twelve pieces, each one dedicated to a different sign of the zodiac, meaning that you have to portray a different character in every single one. With this work you cross all possible boundaries as a performer and you create an outstanding sound world. It literally transforms you into someone else and you discover that you’re capable of leading and communicating with the audience in ways you never suspected.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think that you can consider yourself successful when you don’t need to compromise your artistic aspirations to make a living. When you are doing exactly what you want, and you get a positive response. For me, success is not about money or becoming famous. It is essentially feeling self-accomplished and to have the necessary public recognition to develop your own projects.

It is also having the certainty that with your job you’re making a difference in your field in something that you feel passionate about. To be able to communicate that to others.

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

I think it is extremely important to think about why you want to become a professional musician and what could be your contribution. In other words, to be creative, to question general assumptions in your field and to find your own voice. And above all, to be patient, proactive, persistent and determined to work hard.

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

Hopefully having an established career as a musician and with lots of ideas and projects in mind. Ideally, being able to travel and to work with inspiring people.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I tend to agree with Zygmunt Bauman when he states that happiness is the result of fighting and overcoming difficulties. Personally, I like challenges and absolutely love the feeling of accomplishment when I have been able to achieve my goals. Probably that’s why I have such a predilection for complex repertoire too. I think that perfect happiness is the result of having an enthusiastic and healthy ambition.

What is your most treasured possession?

Although it is not strictly a possession, I would say time. You can achieve anything with it and is something that money can’t buy. Everything I’m proud of and every unforgettable experience I have is a consequence of having had the time for it.

 

Laura Farré Rozada’s debut album The French Reverie is available now. Further information

 


Laura Farré Rozada is an award-winning pianist and mathematician specialised in contemporary music. She is currently based in London, where she recently completed her Master of Music degree with Andrew Zolinsky as an RCM Patrons’ Award Holder. She previously graduated with Distinction from her Bachelor and Master piano studies with Jean-François Dichamp at ESMUC (Catalonia College of Music), and from her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at UPC (Polytechnic University of Catalonia). She obtained several Distinction Awards in all her studies.

Read more