Tag Archives: interviews with pianists

Meet the Artist……Kathryn Stott, pianist

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(photo Nikolaj Lund)

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

I’m not sure I was particularly inspired by anyone at the age of 5, but we had an upright piano in the house as my mother gave piano lessons to little ones after her day job. I don’t remember she pushed me to start but I was easily drawn to the instrument and picked up the basics pretty quickly. I had no wish to sit there for hours on end, so I think my saving grace was being able to read music quickly and get on with whizzing through my little book! I’ve never felt that I made a conscious decision to pursue a career in music. I went to the Yehudi Menuhin School at the age of 8 and it just naturally led to studies at the Royal College of Music – actually I never felt there was a choice NOT to continue!

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

Although my lessons were infrequent with Vlado Perlemuter, he did influence me a lot in the way he approached clarity and intensity of sound. Nadia Boulanger influenced my ears to be as wide open as is humanly possible but the teacher who actually had the most profound influence, was Kendall Taylor who I studied with for 4 years at the Royal College of Music. He basically put me together after I had become very fragmented and most important, was the first person who believed in me. I’ve known Yo-Yo Ma for all of my adult life (and worked with him for 31 years) and without doubt he has influenced me tremendously, both as a pianist and a person.

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

I’ve had a number of challenges along the way. Perhaps the greatest was balancing being a mother and trying to maintain a focus on having a career which often took me away from home. My other great challenge was to accept I didn’t really like performing from memory and just deal with the fact I prefer using the score. I’ve now been doing that for about 20 years. I remember a promoter told me the critics would shoot me after I gave my first full recital using the score. It appears I’m still here.

You’re performing in the inaugural London Piano Festival in October – tell us about your programme?

I initially thought it would be a good moment to perform the Dutilleux Sonata again – a piece I absolutely love. I performed it for a whole season 10 years ago but then it disappeared from my repertoire until I recorded it for BIS 2 years ago. Then of course comes the question of what to perform with it. Somehow I couldn’t escape the idea of F sharp and now here we are with music by Ravel, Messiaen and Fauré. I’m often fascinated by keys and why music sounds the way it does because a composer chose a particular key. I think it will be interesting to explore the contrasts of F-sharp for an hour. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I don’t particularly dwell on whether I’m proud of something or not so there are probably performances which went especially well which I’ve totally forgotten about. I think I’m proud of the fact that I performed Rachmaninov’s 4th Concerto for the first time only a few years ago. As I get older, adding works such as this seem a bigger mountain than when I was younger, but I would have been gutted to get to the end of the performing road and never have played it…what a piece! Recordings – I’d probably have to say my complete Fauré for Hyperion. Not because I think it’s better than anything else I’ve done but it was such a beautiful labour of love to learn the complete works. I know I would play everything differently now but that’s how these things go. I don’t listen to my recordings – that’s for other people to do.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I think there are certain pieces I perform better now simply because I’ve had some life experiences which have definitely affected how I express myself. For example I feel I now play the Britten Concerto in a way which makes much more sense than when I was younger – same with works by Shostakovich. I have no idea really – my interest in repertoire is vast so sometimes it’s good to explore even if I don’t think it’s for me.

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

It depends on the season and what is generally going on. I always have a lot of chamber music in my season, so as that repertoire is not necessarily determined by me, I might decide my own recital repertoire according to other things in place. Concertos I don’t play as often and it’s always been rare to dictate repertoire. Then of course, there are festivals where you might have a million things to play in a short space of time. I try to think how I’m going to be able to prepare everything time wise and so some choices are made on that. It goes without saying that I’ve programmed or hinted strongly I want to play a certain piece just simply because I have to play it!

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

I don’t have one favourite but on the list would be Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for its beauty and history, the Concert Hall in Luzern for being contemporary but warm and Symphony Hall in Boston for its acoustic, relationship to audience and wood floor (stage) which tells a thousand stories. I generally dislike very high stages so even a great hall where I’m too far from the audience is not in my top ten.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

No favourites – depends what day it is. I love silence more and more but I love listening to Symphonic Music, Opera, Lieder –rarely piano music just for pleasure

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I don’t have favourites but I’m currently enjoying listening to Philippe Jaroussky.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

If you mean me performing then performing at the Hollywood Bowl with Yo-Yo and lots of lovely, wonderful Brazilian musicians. I remember we all held hands to take a bow and I said to guitarist Sergio Assad ‘remember where we are’. He knew what I meant. It was a happy evening for us all in an iconic venue. If the experience is me sitting in the audience – I’ve just been to my first Wagner Ring Cycle performed by Opera North. Truly memorable.

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

I always think it’s important for young musicians to find their own voice and I often discuss the concept of being true to ones self, to think about why they want to be part of the music profession and to try to balance the wishes of a composer with what they have to say as an individual. Learning to tell stories via their instruments is what I’m interested in and most important, I do like to stress we all mess up and performances are not ruined thanks to some wrong notes. In the end, I hope to help them be creative, independent, courageous and above all curious.

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

Anywhere where I feel to be alive and well

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

I don’t think it exists

What is your most treasured possession? 

My photo albums – I’m very nostalgic

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Walking in the countryside with my dog, Archie

What is your present state of mind? 

Always lots going on!

Kathryn Stott performs music in F-sharp by Fauré, Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleux as part of the inaugural London Piano Festival at Kings Place on Saturday 8 October.

Further information here www.londonpianofestival.com

www.kathrynstott.com

 

 

Meet the Artist……Belle Chen, pianist

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

When I was young, I was extremely shy around people. I felt more comfortable when I spent time at the piano, and the more time I spent exploring the sonic worlds of different composers and the instrument, the more I fell in love with music. Music became a vital way for me to communicate, and there were no second thoughts from then on pursuing a career in music.

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

As a pianist, my teachers and mentors throughout every stage of my development- Ian Fountain, Oleg Stepanov, Helen Dobrenko, and Neville Baird- have all shaped my sound on the piano and approach to classical music repertoire. I also look up to strong female role models during my period of learning- including the wonderful Joanna MacGregor who has been a real inspiration and who is ever so encouraging during my time at Royal Academy of Music, and the equally inspiring Natasha Vlassenko from Queensland Conservatorium.

Stylistically speaking, I listen to a very wide range of music and am constantly taking inspiration from great artists of other genres. For example, the structural construct for my new album ‘Mediterranean Sounds’ was inspired by Frank Zappa’s ‘Civilization Phase III’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. In terms of sound design, I also look up to Brian Eno and take inspiration from his treatment of sounds and samples.

When it comes to how the samples are integrated with classical music and performance presentation, I observe the practices of a wide range of artists (and their producers) and DJs ranging from Miles Davis, Gilles Peterson, George Benson, Quincy Jones, Gypsy Kings, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, right up to Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, and more recently the phenomenally talented Jacob Collier.

In the end, I am a bit like a sponge, always absorbing sounds and formulating new ideas to integrate these with classical music language. There are many influences on my music and sound- all important and always evolving!

I think equally as important as influences are the people and new friends that I encounter and meet while sourcing my sounds. I am always curious about people, and encounters often allow for a glimpse inside their respective worlds and lives. Observing people’s stories and shared experiences very often provide the fuel and motivation for my works.

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

I am a sensitive person, and it is always an internal struggle to stand strong and firm in my artistic visions amidst challenges and criticism, especially in my more experimental works. It has taken me a very long time to find a sound and style that is ‘me’- something that satisfied my need to create and communicate my own voice and experiences- and not merely perform the masterpieces.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

So far, I have been lucky with the attention that came from my first EP- ‘Listen, London’- which was an integration of sampled sounds captured around London with piano works by Poulenc, Sibelius, Liszt, Ginastera, and more. It has been a long hard road though, I remembered when I first showed it to a couple of people and recording stores, it caused them some very genuine confusion. “What, was this recorded in a car park?!” was one of the remarks… It was quite a challenge to power through the critical remarks in the beginning, as I had taken a leap of faith and poured my heart and soul into the project. But nevertheless, it was a great learning curve and I feel stronger as an artist because of this.

Since then, ‘Listen, London’ was handpicked by Brian Eno for Curator’s Choice in 2014 NOISE Festival, and then subsequently led to my recent win of 2015 London Music Awards’ Classical Music Rising Star Award. This year it was picked up by BBC Introducing, and aired on BBC 3, BBC 6, Classic Radio Finland and so on.

I am following ‘Listen, London’ up with ‘Mediterranean Sounds’- a concept album that integrates soundscapes in a slightly different manner that is less intense and more poetic than ‘Listen, London’. I am also immensely proud of ‘Mediterranean Sounds’- it has taken my 2 years to bring it into fruition!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I play the works that speak to my heart and personal experience the best.

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

Repertoire choices are often chosen after research and experimenting to find what fit the best in designing a particular experience through a programme.

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

I think my favourite concert venues are associated to the audience in it… I love all venues large and small, indoors or outdoors, when the chemistry and vibe between the audience and the stage is strong!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

When I was young, I listened to Ashkenazy’s recording of Rachmaninaff Piano Concert No. 2 & 3 with the Moscow Philharmonic a lot. It is partially because it was the first classical music recording that I owned, and it remains a recording that I hold close to my heart.

Right now on my iPhone music library are: Astor Piazzolla, Juan de Marcos & Afro-Cuban All Stars, Los Amigos Invisibles, London Symphony Orchestra, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Michael Kieran Harvey, Pascal Roge, Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band, Esperanza Spalding, Erykah Badu, St. Germain, The RH Factor, Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, Vikter Duplaix, George Benson, Jacob Collier, and a list of Greek folk music that I am currently investigating.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many! Vladimir Horowitz, Martha Argerich, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Brian Eno, Quincy Jones, and my more recent fascinations are as mentioned above!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been several memorable concert experiences- the hilarious moment where I tripped over my own dress on stage, the touching moment when I could hear an audience member sobbing from on the stage (I was relieved when she later told me it was because she was touched… phew), the sweet moment of a very young girl climbing onstage to dance to a waltz and handing me a flower that she had picked from the garden… in midst of the intense heat and humidity of regional Australia… and very recently the surreal moment of doing a sound-design & piano set at Latitude Festival in the middle of the woods…! There are many great memories.

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

Find your own voice.

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

I have a passion for travelling and exploring different cultures. I always source new audio and visual material when I travel and construct little pieces of sonic documentary as I go. I hope in 10 years time my portfolio will consist of sounds and works inspired by all seven continents!

Belle Chen’s new album Mediterranean Sounds was released on 8th September 2016

 

Spice Market in Istanbul x Fazil Say

Listen, London: The Opening (Poulenc)

 

Website/Social Media

http://www.bellechen.com

http://www.facebook.com/bellechenmusic

Twitter: @bellepianist

 

Winner of Classical Music Rising Star Award at the inaugural 2015 London Music Awards, Australian-Taiwanese pianist Belle Chen has been enjoying a busy international schedule, performing a diversity of programmes ranging from classical piano recitals, chamber music recitals, to experimental collaborations with sound design, visual art, theatre, and dance.

Belle is a piano soloist for the prestigious Park Lane Group Artists in their 2015/16 season. Her festival appearances in recent years include: 2015 Newbury International Festival, Deal Festival, Australia & New Zealand Literature Festival, Shanghai World Expo, Bloomsbury Festival, Taipei Fringe Festival, and Teneriffe Festival. In 2014 & 2015, she toured UK as pianist in Concert Theatre’s production of Romeo & Juliet/The Rite of Spring, and as a solo recitalist in Taiwan and UK.

Belle’s performances have also been broadcasted and featured by media such as BBC Radio 3, BBC China, Monocle 24 Radio, Classic Radio Finland, Classic FM, ABC FM, 4MBS, and Dateline (TV). Belle graduated from Royal Academy of Music (United Kingdom) in September 2013 with Master of Music in Performance with Distinction, and has since been handpicked by Brian Eno for as a winner of Curator’s Choice for Music Award at 2014 NOISE Festival, awarded the 2014 Finalist Award for The American Prize for Music in Chamber Music, and winning the 2015 London Music Award.

Since 2016, Belle has been endorsed by Arts Council England under the Exceptional Talent visa scheme. She is currently a guest lecturer in Multimedia and Piano Performance at the Royal Academy of Music, where she was previously endorsed as a Graduate Entrepreneur after her degree. Belle is the founding director of Eito Music, where she leads a new generation of self-producing talents in classical and experimental genres.

 

Meet the Artist……Finghin Collins, pianist

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(photo: Frances Marshall)

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

My family! I am the youngest of four children and when I came along my three elder siblings were all at it! I was dying to get started and at the age of three my eldest sister Mary (aged 13) started to teach me. At age 6 I won a scholarship into the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin to continue my studies with John O’Conor, but Mary also continued to coach me at home. And I haven’t stopped playing since! And I’m nearly 40!

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

John O’Conor was the most wonderful and inspiring teacher and mentor.  He taught me from age 6 to 22 – I did my bachelor degree in music performance under his tutelage.  He has also been extremely generous to me by promoting me to his many international contacts and has helped my career enormously.

Christoph Eschenbach also helped me greatly when I was in my early 20s.  I was selected by Menahem Pressler to play for him at a  public masterclass in Ravinia and Eschenbach was so impressed he invited me to make my American début with the Houston Symphony – and I subsequently returned to play with the Chicago Symphony under his direction  – that was an amazing experience!

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

Maintaining a high standard of performance throughout a gruelling schedule of concerts with varying repertoire.  I am very lucky to be very busy and I get through a huge amount of difficult repertoire and am constantly learning new chamber music scores (currently the Ligeti Horn Trio!) – this is all wonderful and I am very grateful to be so busy but it comes with great challenges, simply being on top of the music at all times! And the other great challenge for me is dealing with varying acoustics.  It makes it so much harder to perform when you are in a dry theatre! Sadly one cannot play at the Wigmore Hall all of the time!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My solo Schumann recordings for Claves Records.  They were the first really serious recordings I made and the whole process was so rewarding and fascinating.  So different to performing in recital. Hugely demanding in concentration but very satisfying when the final product sounds OK!

Which particular works do you think you play best?  

In solo repertoire, I think I am happiest with Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Chopin  – at least, at the moment! I have just recorded a new Chopin CD and I feel really comfortable in that repertoire. But I love playing Bach as well!

Paricular works that I feel I play best (reading the question again!) – Schubert Drei Klavierstücke D. 946, Brahms Two Rhapsodies Op. 79, Alban Berg Piano Sonata, Chopin Ballade No. 4.  Just off the top of my head! Other people may think differently! I often think we are perhaps not the best judges of our own playing??!

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

That is another great challenge.  It’s so hard to know what you will want to play 18 months in the future, or how you will get on with certain pieces.  It takes great courage (or foolhardiness?) to programme a very challenging work (for example the Chopin Preludes Op. 28) in a major venue (for example the Wigmore Hall)  when you haven’t ever played them before!

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

I’ve already mentioned it twice – the Wigmore Hall in London has got the most fabulous acoustic, and the feeling on stage is so rewarding and positive. I always feel I play about 10% better there than anywhere else! There’s just a feel-good factor, something about the sound that comes back to you on stage.  It’s the perfect size auditorium – for solo recitals at least, I’ve done very little chamber music there and no song! Hopefully in the future ! Another venue I’m very fond of – and proud of – is St. Mary’s Church in New Ross in Ireland, where we hold the annual New Ross Piano Festival in late September.  It has a most satisfactory acoustic and has been compared to the finest chamber halls in Europe.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Perform: see above.

Listen to: Brahms string sextets, Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin, Verdi opera, Mozart opera, Mendelssohn octet…

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gosh, where to start! There are too many.  I work with such a huge variety of wonderful musicians. For example, this summer I worked with a  wonderful Russian violinist Nikika Borisoglebsky, I’d never heard of him and he was amazing! I also worked with the Goldner String Quartet in Australia, who were wonderful, what a lovely experience! And that’s just picking two at random. At the moment I have a few projects with István Várdai who is a fabulous Hungarian cellist.  Over the past decade I have worked a lot with the wonderful French cellist Marc Coppey.  When it comes to starry pianists (if that’s what the question meant?!) – the usual suspects apply – Argerich / Perahia / Lupu / Uchida but possibly most of all Grigory Sokolov, who is extraordinary.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A recital by Grigory Sokolov in Switzerland (Cully Classique festival 2013 – it took place in a small intimate church with no more than 300 people) in which he played a most stunning rendition of the Hammerklavier Sonata.

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

Listen to yourself, listen to others, listen to other genres of music, be open to new ideas, play a lot of chamber music, go to a lot of concerts, don’t do too many masterclasses, don’t study until you’re 30, don’t do too many competitions, get out there and network and respond to emails in a business-like fashion!

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

Doing the same routine only better, still having lots of concert engagements, still travelling, still having an appetite for it all, meeting new people, playing new music, constantly striving to serve the music better and fulfil my potential. Keep communicating the central message of the music to our audience, whom we live to serve! Without audiences we are nothing!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Jumping off a boat into the green sea off a Greek island for a swim before drinks and dinner with a treasured friend (or two).

What is your most treasured possession?

My iphone.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Travelling.

What is your present state of mind?

Optimistic.

Finghin Collins has been Artistic Director of the New Ross Piano Festival since its inception in 2006. This year’s festival runs from 22-25 September. Further information here

One of Ireland’s most successful musicians, Dubliner Finghin Collins was born in 1977 and studied piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music with John O’Conor and at the Geneva Conservatoire with Dominique Merlet. Winner of the RTÉ Musician of the Future Competition in 1994 and the Classical Category at the National Entertainment Awards in Ireland in1998, he went on to achieve major international success by taking first prize at the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition in Switzerland in 1999. Since then he has developed a flourishing international career that takes him all over Europe, the United States and the Far East.

Finghin Collins’ website

Meet the Artist…… Charles Owen, pianist

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(photo: John Batten)

photo: John Batten

photo: John Batten

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

I gravitated quite instinctively towards the little cottage upright piano which we had at home when I was a child. Neither of my parents are musicians – vicar and teacher respectively – but both love music and encouraged my earliest fumbling attempts at the keyboard!

There was never an actual moment when I decided to pursue a career in music. It all happened very organically from the earliest lessons with a Hampshire County Award teacher  followed by a place at the inspirational Yehudi Menuhin School and then onto the Royal College of Music. I’ve never had any real doubts or regrets about following the musical path

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

Two exceptional pianists have guided my playing and approach to the piano and music making in general:

The wonderful Russian pedagogue Irina Zaritskaya taught me at the RCM in the early 1990s. She revealed and shared her special secrets into achieving pianistic fluency, a huge variety of touches and rich musical imagery. Her warm personality coupled with a generosity of spirit are qualities I remember and treasure.

I later had the privilege of working closely with Imogen Cooper on a wide range of repertoire. Imogen’s focus, intellect and sheer intensity of listening are truly exceptional. She demanded a greater sense of ‘digging deep’ into the scores, really focusing on long lines, balance of sound, projection, colour and style. All of the qualities that make her own playing so memorable and remarkable’

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

For me these are threefold:

Studying, developing and maintaining a huge range of music is a challenge for the vast majority of pianists. Tackling certain epic works such as Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ or Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto stand out in my mind as particularly demanding but immensely rewarding experiences.

The ability to cope with long journeys, strange environments and a wide range of different instruments, whilst always aiming to deliver the best performances is a perennial challenge!

Keeping a sense of long term perspective in one’s aims as a musician. Managing leaner times, dealing with difficult aspects of the music profession, remaining motivated and hopeful whilst keeping the flickering flame of that essential love of music alive and well’

You’ve recently announced the London Piano Festival with your duo partner Katya Apekisheva. Why did you decide to found this festival?

Katya and I have both attended many excellent festivals where various instrumentalists gather together to play chamber music.  In 2011 we were invited to the New Ross Piano Festival in Ireland where the focus was almost exclusively on pianists performing in solo and duo capacities. The atmosphere, camaraderie and sheer quality of the concerts there were very special indeed. 

After this positive experience, we decided to create something similar in the UK and were thrilled when Kings Place in London, with their pair of vibrant, contemporary concert halls, enthusiastically took up our idea. Pianists are destined by the very nature of the instrument to be solitary creatures. We hope to change all that for one dazzling weekend in October!

What are you most looking forward to in the London Piano Festival?

The Two-Piano Gala on the evening of Saturday, October 7th!

This mammoth concert will see the two Kings Place Steinway pianos placed together for an evening of piano duo music drawn almost exclusively from the Twentieth Century repertoire. Seven pianists including Stephen Kovacevich, the doyen of current players, will join forces in various duo formations to explore the riches, complexities and excitement of music for two pianos.  Rachmaninoff, Ravel and a world premiere by the superb American composer Nico Muhly, will all be on the menu.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

It is difficult to be truly proud of any particular performance or recording as so many aspects can always be improved upon.

Having said that, certain concerts where all the elements seem to combine do remain in my memory. Recent positive concert experiences include a Wigmore Hall performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet with the Takács Quartet, the Beethoven concertos at the magical St Endellion Summer Festival in Cornwall and a concert from last summer’s Ryedale Festival where I played the Goldberg Variations to a rapt, packed audience in one of Yorkshire’s grandest stately homes.

In terms of recordings, my have fond memories of a beautiful September weekend in Barnes when I recorded a solo Poulenc disc at St Paul’s School with super views across the Thames. I had just met my partner and was ‘walking on air’ at the time of the sessions. All that was back in 2003!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Another impossibly embarrassing question! If forced to answer, I would mention the Debussy Preludes, Bach Partitas, some of the big Schubert sonatas and of course my beloved Janáček.

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

I am not one of those musicians who has a clear plan for their whole playing career in terms of repertoire. Perhaps I should try to be!

I gravitate towards certain composers and their works rather as you may pick up a book from your packed library shelves. There is a little bit of divination going on here.

My aim is to constantly learn new works, to react to the suggestions of others and to regularly revisit pieces from earlier in life. Returning to these with new experiences and musical knowledge is one of the best aspects of being a full time musician. I’m becoming increasingly interested in contemporary music and feel excited to have recently worked with/recorded music by Jonathan Dove, James Macmillan and Nico Muhly

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

The Wigmore Hall for its sublime acoustics, stunning pianos and sheer history

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Concerto wise, I love to perform any of the five Beethoven, also the Schumann and Bartok’s 3rd. Plenty of two piano works are a thrill to play, particularly Ravel’s La Valse and the Rachmaninoff Suites. As a listener my list is utterly endless –  Bach Brandenburg concertos, Janacek operas, Mahler, Sibelius symphonies, Schubert & Schumann lieder, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright…

Who are your favourite musicians?

Alfred Brendel, Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Martha Argerich, Andras Schiff, Brigitte Fassbaender, Gerald Finley. Of those no longer with us – Carlos Kleiber, Claudio Abbado, Jacqueline du Pré to name just a handful

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Impossible to select just one! Perhaps the most unexpected was a performance in the South of France at the En Blanc et Noir Festival, Lagrasse where pianists perform in a semi covered, stone market place. I was giving my first ever concert of Liszt’s Anneés de Pelerinage, Switzerland and whilst launching into the octave deluge of ‘Orage’, a genuine summer storm raged overhead complete with crashing thunder and flashes of lightning. Perfect timing, coincidence and choreography!’

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

Commitment, passion, patience and a sense of giving your all to the works of the truly wonderful composers who enrich our lives.

On a practical front, each musician needs to acquire the essential knowledge of musical building blocks – harmonic movement, structure/architecture, a feeling for melodic shaping, precise rhythmic grasp – whilst constantly developing their abilities to listen closely to what is actually coming out of the instrument!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having clear headspace and a mind free of extraneous worries

What is your most treasured possession?

My 2009 Steinway Model B Piano

The London Piano Festival, a brand new celebration of the piano created by Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen, runs from 7-9 October 2016 at London’s Kings Place. Further information about the festival here

Charles Owen is recognised as one of the finest British pianists of his generation with an extensive series of performances and recordings to his name.

Charles has appeared at London’s Barbican and Queen Elizabeth Hall and regularly gives recitals at the Wigmore Hall and Kings Place. Internationally he has performed at the Lincoln Center, Weill/Carnegie Hall, the Brahms Saal in Vienna’s Musikverein, the Paris Musée d’Orsay, and the Moscow Conservatoire.

His chamber music partners include Adrian Brendel, Nicholas Daniel, Augustin Hadelich, Chloë Hanslip, Julian Rachlin and Mark Padmore as well as the Carducci, Elias, Takács and Vertavo Quartets. In addition he has an established piano duo partnership with Katya Apekisheva with whom he has recorded the duo versions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Petrushka

Charles studied in London at the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Royal College of Music with Irina Zaritskaya and later furthered his studies with Imogen Cooper and Valeria Szervánszky. He has won numerous awards, including the Silver Medal at the Scottish International Piano Competition (1995) and the 1997 Parkhouse Award with the violinist Katharine Gowers. A regular guest at many leading festivals such as Aldeburgh, Bath, Cheltenham, Leicester and West Cork , Charles has also performed concertos with the Philharmonia, Royal Scottish National, London Philharmonic and the Moscow State Academic Symphony orchestras.

Charles’ solo recordings include discs of piano music by Janácek, Poulenc and the complete Nocturnes and Barcarolles by Fauré. Together with Natalie Clein, he has recorded cello and piano sonatas by Brahms, Schubert Rachmaninov and Chopin for EMI.

Charles Owen is a Professor of piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

www.charlesowen.net

Meet the Artist……Roman Rabinovich, pianist

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(Photo: Robin Mitchell)

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

I come from a musical home, both of my parents are piano teachers. Music was everywhere around me when I was growing up.

You are also a composer and a visual artist. Can you explain the connection between your music and visual art?  

I’m a pianist who composes and paints. There are many parallels between visual art and music – tonalities, colours, textures, form/structure, proportions. One art form feeds the other. I’ve been drawing since I can remember myself. In recent years I’ve been creating a lot of digital art on my iPad. I also use the iPad to read music.

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

I was fortunate to have wonderful teachers. First, when I moved to Israel I studied with Arie Vardi; then with Seymour Lipkin and Claude Frank at the Curtis Institute of Music. They formed my musical understanding. Later on, András Schiff was very instrumental to my development. But perhaps the biggest influences are the personalities of the composers whose music I’m playing at the moment.

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

Finding mental space in the midst of traveling and playing a lot of different repertoire at the same time.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I don’t think too much about past performances.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It’s difficult to be objective about what I play best. I love many things and I have a big and eclectic repertoire, ranging from Couperin to pieces that I commission. I would say that right now I feel very connected to the music of Haydn and Schumann.

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

The process of putting together a recital programme is fascinating and at the same time can be quite daunting. The possibilities are huge. Firstly, I play music that I love and feel connected to. For example, at the moment I’m quite obsessed with Haydn. I’m working on 24 Haydn sonatas for the Lammermuir Festival in September. It is an enormous amount of work. This informed the last season, in which I programmed a different Haydn sonata in each of my recitals. I try to have a thread in my programs. It can be a thematic thread or motivic one.

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

I’ve played in many beautiful halls in Europe and in the USA. It is hard to choose one, but if I had to it would probably be Wigmore Hall. It is just such a gorgeous and intimate place to make music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To perform: anything by Haydn, Beethoven Opus 101, Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev concertos.

To listen to: Sibelius symphonies, Mozart operas, Bach cantatas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Bartok, Rachmaninov, Edwin Fischer, Schnabel, Szigeti, Furtwangler, Harnoncourt, Carlos Kleiber, Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

András Schiff playing Goldberg and Diabelli Variations, and Opus 111 for an encore.

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

Be patient and know your priorities in whatever you do.

Where would you like to be in 10 yearstime?

Wherever life takes me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being outside, either in the woods or the mountains.

What is your most treasured possession?

The present moment.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Making music.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious.

Roman Rabinovich - Papa HaydnRoman Rabinovich will be Artist in Residence at Lammermuir Festival, taking place from 9 to 18 September 2016 in East Lothian, Scotland. Alongside his concert series of 25 of Haydn’s piano sonatas, there will be an exhibition of Roman’s artwork. All of this art will be created especially for the project via iPad, inspired by Haydn and his music, and projected onto the wall. For further information about Roman, his art and performances at Lammermuir Festival, please visit his website: http://www.romanrabinovich.net

 

Meet the Artist……Frederic Chiu, pianist

rt2020130925_fr_s15_0003Who or what inspired you to take up the piano nd pursue a career in music? 

I don’t recall myself the beginnings of my musical studies, but it was my parents who made the decision. They loved Classical Piano, and specifically my father, who was exposed to the rigors of Classical Piano training through his sister. She had studied seriously in NY, and turned to teaching because of a hand injury.

Playing piano was part of the process of growing up and getting education – which also included school, sports, cub scouts, etc.

The idea of pursuing a career in piano evolved steadily and slowly, but unconsciously, on my part and on the part of my parents. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20’s that I consciously made that decision. By then, of course, I had already attended two of the greatest music schools in the world (Indiana University and Juilliard), played around the world, made recordings and had management! I realized that I could pursue a number of different careers, but that, given my training, playing the piano was the most interesting and rewarding path. From that point, I doubled down on my commitments and focus. And it hasn’t stopped since!

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

Having Classical music playing 24/7 in my parents’ house since before I was born made a huge difference. I still play some of those recordings virtually in my head. My brother (a 1st violinist in the Chicago Symphony) and I lived within music, not realizing how unusual it was to have that kind of upbringing. 

Each of my teachers brought me an essential element at the right time. I think about their teaching regularly as I continue down my path.

In terms of icons, I was most influenced by 3 pianists: Horowitz, who taught me what the piano can do, through his amazing recordings. Richter, who taught me how to position yourself relative to the music when performing. And Glenn Gould, who taught me why one should explore music and performance.

Later, when I was in Paris, I discovered Alfred Cortot, who embodies all of that. His words about music (and I feel grateful to have learned French, if only to be able to understand Cortot in his mother tongue) are able to describe music in a way that I have not found anywhere else.

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

Balancing career building with other aspects of life – family, health, friends, other interests. I often leave piano playing to the end, which is both a plus and a minus. A Minus because sometimes I don’t spend the time I truly should, when I truly should, focusing on career development, piano development, etc. It’s a Plus because, coming at the end of a long to do list, my playing really becomes a receptacle for all of the thoughts and ideas that the other activities inspired. It’s where I’ve always processed all of my thoughts and feelings, and I think it has become richer for that.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

That’s like – “Which of your children are you most proud of.”!! I can say something about every album that has come out!

Transcriptions: part of the leading edge of the acceptance of Transcriptions in the repertoire.

Complete Prokofiev Sonatas: Wow, I actually recorded this!

Mendelssohn Sonatas: So happy this is one of my best-selling albums – the music is amazing, confident, historically significant AND people recognized this.

Rossini Sins of Old Age: I learned how to produce an album (under dire circumstances!) through this fun, virtuosic recording.

Chopin Etudes Opus 10 and Rondeaux: A complete change in my approach to Chopin, plus doing the 2-piano recording, playing with technology!

Liszt Annees de Pelerinage: My first big concert in Paris was playing this cycle. So moving to get to put it down for posterity.

Schubert/Liszt Schwanengesang: Intermingling one of the greatest achievements of Liszt with some of the most important personal relationships in my life.

Reflections – Ravel, Decaux, Schoenberg: I consider this my greatest contribution to the part of programming – discovering Decaux and using those pieces to bridge the chasm between impressionism and expressionism.

Chopin Complete Mazurkas: Chopin possibly used every iteration of ¾ time available somewhere in this genre. I wanted to create a CD that could be compelling but also play in the background, and I think I succeeded.

Chopin Etudes Opus 25 and late works: Making a link between works of Chopin that have not been associated before. And being able to record the great late Chopin works.

Brahms Violin Sonatas (with Pierre Amoyal): Brahms Sonatas, what more need I say?

Grieg Violin Sonatas (with Pierre Amoyal): beautiful, unrecognized pieces. Pierre and I both entered into a world of discovery with this recording and bonded in a wonderful way.

Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet: My favorite recording of my own to listen to. The rhythms and melodies are endlessly fascinating and compelling, no matter how many times I listen.

Prokofiev Volume 5, early works: Fugitive Visions and Sarcasms – love the contrast between these two early works.

Prokofiev Volume 6: middle works: Obscure sets that are never played, but which illuminate an important time of Prokofiev’s life. It’s impossible to understand his music without knowing these works.

Prokofiev Volume 7: children theme: I have always loved music for/about children, and Prokofiev has a special connection to this theme as well.

Prokofiev Volume 8: a kind of wrap-up of the complete set, but includes the Choses en soi, which exemplify the turmoil within Prokofiev that eventually led him to return to the Soviet Union.

Prokofiev Volume 9: transcriptions: Includes my complete Lt Kije Suite, as well as the Divertissement – never played and beautifully complex.

Prokofiev Volume 10: Violin Sonatas: an important annex to the three “war sonatas” that tell an important part of the Prokofiev life journey in music.

Beethoven Symphony V – My first independently produced album, working with the great Judy Sherman. I felt great putting this together from A to Z.

Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals – so wonderfully fun working with David Gonzalez, story-teller.

Distant Voices – truly a revolutionary recording, using Disklavier technology to be able to produce a great audio CD AND an incredible video DVD and DisklavierTV show. This is the future!

Hymns & Dervishes: A successful Kickstarter project, this recording has been maturing in my mind for over 15 years, and will finally be out in 2016. The fundraising and recording processes have brought incredible depth and richness to the project, and to me in general.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I love Prokofiev, and feel I’ve aptly demonstrated how diverse and richly nuanced his music actually is, compared to the cliches that surround him and his work. In particular, perhaps the Toccata, Fugitive Visions, Sixth Sonata and Seventh Sonatas have most benefited from that. I would love to present the 4th Concerto more often. It’s not just a work for left-handed or Russian pianists!

I love Mendelssohn’s Opus 6 Sonata, and no one plays it, for some reason.

I love transcriptions, and hope I bring a special attention and passion for them in concert. I’m especially proud of my Lt Kije transcriptions.

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

I have some recurring themes and ideas – Prokofiev, Classical Smackdown, French impressionists, Transcriptions, unusual collaborations. I have the luxury of following my sense of where I am and where the world is. From the time I decided to forgo the competition circuit, the freedom of exploring and presenting repertoire has been wonderfully inspiring. That inspiration has continued to this day (almost 30 years). My choices almost always come from taking the perspective of the open but untrained listener, willing to take a chance with a new musical experience. This has a huge influence on my choice of repertoire and the structure of the programs that I put together.

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

My nostalgic favorite is the Salle Cortot, in the Ecole Normale of Paris 17th. I played there the first time in Paris, and have since played there over 20 times. It is a beautiful wooden hall that seats 440, designed by the same architect who went on to build the Theatre des Champs Elysées.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love to listen to jazz and Middle Eastern music. Things with a strong rhythmic element and an improvisational aspect. I relate to rhythm deeply, and I am terrible at improvising, so that is kind of aspirational to me! It puts together my best and my worst qualities in playing!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

My favorite musicians today? I think that I’m not that inspired by musicians in general. I feel much more like a conduit of other kinds of perspectives and thinking, and channeling them into my own music-making as a communication tool. I’m not a big concert-goer, but when I do go, it’s usually for friends, and I’m totally connected with them and the music-making experience.

If I had to name names, I would include Valery Gergiev.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One striking memory is my first exposure to Horowitz at Carnegie Hall. It was the premier screening of “The Last Romantic,” a concert filmed in his NY apartment, and a prelude to (one of) his return to the stage the following year. I remember the visual experience resonating with the sonic experience to make something so compelling, so hallucinating. It was my first time in Carnegie Hall. Everything came together that evening.

Soon after, I bought the soundtrack, and realized that, without the visual element, the performance was actually quite lacking in some ways. It was a ground-breaking discovery on my part

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

Be sure of your vision first, and then be open to others’ ideas. Bring your vision to others, but be ready to interact with their ideas. Not having your own values and vision means you have no convictions, an unclear profile. Not being open others’ ideas means you are just barrelling through life and not relevant.

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

Moving around the world, doing residencies that allow building musical relationships and programs with roots.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being with my wife with a group of friends.

What is your most treasured possession? 

None. I could see giving up anything as long as I’m healthy.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Reading and thinking.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious, fascinated.

Frederic Chiu’s intriguing piano-playing and teaching springs from a diverse set of experiences and interests: his Asian/American/European background, his musical training, and an early and ongoing exploration of artificial intelligence and human psychology, especially the body-mind-heart connection.

Find out more here

 

 

Meet the Artist……Andrew Matthews Owen, pianist

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

I fell into piano chamber music and accompaniment, whilst in the enrolment queue at Cardiff University, where I read music as an undergraduate. I was chatting to another first year student who I thought was very cosmopolitan and confident, a violinist, who wanted to perform the Grieg Sonata. Did I know it, he asked, and would I like to play it with him. Of course I knew the Grieg violin sonata, I lied, and I agreed to play it.
As we were the first in our year to play in a concert at university, a lot of people then started asking me to play for them too, which I did, with pleasure. I became a sort of default accompanist, which was no bad thing. This led to learning a lot of repertoire, and meeting some very lovely people along the way.

My earliest inspiration around this time was a fantastic pianist based in Cardiff, Michael Pollock. His first class playing aside, he also showed, by example, never instruction, how to work “with” your fellow musicians. Michael has this amazing ability to draw from people their best qualities, both as musical performers, and as individual personalities.

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

Three people have had a very strong impact on my musical life and career, after coming to London, where I studied at the Royal Academy of Music.

My teacher since I moved here, Christine Croshaw, has been a constant source of inspiration, support and motivation. She is the most rigorous musician I have ever worked with, but in the sense that she gently coaxes more and more from you. It’s only when you walk away, feeling a little light headed, that you realise you’ve been there for over two hours and have a mind full of ideas. Her own playing is also something quite magical.

I enjoy performing contemporary scores a lot. I love the complexity, but also the freedom afforded to us by a new score, which has no preconceptions attached to it. My first real foray into this world was when we had a work written for us by the late Alun Hoddinott, one of the leading British composers of his time. We quickly became friends. I enjoyed his kindness, his humour and of course, as Britten and Pears described, the ‘legendary hospitality’ of Alun and his wife Rhiannon.

Alun taught me that, as with the written word, the written note can only ever be a rough guide, and that often composers rely on us musicians to take a particular effect further than perhaps notation allows. He reminded me often, that once the ink is dry on the manuscript, the piece belongs to the performer, and we have to make as much of the music, as we think the music requires. It is a liberating concept which helps us try to create our own interpretations, and have belief in their validity.

My third and final influence would have to be a duo partner, as this is the work I do, mainly. The soprano Claire Booth and I have commissioned, performed and recorded together for over ten years. She has a phenomenal capacity for learning music at a very quick pace. Yet she is never satisfied with this. Claire always delves deeper and deeper into the music, until she finds what she believes is the point of the composer’s intentions. She is also an unflinchingly supportive colleague and friend, which I think you have to be when you put yourselves out there in performance or on record. It’s a question of trust.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I don’t think my challenges have been particularly great, or greater than those of my colleagues. I know my strengths and, like most musicians, I can give you a blow by blow account of my weaknesses.

I’ve never much enjoyed sight reading, which is weird for an “accompanist”. It used to be very good, until I started delving deeper into scores, wanting to understand them as well as, in my case, the singer I am partnering.

So, for me, as my own level of skill as a pianist increased, my sight reading seemed to fall back a bit. I can read through most scores at sight in rehearsals of course, but I don’t have the nerve to get up and sight read in public as some of my colleagues might. I have huge respect for this, but it’s not how I am wired. I need to “get” the score, and what the singer is doing, so I can have the peace of mind to sit back and react, in the moment, with my own technical trials mastered.
Navigating a route in this respect has been unique I suppose, but truthfully, every person has a unique carer route, be they musicians, lawyers or whatever. Just stay true to yourself, your strengths and work with these in mind.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

This is tricky as I listen to my own recordings with frequent coughs and uncomfortable twitches, as I hear things I’m not happy with. I would never listen to anyone else’s recordings in this way, just my own, so I’m not perhaps the best person to answer this.
Our recent CD of song cycles by Jonathan Dove has done very well, and I am pleased we did his scores justice, and that they are “out there” more now as a result of our recording.

As for a performance I am proud of, I suppose it would be a recital we did in 2013, at the Southbank Centre, to mark the Britten centenary. I had always wanted to perform the canticle for tenor, horn and piano, ‘Still falls the rain’ (Sitwell texts), and performing it with my longtime duo partner Nicky Spence and French horn Jedi Richard Watkins, in the city where the “rain” fell, was a moving privilege. I also played a large solo piece on this occasion for the first time, professionally and in public, which was written for me. It felt very strange walking out on to a concert platform alone, and yet also very free. I enjoyed it, and the piece went down very well (I’m recording it this year in fact) but I missed having someone else there to react to. Enough time is spent alone, practising, for me, so it’s a joy to rehearse and perform with another spirit on the platform

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Again that tricky to answer. Often we perform a piece in concert or on a disc, and what we think is “the” piece, that really shows what we can do, someone will say “yeh, that’s ok, but I LOVED this other one” and I think “really?!”.

I love anything contemporary by the composers I admire, but I also have a real passion for French composers, as their subtle complexity appeals to me. I love how an apparently simple gesture by Debussy sometimes involves huge technical, forensic (!), labour from the pianist. Yet the effect is almost nothing. This irony fascinates me, and I find it a little addictive.

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

Repertoire choices for me often come from singers, unless I am curating something, and I might be in a position to suggest some music, as well as take on new scores. A few nights ago Claire Booth and I performed Grieg’s ‘Haugtussa’ songs, with Folksongs by Percy Grainger and then melodies by Fauré. All of them were new to me, and they were just a joy to explore and perform.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love the Southbank Centre, and always enjoy playing there. The audiences always seem open to new ideas sitting alongside something “established”. After concerts they often come up to me and say something so perceptive: “wow, the Knussen and Debussy worked well…some of those Debussy harmonies could be contemporary…” And I think how absolutely spot on that comment is. Great music often transcends period, or time. Occasionally, one of my Trinity Laban students will play some Bach, and I am astounded at how outrageous some of the harmonies are even in 2015. I often think listening to his music is like hearing something in 3D, so I can’t imagine how it must have sounded at the time Bach was actually writing it. Mesmerising.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians. So many inspire me, from legends who are seemingly untouchable, to a student in my performance class who might play something in a way that’s so “right” that I am amazed.
But in terms of people who I turn to, or listen to, for inspiration, the first names that come to me are Martha Argerich and Jacqueline du Pre. They have such immediacy., even when coming out of speakers.
As musicians there are thoroughly prepared technically and just let it go. By nature they remind me of a great jazz musician, like Oscar Peterson or Ella Fitzgerald, who have total technical command but allow themselves to play in the moment, almost unplanned. Thrilling.

As Claudio Arrau observed, when we walked on to the concert platform, ‘I don’t know what will happen, but I trust it will be wonderful’. Of course he means the experience. He allowed himself to react to that experience, trusting he had the tools.

As I work with so many singers, I have to say that the late Welsh soprano, and compatriot, Dame Margaret Price, is an artist who had the ability to sing Schubert lieder, Dove sono or Verdi Requiem, and control her voice for each so that it was absolutely “right” for that particular piece of the repertoire. Her sound, basically, was double cream, served in a cold silver jug, presented on a velvet cushion. Rich, beautiful, but with a slight, and quite wonderful, edge.

Of the people I have been fortunate to work with personally, I love Christine Croshaw’s ability to suspend time, Roger Vignoles’ conductor-like sense of space and breadth, and Patricia Bardon’s gloriously fruity mezzo. There are so many more, but we have a word limit here I’m sure…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable experience, was giving the premiere of Hoddinott’s last work for voice and piano, which he wrote for Claire Booth and me, with Michael Pollock joining me for the piano duet accompaniment. Towy Landscape, was written towards the end of Alun’s life, and the work’s sentiments reflect this; it was also one of the last premieres of his own music that the composer attended. That particular evening seemed to bring together a few personalities who mean a lot to me to this day.

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

Know what your strengths are, trust them, celebrate them, and seek to develop them further. Remember, music is not a career, it is an addiction. There is no career path, no pension plan or guaranteed salary increase every 12 months. Today’s musicians must be performers, coaches / teachers, curators, producers. It is all connected, it is valid work, and each skill will inform the other.

Be versatile, open minded, work hard and be a good colleague.

What is you idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness for me is a good meal and glass of wine with someone I love, with not a piano in sight.

Andrew Matthews-Owen is among the most sought after collaborative pianists of his generation, regularly appearing in concert, and on commercial recordings with some of the finest classical artists of our time. Recent engagements include appearances at the Southbank Centre (Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room), Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, Birmingham Symphony Hall, St. David’s Hall, Warehouse and National Portrait Gallery with singers including Patricia Bardon, Claire Booth, Anne-Sophie Duprels, Helen Field, Gail Pearson, Natalya Romaniw, Nicky Spence, Katie Van Kooten, Sir Willard White, French horn player Richard Watkins, percussionist Joby Burgess and the Allegri and Brodowski String Quartets.

Andrew broadcasts for BBC Radio 3, most notably from a Purcell Room concert, on St David’s Day, which included the London Premiere of Alun Hoddinott’s A Contemplation upon Flowers with his regular duo partner Claire Booth. Andrew’s debut CD of song cycles by Alun Hoddinott (Naxos) was ‘Recommended Recording of the Month’ in Gramophone magazine, and a recent disc of world premiere recordings of song cycles by Jonathan Dove (Naxos) was Editor’s Choice in Gramophone magazine. Andrew will feature on a Debut Disc being released in 2014, for the NMC label, with soprano Claire Booth. His recordings are frequently broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM.

A passionate commitment to contemporary music has seen Andrew commission, and give first performances of, major scores from some of the most distinguished composers of the 21st century including Michael Berkeley, Charlotte Bray, Philip Cashian, Laurence Crane, Jonathan Dove, Alun Hoddinott, Simon Holt and Arlene Sierra. Andrew studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was recently elected an Associate, generously supported by the RAM Trust, S4C Wales Television, Sir Edward Heath, Coutt’s Bank and the Rayne Foundation. He has also studied privately with Christine Croshaw, Roger Vignoles and Eugene Asti. Competition successes include a coveted Sir Henry Richardson Award for Accompanists (MBF/Help Musicians), John Ireland Trust Prize, Elisabeth Schumann Lieder Prize and the Ryan Davies Memorial Award. Andrew was recently honored, with the inaugural T.Glanville Jones / Leo Abse and Cohen Award, by the Welsh Music Guild, for his ‘Outstanding Contribution to Welsh Music’.  Andrew is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.

www.andrewmatthews-owen.com

Meet the Artist……Caterina Grewe, pianist

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Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career? 

There are no musicians in my family but we always had a piano at home (my mother played as a hobby pianist) and my older sister was also having lessons, so I started playing as soon as I could climb onto a piano stool. I didn’t decide to become a professional pianist until quite late – I was 16 when I was in professional environment for the first time at Chetham’s School of Music and knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

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

My most important influence in my musical life was definitely my time at the Royal College of Music. I really feel that I met many of the most important people in my life today there and that I found myself as musician, pianist and person in the seven years I studied at the RCM for.

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

I think the greatest ongoing challenge for a musician is to be able to accept that each piece of music you choose to play is a life-long work. You will never be entirely content with what you have achieved at the time or when you come off stage. You always strive for something better – but in a way, it’s also the beauty of music making.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

My debut album for the label KNS Classical is very exciting. I recorded a disc with two major works by Schumann (Sonata No.3 and ‘Davidsbündlertänze’) which are both very special to me.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I can identify myself most with the German Romantic repertoire. I always felt that the music by Brahms and Schumann were very innate in me. But I also enjoy playing many works by Liszt and much of the Russian repertoire. I have been able to explore much of this with my professor and long-term mentor Dmitri Alexeev.

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

I tend to have long-term projects for the next few years and I usually combine these with my current interests. I always think that coherence or an inner connection of works in a recital programme is very important.

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

I don’t necessarily have one favourite concert hall but one of my favourites is definitely the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg. It’s a beautiful hall with a wonderful acoustic and it brings back great memories as Hamburg is the city where I spent most of my childhood.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Currently works by Schumann and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. I always love working on every programme I choose for each season. For listening it’s perhaps slightly different – I tend not to listen to that much piano music. I mainly listen to orchestral and chamber music and operas. I do occasionally enjoy listening to Jazz as well.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Many great artists from the past have given me much inspiration over the years, it’s impossible to list all of them but there are a few that I would single out: Furtwängler, Edwin Fischer, Sofronitsky, Kempff to name a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The most memorable concert I have experienced was a piano recital by Radu Lupu in Brighton where his rendition of Schubert’s Sonata in A D959 was beyond description..…

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

First and foremost, to choose music as a career for the right reasons – one must love music to the extend that you could not live without it. Being creative, imaginative and respectful towards the music you are playing.

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

Having the freedom to combine concertizing, teaching and family life.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To lead a harmonious life where I can enjoy music and family life to the full.

 

Caterina Grewe’s debut solo album of piano music by Robert Schumann is available now on the KNS Classical label. More information

German-Japanese Pianist Caterina Grewe, born in Tokyo in April 1988, has performed to great critical acclaim throughout the UK and continental Europe as a Steinway Artist.

More about Caterina here

Meet the Artist……Ian Pace, pianist

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

My parents bought a piano, at first just as a piece furniture, when I was aged 6, and (so I am told!) I asked them ‘When am I going to have lessons?’ They said ‘Oh, hadn’t thought about that’, but I went to lessons with the local piano teacher (in Hartlepool), Christopher Simmonds, who was great in many ways. Within a year he could see that I had the potential to go places, and I went to Chetham’s when I was 10.

But I got inspired to really go with it mostly through taking music out of my local library and bashing through it at the piano, as well as listening to lots of recordings. I bashed my way through the whole of the Ring cycle, and lots of other operas, and got absolutely hooked. And then at around age 10, I first heard music of Stockhausen, Cage and Messiaen, and was instantly transfixed (I also read the Richard Kostelanetz volume on Cage which was available then, in the late 1970s). I just found a world of the untethered imagination there which was unlike anything else I knew in life. I was equally interested in composing in those days, too. Nowadays, composing is very occasional, but I do have plans to do more at some point when time permits!

I was very inspired by listening to a few pianists at an early stage – Brendel, Barenboim (I still love Brendel in particular); later on I got to know a much wider range, and was transfixed by Horowitz, Cziffra, Rosenthal, Hofmann, Gieseking and various others. But listening to recordings of Furtwängler and Karajan conducting Beethoven, Wagner, Musorgsky, Strauss, and so on, was every bit as important.

I think I just naturally took to the piano as an instrument – I could do a lot on it without it being too difficult at an early stage, though it was later that I really refined all sorts of technical things.

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

Too many to mention! I would like to try and honestly say something about how humanistic and socialist values are the most important influences, right down to how I play music, but that might sound very loaded. In some sense which is very very important to me, I want as a musician to somehow expand, even if only a small amount, the range of experience, consciousness, thoughts, desires, feelings, ideas, available in the cultural realm, to as many people as possible. This is of course a huge ambition, only ever likely to be achievable with a relatively small few, but that is still valuable. I play, and play in what some would say is a relatively uncompromising manner, because I believe in humans, believe in listeners, believe in their potential. I despise elitism for its own sake, but equally despise dumbing-down, and those who claim to be on the left who think culture should be reduced to a lowest common denominator in the name of some pseudo-egalitarian notion of ‘accessibility’. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why a relatively average human being (if such a person exists!) could not engage with music of Lachenmann, or Ferneyhough, or Nono, or Finnissy – or late Bach, late Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Schoenberg, Ornette Coleman, or whoever – if they are open-minded and prepared to put a bit of effort in. I came to all this stuff for that reason – it certainly was not instilled in me through canonical education or anything like that. The same is true of the most advanced literature, film, theatre, painting or other artistic medium.

I am an academic and university lecturer as well as a pianist, teaching a range of musical areas, not just performance-related. I cannot express how rewarding it is to me when I read essays from students, many of whom have only had a relatively limited exposure to music and ideas thereof upon coming up to university, writing intelligent and incisive essays on musical subjects. I can be uncompromising as a teacher as well – I do not wish to provide pre-digested ideas to be parroted unthinkingly, nor to preach some credo in order to gain followers. There are unfortunately plenty in higher education today who primarily look to students for self-validation, rather than looking to bring out creative and critical thinking in students themselves and listen to what they have to say; and towards that former end some teach via spoon-feeding in a way that to which some will respond positively. I just want to expose students to a range of music and ideas that they might not otherwise have encountered (and, alas, in many cases still will not even after a university education), and let them arrive at their own conclusions, even if they are radically different to my own. And in some ways I feel the same way about giving a performance – I do not really feel any need or desire to win listeners round to my own perspective, I just offer it up for them to arrive at their own perspective.

To answer this question more directly, perhaps unsurprisingly I would say that the most important influence on my playing was my main piano teacher, György Sándor, with whom I studied in NYC in the early 1990s. I discovered his book On Piano Playing: Motion, Sound and Expression when I was about 18, and it completely transformed everything about how I play, at least in a physical sense. I knew then that this was who I wanted to study with, where I would find what I had not found with previous teachers. I had no teacher for the next four years as I prepared above all to study with Sándor, and I was not disappointed at all. He was also a tremendously generous, warm, human being, entirely void of any type of affected grandeur, preciousness, or anything like that. We disagreed violently about various things – he had no time for any atonal music, or much after Bartók, and also little time for historically-informed approaches to performance. I did and do disagree with him strongly on both those things, but still admired the coherence of his positions. As a teacher myself, I teach in a way based upon his pianistic methods, which I continue to believe are move valuable than any other systematic approach. Having spent a lot of time (not least in a scholarly context) studying other schools of playing, I see many of their limitations; some Russian schools preclude a pointed attack and to my mind rather restrict the range of articulations as a result, whilst some French schools (not all!) make a true legato impossible.

I could name any number of composers whose work has been an influence in one way or another, but that probably goes without saying; amongst performers, all of those mentioned above, and then very different ones including David Tudor, Frederic Rzewski, Andreas Staier, all sorts of singers, string players, conductors, and others, some pop and jazz musicians, lots of writers, film-makers, and so on. Overall – perhaps as a natural extrovert in some ways – I feel a natural empathy with all types of artists who I seem able to externalise somehow, and in whose work I find a type of honesty (a much maligned category, but which I continue to find meaningful – perhaps I might put it better by saying a quality of vulnerability?) rather than cynical calculation or preciousness. For those reasons I love the playing of Gieseking, or Charles Rosen, say, but have much less time for that of Alfred Cortot or Edwin Fischer or Samuel Feinberg.

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

There have been many. I like to think I am something of an idealist, though my ideals have changed or at least been modified over time (I’m 48 now, and think quite differently to how I did 20 years ago, say, though the underlying motivations are similar). I’ve always felt somewhat estranged from what I perceive as the rather precious and snobbish culture which surrounds classical music, and have sought approaches other from those which satisfy that culture’s concomitant expectations, but without this entailing musical compromise.

That has taken many forms, some of them hard-line to the point of belligerence, and sometimes led to some resistance. In some cases, deliberately avoiding a particular approach was interpreted by some as a simple inability to do it, which I don’t think was true, and I could get disappointed by this. I wouldn’t deny that I’m sensitive to criticism, though inwardly some of my own criticism can be as harsh – though not necessarily of the same nature – as that of anyone. Not that I expect everyone to like all I do (I don’t like everything I’ve ever done), by any means, but at least realise that this is a conscious choice rather than knowing no better. Towards the end of the 1990s, I moved towards more of an ‘anti-romantic’ position, with implications in terms of general approaches to articulation, voicing, pedalling, and so on (though with flexibility), at the same time becoming more deeply interested in historically-informed performance; in the mid-2000s I wanted to relax this more and more. Coming to terms with how one used to play, when things have changed, is not easy – and maybe my approach will change again?

Feeling truly at ease with concertising – at least as much as one can do (nerves never completely go away for me at least) – is not something I think I achieved regularly until the late 1990s, a little bit into my performing career. I made a lot of very significant technical adjustments when working with Sándor, and just sometimes, when very tense, I  found I might revert inadvertently to some of the bad old ways. In time, I came to see how this might come about, and which preventive steps to take in advance of a concert.

Overall, dealing with the internal politics of the profession, and some of the poison therein which exists, is very hard and wearing. The depths to which some people will sink shocks and upset me – for example when I heard one composer invent a story about another one’s father beating him up (definitively not true – that latter composer would have told me long before he told the other person) in order to portray him as mentally unstable. Certainly in the end the music we produce matters more than the musicians, but musicians are human beings, and it is far too easy to lose sight of this in the name of some elevated aesthetic ideals. Ultimately human interests do matter more than art.

In terms of academic music, I’m in many ways quite at odds with the dominant ideologies and approaches in a sizeable part of the Anglo-American world (perhaps less so with other schools from elsewhere). There is a good deal of musicology (though by no means all) which distrusts music and especially its particular quality of ambiguity, wanting instead to pin it down to firm, fixed meanings, or investigate anything except for the actual sounding music. And at the same time there is the strong presence of a market-based ideology, especially in the so-called ‘new musicology’, which is utterly dismissive of the idea that there could be any music with some degree of autonomy from commercialism, or that there could be any value in such a thing. As such, many academic musicians have put up little resistance to a lot of dumbing-down of wider education, not to mention cuts to public funding of classical music. Some will happily consign a good deal of Western art music to the dustbin when it seems fashionable to do so, and in the process deny a lot of students help with grappling with a repertoire which those academics themselves could take for granted (you can read more of my thoughts on some these subjects on pp. 28-29 of the following – http://www.sma.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/SMA_newsletter_2015.pdf ). In quite a bit of musicology, I see a bit of a cynical jostling for position, which privileges whatever are the ‘right’ conclusions in order to win favour with particular factions, as well as what are often quite simple arguments bathed jargon in order to impress. My models for academic writing (not ones I remotely think I could match!) are the likes of Charles Rosen, or Richard J. Evans – extremely clear and intelligent writers who convey complex ideas but have an ability to communicate to a wider public. At the same time, I do not accept what a ‘reductive’ view of music in terms of its social context; no music or other culture can probably be entirely autonomous of such a thing, but still, most fundamentally, I believe in the importance of culture which does more than simply reflect its conditions, but can reflect back critically upon them, in various ways, not least by offering up the possibility of other types of experience than those otherwise provided by its context. To deny that is really to deny creativity, I would say. This is an unfashionable view in academia today, but one which is vividly apparent to me coming first and foremost from the world of musical practice.

To make a more general point, one about which my thoughts have been influenced by regular conversations with many other academics in many institutions: I would say the corporate structures of much contemporary academia, and the ways in which power is distributed and exercise, can work against academic freedom and the possibilities for critical thinking. The very principles of independent rational and critical thought can be strongly at cross-purposes with hierarchical organisations which reward conformity and compliance. Some are unbothered by this, so long as they can derive personal gain and advancement. With this can come bullying, though attempts to ostracise scapegoat anyone who doesn’t go with the flow. I have seen, heard about, and experienced this sort of thing.

But nothing is more of a challenge than coming to terms with the extent of abuse, mistreatment and bullying in music education and the wider musical world. In early 2013, the former Director of Music at my old school, Chetham’s, was found guilty of sexually abusing a pupil, Frances Andrade, from when she was 14; she tragically took her own life during the trial. I and others knew that this was far from the only case at Chetham’s – in particular the atrocious way in which the case of Chris Ling (a serial abuser at the school, who fled the country (at first together with six girls from the school) to avoid prosecution, and who shot himself when facing extradition last year) had been hushed up.

Why did I get involved with all of this? I think that, as a musician and an educator, I have felt for a very long time (perhaps in part as a response to the toxic culture which existed in my time at Chetham’s) that there can be a hideous conflation of supposedly artistic, aestheticized values, and a culture of dehumanisation and brutalisation. I don’t want to exaggerate this parallel, but I was influenced by some of my academic research into aesthetics and fascism, seeing how a fundamentally aesthetic view of humankind can lead to an easy way to utterly dehumanise those who do not fit that aesthetic vision (see for example Frederic Spotts’ work on this subject). A lot started to make sense to me more clearly than ever, and my belief in the vital importance of working for a music world in which despicable behaviour was not excused by the veneer of artistry became hardened. Michael Brewer epitomised everything that was wrong, something I saw but maybe did not fully comprehend when at school.

Anyhow, after the verdict, I hosted on my blog (http://ianpace.wordpress.com ) a petition calling for a public inquiry into abuse in musical education in general (all types of abuse – sexual, physical, psychological). Within a couple of weeks, I had got thousands of signatures from the musical profession, including many former pupils from the five specialist music schools. But with this, a great many people wrote to me with testimony of their own awful experiences, glad that at last there was a climate where people might be prepared to believe this had happened. As a result of this, I had inadvertently become an expert on the subject, and there was no turning back (this was not information I could easily turn over to anyone else). I submitted the petition to the appropriate authorities, but didn’t get much positive response. I came to realise that if I was to be taken seriously on this subject, I needed to know more about the wider issues of abuse (which to politicians and others seemed more significant), especially if abuse in music might be connected to these. This led me to the case of Alan Doggett (a conductor associated with Lloyd Webber and Rice, based at Colet Court School and then elsewhere), and to the organisation PIE (I don’t want to go into detail on this now – you can look on my blog for more). It took over a significant part of my life for an extended period – I have pulled back a little now, but am still active, and have compiled many documents on the basis of my research.

You cannot imagine how upsetting and frightening this can become – I had heard people say so, but never really had the measure of it until I actually felt it first-hand. The personal toll this has taken has been immense, both in terms of state of mind, relationship, and many other things, and it has coincided with other difficulties (including some other academics exploiting the situation to try and undermine my work in general). It is also impossible to avoid getting caught up in the wider politics of this, which is complicated by the fact that there are clearly some involved with other agendas, some far from benign, and also simply the fact that there are inevitably some very damaged people there. This has been the biggest challenge of my life. But I don’t regret doing it at all.

Some might want to use this issue to undermine classical music in general. In no sense is that my agenda – I care about that music very deeply, but want to see it practised and taught in a more humane environment. This should not be impossible.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Performances: mostly I go away from them thinking of the things I was least happy with, but as time goes on I come to think a bit more positively. Not through listening to recordings (I rarely record live concerts from choice – live performance and recording are to me fundamentally differently mediums, as much so as theatre and film), but just having time to reflect and digest. I recall being quite pleased with a concert in Leeds in 2010 where I played Finnissy’s English Country-Tunes, probably the best I have played it. I also greatly enjoyed a concert the previous year as part of my leaving event at Dartington College of Arts, where I used to teach. This included the Fauré Nocturne No. 4, Janáček In the Mists, and Stravinsky Three Movements from Petrouchka and Rebecca Saunders’ Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall. There was a performance of Stockhausen Klavierstück X I gave at City University in 2014 which I think was not bad at all. What else? Radulescu’s Third Sonata in Leuven in 2007, in an extra concert after the main one (where I had given the premiere of the Sixth Sonata). And a performance of Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus right back in 1997, within the context of a series of the music of Howard Skempton. And any number of performances of Christopher Fox’s More Light, which I adore. Also a performance of Lachenmann’s Serynade in Aberdeen last autumn. And a concert in the Festival d’automne in Paris in 2002 where I played all of the Dusapin Études (the premiere of the complete set) and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. One concert in my home town of Hartlepool in 2014, with Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Janáček, and Earl Wild’s Fantasy on Themes from Porgy and Bess. These are a handful of those about which I feel reasonably happy.

Recordings: harder to say, because soon after they are released, I stop listening to them. When you have dissected them in the process of preparation, you know all the things which didn’t quite turn out how you wanted them too, and those become more difficult to handle with every listening. My recording of Dusapin’s Études and piano concerto À Quia is not bad, also that of Walter Zimmermann’s piano works, at least some of them. And I’m not unhappy with my biggest recording project to date, that of Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, a 5-CD set.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I’m less and less convinced about how well a good deal of repertoire from before around the mid-19th century works on a modern piano, so can’t imagine that I play much of that particularly well now. Best? Some Liszt, Brahms, some Debussy and Ravel, Bartók, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Stockhausen, Cage, Feldman, Ligeti, Xenakis, Lachenmann, Kagel, Rzewski, Ferneyhough, Finnissy, Sciarrino, Radulescu, Dusapin, Fox.

Chopin I adore (and above all I see as a contrapuntal composer), but I’m never really convinced that I can do what I want to on a modern instrument. The same is true of Schumann (all that thick passagework in the central registers is one reason his music is mistakenly assumed to be somewhat muddy). Scriabin I continue to try to negotiate (I find its exaggerated qualities can lead to banality, and have too much of an ironic sensibility to take all that mysticism and affected sensuousness at face value) with mixed results. Schoenberg is hard to bring off.

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

In many cases, depending upon what I get asked to play! But I like to expand what I do, as well as playing some of my well-ingrained repertoire. In the last few years I’ve been doing various new things – the transcriptions by Earl Wild of music of Rachmaninoff and Gershwin, the amazing Piano Sonata of Sergei Zagny, more recent work of Christopher Fox, whilst on my own looking more at composers like Florent Schmitt and Frederic Mompou. I want to play more lesser-known Slavic music of various types. This year I played the Dukas Sonata for the first piece, and have been documenting the process for an article on practice-as-research.

I hope at whatever age I will continue to champion the works of younger composers. In many ways that is the most important thing to do. Of course not everything is fantastic, but if these people do not get a proper hearing, we will never know which stuff is.

I love playing new work. I’ve just premiered an incredible new piece by Finnissy called Beethoven’s Robin Adair, and later on in the year I will be playing new works by Lauren Redhead and Patrícia Almeida. I cannot say how excited I am about this.

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

Various ones I have enjoyed: the main radio concert hall at Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Berliner Konzerthaus, the Warehouse in London. In general, venues without tiered seats sound best!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

To perform: many things mentioned above! Above all Liszt, Debussy, Stockhausen, Lachenmann, Finnissy, Radulescu, Dusapin, I think.

To listen to: then things get much broader. I can listen to any amount of medieval music of whatever type, though some music of the Renaissance leaves me cold (but I like Josquin, Ockeghem, and then later Marenzio (very much) and Gesualdo). After that, much of what I listen to is from the nineteenth and twentieth (and twenty-first) centuries. I adore a great deal of opera (and teach a module on it). I also listen to a good deal of jazz of all periods, and have a real love for British jazz of the 1930s and 1940s – Henry Hall, Ambrose, and so on. A good deal of popular music – perhaps more British than American, though I go for 1940s and 1950s American music of many types, and then stuff of Hendrix, the Doors, and Zappa and Beefheart on one hand, and lots of Motown and Chicago funk on the other.

All sorts of music which I find somehow culturally significant, I suppose. My listening habits are extremely eclectic and catholic, but not undiscerning, I hope.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Again – see the above! I also am drawn to many historically-informed performers and groups: Harnoncourt (especially), Goebel, Europa Galante, Il Giardino Armonico, Music Antiqua Köln, Frieburger Barockorchester the ORR and Gardiner, countless medieval vocal groups (but not so much those in the British traditions). I love the work of Ensemble Organum under Marcel Pérès, and also that of my university colleague Alex Lingas’s group Cappella Romana.

Some other pianists as well as those mentioned before: Josef Lhevinne, Ignaz Friedman, Egon Petri, Grigory Ginsburg, Earl Wild, Julius Katchen, Paul Jacobs, Jörg Demus, Aldo Ciccolini, Lazar Berman, Friedrich Gulda, Samson François, Kristian Zimerman, Dezsö Ránki, Marc-André Hamelin, Janusz Olejniczak, Bart van Oort.

Some other composers beyond those listed above who are favourites: Adam de la Halle, Guillaume de Machaut, John Dunstable, Guillaume Dufay, Marenzio, Monteverdi, both Scarlattis, Frescobaldi, Biber, Purcell, J.S. Bach, Rameau, Couperin, Charpentier, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Bellini, Donizetti, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Bizet, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Fauré (cannot hear enough of his music), Albéniz, Ives, Debussy, Ravel (every work is worth hearing, many times), Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Schoenberg up until the early 1920s, and then from the late 1930s, Varèse, Bartók, Kodály, Percy Grainger, Pierre Boulez, Jean Barraqué, Dieter Schnebel, Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Sylvano Bussotti, Franco Evangelisti, Josef Anton Riedl, Hans Otte, Galina Ustvolskaya, Hans-Joachim Hespos, Ivo Malec, Nicolaus A. Huber, and lots of others.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The final concert in my 1996 series of Michael Finnissy – the high I felt after that was really something. Various occasions where I have stepped in at the last minute to play things. I can do this, and sometimes it generates such a level of adrenalin that the performance has something particularly special, even if it feels knife-edge! A few occasions where I really didn’t know if it was going to be possible: the world premiere of Brian Ferneyhough’s Opus Contra Naturam in Leuven in 2000 (finished just three days before the concert), or of Wieland Hoban’s when the panting STARTS four years later in the same place.

Playing with lots of singers, having the chance to play operatic repertoire I love so much.

It is difficult to answer this question, really.

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

Find a really good technical approach as early as possible – remember there is loads of quackery around. For pianists, if anyone tells you to play with your elbows locked into the body, or with a fixed wrist, find someone else instead.

Listen to all types of music, you can never listen to too much. And listen to many types of performers, and really listen – when you find something really striking, see if you can see how that is brought about. And don’t just listen to your own instrument, or even your own musical genre. For pianists, listen in particular to singers, but also to orchestras. Listen to music from outside of Western traditions. Look for music you would not encounter otherwise.

Try and have some experience of all of the following: keyboard, singing, percussion. All vital skills. Learn at least basic harmony and counterpoint as early as possible, and develop aural skills as best as possible. Get used to being able to listen intently and mentally analyse many musical and aural phenomena you encounter. Read more widely about music, music history, music theory, and lots of critical questions surrounding music.

Do lots of sight reading from an early age – that is how the skill is developed (spending time bashing through opera scores and the like when I was young helped immensely here). I can’t stress enough how important a skill this is, and how much one needs to be able to absorb music and get into a performable state in a short amount of time in a professional career, and with all the other pressures and demands of life.

If any teachers or others try to dismiss the music you care about, on grounds of its being allegedly elitist, Eurocentric, or whatsoever, remember they almost invariably have a chip on their shoulder about it for other reasons. Stand up for what you believe in against such people, even if they are your teachers.

Become more widely conversant with many arts – literature, poetry, theatre, film, painting, sculpture, architecture, etc. and ideas, and the world in general. Understand what you can about the cultural, social and historical context of the music you play, but try and understand the context in which you are playing it too. Look outwards as well as inwards. Embrace the world and people with all their imperfections. Remember how much you can always learn from others. Try and imagine yourself inside the mind of someone who shares few of the same core assumptions about music and culture as yourself. Then you will have a clearer idea of how you might be able to communicate with them.

Take on board two bits of advice I heard from different pianists: Peter Donohoe once said that when young and starting out, do whatever you can that is to do with music, it will all benefit. John Lill once said that a musician has to be very sensitive to the music they play, but very insensitive to all the crap they will put up with because of the politics of the profession. Both of these are very good pieces of advice.

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

Mostly doing the same type of thing, perhaps a bit more recognition, feeling a more supportive general environment in society as a whole (with a different complexion of government) for what I believe. Having issued more recordings and writings. Maybe composing some more. Commissioning lots more new works. Remaining in good health as I approach 60!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Just spending time together with my wife Lindsay, in a nice place, such as in Italy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano and my books.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Playing, reading, listening, eating and drinking well, cycling, teaching, and being with Lindsay. Seeing friends and people in general.

What is your present state of mind? 

Somewhat anxious, distrustful, ever-aware of how easily corruptible and awestruck by power so many people are. Concerned about the world is getting even more ruthless and inhuman all the time, and how fear is being stoked to breed prejudice. The US might elect Donald Trump President – that is terrifying, and speaks of a wider malaise in that society. Also concerned to see classical music and other forms of demanding artistic education get lost (or rather, become restricted to those privileged enough to have an elite education) in a mire of relativism and eschewal of value judgement. Preparing to go on strike tomorrow against real-terms cuts in pay for academics, casualization, and gender inequality. But still ultimately hopeful and optimistic, refusing to give in to complete cynicism.

I think I feel very internationalist in outlook. And as inspired as ever when encountering creativity. That’s why I remain an optimist, however jaded by experience.

I would like to mention another project I am involved in, crowd-funding to make a recording of the piano music of Marc Yeats. This is something I so want to make happen, and has less than two more weeks to run. Full details, and ways of supporting the project, can be found here – https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/my-recording-of-marc-yeats-piano-music-please-support-this-project/ . Please do help!

 

Ian Pace is a pianist of long-established reputation, specialising in the farthest reaches of musical modernism and transcendental virtuosity, as well as a writer and musicologist focusing on issues of performance, music and society and the avant-garde. He was born in Hartlepool, England in 1968, and studied at Chetham’s School of Music, The Queen’s College, Oxford and, as a Fulbright Scholar, at the Juilliard School in New York. His main teacher, and a major influence upon his work, was the Hungarian pianist György Sándor, a student of Bartók.

Ian Pace’s website

Meet the Artist……Steven Osborne

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(Photo Benjamin Ealovega)

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

There was a piano in the house and as soon as I could reach the keyboard, I was mucking about on it. I was very, very drawn to it and spent every spare minute playing it. I didn’t sleep much as a kid and I would get up very early and go straight to the piano, and my dad would come down and tell me it was too early to be playing.

I didn’t really think in terms of planning any kind of career. I loved playing piano, I went to music college, won a competition and secured a few concerts and it kind of started from there – I was very lucky with that. But there was always a very visceral attachment to the piano.

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

There have been a few:

One would certainly be Ian Kemp, my tutor at university. His way of looking at music, at analysing it, was so passionate in an understated way. He went right to the essence of music

Richard Beauchamp, my piano teacher at St Mary’s School in Edinburgh, was very musically opened-minded

Renna Kellaway, my teacher at RNCM, gave me a real grounding in technique which was lacking before

Arnaldo Cohen – he was very influential. He had a way of looking at the smallest detail in the broadest scope

Bobby Mann of the Juilliard Quartet and chairman of Naumburg Competition, which I won in 1997. He was a musical guru without particularly trying to be. But he could make a single remark to me after a concert and that would form the basis of several years of exploration for me. He could put his finger on the absolute nub of an issue.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season

It tends to be based on an instinct of what I am desperate to learn next. Happily, the repertoire being so big, you don’t have to retread old ground if you don’t want to, so I’ve always been moving on to new things.

In fact, in the last few months this has been the first time I’ve actually had to think what I want to play. It’s also driven by recordings – what am I dying to do.

Are there any composers whose music you keep returning to?

Definitely Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Ravel. Beethoven has this incredible balance of very strong structure and an extremely wild spontaneity which breaks out of structure. How he keeps those things in balance, especially in the mid to late works, I find unbelievably satisfying

Rachmaninov’s completely visceral connection to the music, in terms of how he expresses things that really no one else quite does, how open he is to his own emotions

What attracted you to the music of George Crumb and Morton Feldman, and what is the particular appeal of this music for you?

I first heard George Crumb’s ‘Black Angels’ while I was at school and I was quite amazed by the variety of character, the craziness of it, the bizarre sound effects: I found it really compelling. There’s the sense that he is really interested in character, with a complexity which never seems gratuitous. Later I came across his piano music. I love the soundworld, the sense of atmosphere. He talks about growing up in west Virginia and the atmosphere of being in the forest – the birds and other sounds.

Rather often composers towards end of 20th century are showing off their wares, especially in the 60s and 70s, and it’s refreshing to find someone who is interested purely in sound, that visceral quality of sound

Morton Feldman’s music is very ambiguous. I first came across it when Ivan Volkov told me he’d heard ‘Palais de Mari’ played in one of his festivals. I found it very interesting, and I loved it. It’s a really really beautiful piece of music.

It’s a very extreme position that he takes on music – like John Cage – that the notes aren’t that important, but it’s the moment to moment experience of the notes, letting go of that self-satisfaction that exists around some music. It strikes me that there is maybe a philosophical paradox to really do that – even though you might be able to encourage people to lose the sense of where they are

Will you perform the Feldman from memory?

Oh no! Absolutely not! I don’t memorise music like that because it’s so much trouble and it seems like a needless waste of energy, and I really don’t think it adds anything to play it from memory. There is this obsession about memorisation for pianists, but increasingly I don’t bother if I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s so insignificant in the great scheme of things

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

The big thing is to enjoy it, to play music that you love, not to feel pushed into playing music that doesn’t suit you. Choose music that you really love playing, not because a teacher has told you to learn it.

It can take a while to discover what you really want to do. A lot of people in the profession lose that love for the music, so anything you can do to guard against is important.

Steven Osborne’s standing as one of the great pianists of his generation was publicly affirmed in 2013 with two major awards: The Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist of the Year and his second Gramophone Award, this time in the Instrumental category for his recording of Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition and solo works by Prokofiev. Previous awards include a 2009 Gramophone Award for his recording of Britten’s works for piano and orchestra, as well as first prize at both the Naumburg International Competition (New York) and Clara Haskil Competition.

www.stevenosborne.co.uk

(Interview date: 2nd May 2016)