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

I must say, I don’t know… My parents, although not musicians, are very musical. My father composed some songs for my mother to sing with his guitar accompaniment. There was always much music in the house, mostly classical and what in Russia is called ‘bard song’.

There also was an upright piano and I well remember I was fascinated, enchanted by the sound of major third.

But in the end it all might be even simpler and a bit embarrassing. I was about 6 years old and I went to a symphonic concert to hear a violinist playing. She was wearing a purple velvet dress, a rather unbelievable hue of purple. I thought I’d never seen a colour more sumptuous…and I decided I wanted to play violin. That’s how my path in music started – I am afraid, because of a velvet dress!

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

I am easily influenced in the sense that I am easily fascinated, easily enthused about things. In a way, this can be a disruptive quality sometimes – one needs, perhaps, some distance with the subject to get to the core of it. Inevitably, the list of musicians who left their imprint on my playing is long and eclectic.

My first great musical idol was Sviatoslav Richter. Of course, I heard his recordings very early on, but I “discovered” him in my teens. I then first understood what a word “musician” means, or should mean. A few years later I was struck by Theodor Currentzis who came to my home town in 2004 to start Musica Aeterna. I never knew before how hard one can work and how far one can go in carving ideas and reaching one’s vision. Yet later on I subsequently worshipped Mikhail Pletnev, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, then Maria João Pires with whom I studied, and Graham Johnson. During my years at the Moscow Conservatory I was very much under the spell of one of my mentors, Pavel Nersessian, a formidable personality and a very unique musician. Lately, however, I feel more and more that I am influenced, inspired or fuelled by things outside music, be it painting, photography, dance or fashion.

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

The challenge which perhaps is quite specific for the time we live in is to pace oneself and allow the music enough space and time to grow naturally. It is extremely important, but it takes quite some effort to avoid temptations and sometimes work hard against the flow.

Yet a greater challenge is to always try and see – artistically – things as they are, not what you expect them to be. It’s hard work overcoming your own knowledge and experience. It is a paradoxical but, I believe, a necessary task for any artist at some point.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Perhaps, the Louis Couperin disc was altogether the most ambitious and challenging recording project to date. In Russian we say: “To push a camel through an eye of a needle”. That’s what it was.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The ones that I am deeply in love with at the given moment.

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

The repertoire choices are painful…. I have big appetite for repertoire, but a pianist has to set the priorities clear early enough as Alfred Brendel once said to me. You learn to live with the thought that you won’t be able to play everything you want, in a lifetime.

Usually, there emerges a certain theme, or a composer, or a piece which attracts me. I then start searching for a concept that would be strong enough to construct a program around it. It is curious that at a certain point there is always an element of surprise, a moment of spontaneity when you suddenly see the possibilities that you didn’t expect at all at first. It’s important not to miss that moment.

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

Perhaps I enjoy the most playing at places that are not regular concert venues. When they sound good, of course.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My most favourite musicians are those that are fearless, selfless and inquisitive.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 16 years old I went to a music festival in Casalmaggiore. At one point with few friends we went on a day trip to Venice. As we were walking past La Fenice a friend from St Petersburg noticed that Grigory Sokolov was playing that very night. We went in and bought last tickets. I had not a slightest idea who he was. He went on stage and the instant before he started playing I knew I was about to hear something I’d never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is like food: the quantity and quality of it shapes you in a certain way over the time, whether you want it or not. Have too little or too much of it – and you will die, metaphorically speaking of course.

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

Funnily, my deep conviction is that no idea or concept of true artistic importance can be imparted or transferred. The real things are those that you grow yourself in your own garden, without anyone overseeing. In that sense art is the land of absolute sole responsibility. There is nothing that cannot be challenged, but in fact there is nothing that has to be challenged at all – quite simply, there really is nothing that is impossible, unless you’ve decided so.

Pavel Kolesnikov performs Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Britten Shostakovich Festival Orchestra who reach the UK next week for their inaugural UK tour from 17 to 25 September in Birmingham (17th September), Leeds (19th), Manchester (21st) and Cadogan Hall, London (25th September).

Pavel makes his debut at The Tetbury Music Festival on 5 October 2019. The festival runs between 28 September and 6 October – please visit www.tetburymusicfestival.org for more information and tickets


Since becoming Prize Laureate of the Honens Prize for Piano in 2012, Pavel Kolesnikov has performed around the world.  Significant recital and festival appearances include Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, Berlin’s Konzerthaus, the Louvre (Paris), Vancouver Recital Society, La Jolla Music Society, Spoleto Festival USA, Canada’s Ottawa ChamberFest and Banff Summer Festival, Plush Music Festival, and the BBC Proms.  Recent and upcoming orchestral appearances include London Philharmonic, Philharmonia Orchestra, Russia’s National Philharmonic, Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Pavel is also a member of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists for 2014 to 2016 and RCM Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow for 2015 to 2016.

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(artist photo: Eva Vermandel)

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

I took up piano as a hobby after my grandmother asked if I’d be interested in learning it. Growing up on a farm in southern Tasmania meant there wasn’t much else to do, so I said yes. I didn’t decide to pursue a career in music until the end of my school years, when the head of music suggested I apply for conservatoires in London.

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

Probably my dad and my teacher. The former because he is inadvertently responsible for much of my taste in music, and my teacher Joanna MacGregor because she allowed and helped me to take a path less travelled in my musical development (no repertoire is off-limits!), and instilled in me a passion for new music.

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

Moving to the other side of the world by myself at age 18.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I couldn’t say for certain, but in recent times I have been particularly pleased with a performance I gave of Michael Finnissy’s 2nd Piano Concerto with Ensemble x.y and An Assembly. Sometimes things do hold together when you need them to.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think I play modern/new music best, but I also like to think that I play Romantic-era works quite well too.

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

Briefly:

It depends on the concert and the context of the concert. One thing I hate vehemently is uninspired programming. A programme needs to be more than a series of pieces one after the other without connection other than ‘similarity’ or ‘contrast’. I like forming narratives, be it stylistic, historical, emotional etc. and I feel it is necessary to talk to an audience (either verbally or through your own programme notes) to offer this information, and offer an approach to listening. I strive to choose programmes that will be relevant to either the venue, the context of the concert or a featured piece. So this is primarily what drives my repertoire choices. It usually means I have to learn new pieces quite regularly, but that’s fine.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I couldn’t say, it would change from week to week or day to day even.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I don’t know, mostly because I have a bad memory. Although I once did a certain concert with a certain friend of mine where between us we performed about two thirds of Boulez’s output for piano(s) and in retrospect it was a completely ridiculous idea and I have no idea how we pulled it off.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Owning a home.

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

Do things other than music at least as regularly as you do music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t know. But I think if I owned at least three pianos, and a celesta, and maybe throw in a few harpsichords and/or a clavichord and a few other things with keyboards I reckon that would do for a start. You could ask me again then.

Joseph Havlat performs at this year’s Dartington International Summer Festival.

Further information


Joseph Havlat was born in Hobart, Australia, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London under Prof. Joanna MacGregor from 2012 – 18. Joseph has performed in major concert venues around the UK and in Europe, America, Japan and Australia as a soloist and as part of chamber groups and orchestras. He is a keen sock enthusiast and chamber musician, performing frequently with multiple groups – Tritium (clarinet) trio, Trio Derazey, Duo Ex Libris as well as the LSO percussion ensemble, with whom he toured Japan in 2018 giving the premiere of a work by John Adams. Passionate about contemporary music, he is a founding member and artistic director of contemporary music collective Ensemble x.y and is also an avid composer, having written for the aforementioned ensembles, among others. Having now graduated from the Academy, he is there serving as a Piano fellow for 2018-19, having also been a Chamber music fellow for the previous year.

josephhavlat.com

music.


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

My parents introduced me to several activities when I was very young; there was ballet and sports (I reached competition level in swimming). Music was already present in the house – my father was a surrealistic painter and always worked while listening to music in his studio. But it wasn’t until we visited a friend who owned a piano that the idea cthat I could start taking lessons came about.

Later on, growing up, I started making a selection, making my own choices. First, I decided to stop ballet in order to learn the violin. I was already leaning more towards music. But soon I realized that the piano was closer to my heart and my abilities, and at age 12 I told my parents I wanted to pursue music seriously.

Since then, and despite the many ‘detours’ and experiences I had – undergoing an academic course and taking a two-and-a-half-year break from music in my mid twenties –  an inner calling has always led me back to the piano and that motivated me to pursue a career in music. Intuitively, I understood that this professional path would satisfy the needs of my body, mind and soul at the same time. It is a balance of intellectual and manual work. Indeed, I perceive “art” in its full meaning, crystallized by the Ancient Greeks in the word τέχνη (technè), which gave our modern word “technique”, but, depending of the context, could signify both craft-like knowledge, skill and “art” – that is to say, the capacity to express emotions. Another ancient concept that I find particularly interesting to describe a musical career comes from Dionysius from Halicarnassus that talks about introducing “diversity into homogeneity”. What we do is every day the same,  it is never the same. The possibility to reinvent oneself daily and the freedom that it implies in music is something that I very soon understood I couldn’t live without.

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

I have always been in search of a mentor, and wasn’t fortunate enough to find one during my studies. Until recently I have been looking for someone to fit the role, and fate made me meet Jorge Luis Prats, who inspired me for years as a musician, and the polished the artist I wanted to be.

On a personal level, my father’s paintings, work ethic and dedication to art and beauty have been a huge influence in my approach to music. My mother’s sensibility and at the same time practicality helps me to look at the bigger picture whenever I tend to get stuck in small things and details, since I am an eternal perfectionist.

On a larger level, I want to stress that the other art forms have always been an influence on my musical life, and they help to nourish it. Amongst them, poetry – I write poetry myself in Italian, French and English – and dance, everything that has to do with the body’s movement, as for me music is movement, flow.

Nature too, as much as it inspired composers, is something I have to feel close to in order to create.

In the end, I was blessed by my father’s surrealistic philosophy and imagination, by the way he taught me to look at everything that surrounds me with a new and personal perspective, as a potential inspiration, to make it my own. And to take time. To be an observer and a listener. This are crucial components for me in order to be a good musician.

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

Having access to a piano. Having access to a good piano. Nothing is more frustrating than when you want to play or have to practice and you can’t.

Evolving in a very conventional and constrained world – especially in today’s music education system – when you are different and your approach is unconventional. So a real challenge was and is to make my path and my vision accepted and not to be judged for not having done or doing things that are “expected”. Being a free spirit in a way is a challenge in the “business”.

Accepting where you are, being patient in achieving your fullest potential and enjoying the process!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I can honestly say that I am never satisfied with a performance or recording. The ones that I am most proud would have to be the ones that involve the highest degree of challenge as this is a factor that helps me push my limits. As an example, a recent and improvised recording of 3 contemporary pieces by French composer Jean-Luc Gillet, during an artistic residency with him, done on an old 1984 Steinway that had a very uneven keyboard and piercing sound in the higher register and that hadn’t been played for 15 years. But at the same time that piano had a wonderful soul and sound signature. When I manage to reach new levels of interpretation on challenging instruments, that’s when I am most satisfied.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It tends to change, as it is deeply connected with one’s maturity and knowledge of certain pieces. But in general, the repertoire that explores the sound possibilities of the piano. I have more a sonic approach to the piano than a technical one. That’s why the virtuoso repertoire doesn’t speak to me as much. I can’t really speak of particular composers or eras, rather a way of writing music. When I see a score, I know instantly if it is music that I will play well. And this goes from Rameau, Scarlatti and Bach, through Brahms, Rachmaninov to contemporary music. Piano is an instrument-orchestra, and I like to play the composers that best keep that in mind.

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

My father always used to tell me that he had more ideas than he would ever have time during his life to paint them all. And he kept lists of all of them so he didn’t forget them and could come back to them later when he has the time or inspiration to accomplish them.

I feel the same about the pieces I want to perform. So I keep a list of composers and pieces that I discover year after year. And by looking at the list, I start creating connections. Sometimes it is between composers and then I would do some meticulous research to find the right pieces to put together. Sometimes, it is precisely while researching on a certain piece that I create connections with others I know or I read about those connections in the literature I am reading.

I particularly like to put unknown or forgotten pieces in my repertoire, and I love to collaborate with contemporary composers and premiere their works.

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

If I had the ideal concert venue, I know I wouldn’t feel the same in it twice. Acoustics are a very subtle matter. They can significantly change between a rehearsal when the hall is empty and the actual performance, where the filling of the hall with members of the audience can sometimes drastically modify your perceptions. For me it is also a matter of having or creating the right energy. Some venues have better “energies” than others, but the audience’s energy is equally important, no matter where you perform. In the end, because these are all factors that you can’t control, I’d like to think that the best concert venue has to be in the musician’s mind, in a process that is close to what Glenn Gould described in the way that you have to recreate a “good piano” conditions in your mind when you have to play on a not so good instrument.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who are passionate and have a “signature sound”. But in order to keep an interpretative authenticity, I don’t listen to classical pianists too much. I am fascinated by some conductors – Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel…

Outside the classical world, amongst the ones that I keep going back to and that have emerged as inspirational figures, I would like to mention: Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, jazz pianist, Estrella Morente, flamenco singer, Hayley Marie, lead vocalist of Australian indie rock band “The Jezabels”, the rock band “Dream Theater”, Lisa Gerrard, Rodrigo Costa Felix, fado singer, and many others…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One where I came out of my body and was able to watch myself perform from the outside, as if I was a spectator.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not just as a musician, but as an artist, the greatest success is when you make the audience feel something, when you surprise them, touch them, and maybe, through your art, make them discover something about themselves; when they walk out of the concert hall and they are a new person; when your art has an impact on someone’s life and is able to bring hope.

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

Humbleness. To be aware that everything has already been created, and the only approach possible to art is by being true to yourself and authentic.

And to not be afraid to question yourself and not always find the answers. And to take time. Even time off, if needed. Sometimes taking a break will make you evolve much faster afterwards.

Of course, as in all classical disciplines, an almost sacred devotion to music is necessary in order to do it justice (from work ethic and rigour, to the life sacrifices that a musical career involves, to achieving a mind, body and spirit balance…)

And to be smart. You are who you are without all the expectation and pressure or the perspective of what people think of you. Taking all that aside and really homing in on who you are and embellishing it with your craft is the way to go.

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

I live in the moment, and try to be as “present” as possible. I live from day to day and can’t see myself a week from now, let alone 10 years in the future!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be at peace with oneself. Live life to its fullest without having any regrets.

What is your most treasured possession?

My parents’ handwritten notes.

What is your present state of mind?

I am constantly in a meditative state of mind, with a flow of different thoughts in it.

 

 

Ida Pellicioli’s website

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.

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(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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of which works are you most proud?

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

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

How would you characterise your compositional language?

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

How do you work?

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

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

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

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

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

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

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

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

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

Primarily outside.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

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

What do you enjoy doing most?

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

What is your present state of mind?

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

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


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(Photos by Özge Cöne)