To coincide with the release of ‘Regards sur l’Infini’, with soprano Katharine Dain, pianist Sam Armstrong shares insights into his influences and inspirations, significant teachers and the music he’d like to perform in concert in the future.


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

My parents are not musicians but my strong will to play the piano emerged quite clearly early on (at the age of 4 or 5). My first serious introduction to classical music was through the Great Composers LP series (I remember Beethoven Sonata recordings of Wilhelm Kempff and a Grieg Concerto by Stephen Kovacevich). I was also quite bowled over at a young age by the passionate music-making of Jacqueline du Pré in a TV documentary about her life.

The most important influences have been my two main piano teachers, Helen Krizos and Richard Goode. Helen was my teacher from the age of 12 and I stayed with her for a decade. I owe her everything in terms of learning to play the piano. She really ‘rescued’ me and helped me rebuild my technique with a much less tension and more ease and was wonderfully thorough and present every step of the way for the entire time I studied with her. She was demanding and exacting yet at the same time extremely supportive and warm. The very important things she instilled in me were the importance of beauty of sound, a deep sense of musical integrity and the necessity to adjust to whichever instrument I am playing on.

Studying with Richard Goode at Mannes College of Music in New York for four years blew open the ceiling for me in terms of sounds I thought it was possible to make on a piano, in terms of learning how to decipher a score with a combination of intelligence and instinct, the importance of getting to the emotional heart of a work and the necessity of specificity in communicating that. Also, very luckily the year I began studying with him he was featured artist in Carnegie Hall’s Perspectives series. I was able to hear him across 12 (I think!) concerts performing a huge range of repertoire from Mozart and Beethoven Concerti to Schoenberg’s Book of the Hanging Gardens, Janacek’s the Diary of One Who Vanished, Brahms Piano Quartets, Bartok’s Third Concerto and Schubert Lieder amongst other things. Hearing those outstanding concerts and witnessing his artistic range was an education in itself.

More indirectly I have been influenced by many others: masterclasses I had with Leon Fleisher and Pierre-Laurent Aimard were particularly illuminating.

As a listener, I have been hugely inspired by the conducting of Antonio Pappano being an avid fan and regular attendee Royal Opera House performances. Also the artistry and boundary-less repertoire of soprano Sonya Yoncheva is very special indeed. I will never forget solo recitals I heard from pianists Earl Wild and Aldo Ciccolini as well as a truly heartbreaking rendition of Schumann’s Dichterliebe with Christoph Eschenbach at the piano at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago.

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

I think the one of the greatest challenges has been to maintain internal self-belief through the inevitable peaks and troughs of a career in music. In particular, to avoid feeling that how busy one is or not at a given moment is not necessarily reflective of how your career is going overall. It is important to acknowledge the role of circumstance and timing as well as work you have put in to constructing projects and laying the groundwork for things to happen. Also, it has been a challenge to learn not to expect a particular external result from a performance that you feel very happy with or hoped might take you forward in terms of career.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

This is NOT because it has just been released, but my album ‘Regards sur l’Infini’ with soprano Katharine Dain is something I am proud of as we had a very unusual situation in terms of preparation because of the pandemic. We chose to quarantine together starting in March and we ended up having months to fully prepare the rather complicated programme with no limits on how much we rehearsed. Normally rehearsal time is very short in professional life, so this felt like a real luxury to be able to explore the songs and poems so deeply, change our minds and give the music space to settle and breathe. Also, to prepare Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi (the main work on the album) with Pierre-Laurent Aimard was a huge privilege and totally game-changing in terms of understanding the codes to this complex music.

In terms of a performance I am proud of, my second Wigmore solo recital in 2012 is a performance I felt quite close to happy with – particularly in Schubert’s B flat sonata – a piece that is so vulnerable and hard to grasp and so much already in another world.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m not sure that musicians are very objective at judging themselves, but I am told by others that I have a strong connection with Schubert and Brahms (composers whose music I love deeply).

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

Listening to inspiring performances, long discussions with friends and colleagues and reading (I just finished a wonderful biography of Debussy by Stephen Walsh). Also, time in nature.

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

I found the Kleine Zaal (small hall) of the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam to be particularly magical. Perfect piano, perfect acoustic, presented with flowers by the hall as a matter of course. It doesn’t get better than that.

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

I think that a growing conversation between performers and public about composers as the vivid, colourful flawed humans they were/are rather than dusty abstract figures is going to be necessary to engage and grow audiences. Also that classical music is a beautiful mirror of all of the emotions and experiences of life.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience was my solo debut recital in New York at Weill Hall in Carnegie Hall. It was one of the very few concerts where circumstances meant that a large number of friends and supportive colleagues were able to turn out in force.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think my definition of success as a musician is to maintain the will to get better, to improve and to get closer to get to the heart of this extraordinary music we are all lucky to play. On the other side, I think another type of success is to avoid becoming jaded by certain non-musical aspects of the music industry. Above all though is to keep searching for truth and equally to stay open to changing your mind and to other points of view.

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

That you never arrive. That we are always chasing something elusive. Also to learn to enjoy the process, as music will present new (and sometimes the same!) challenges every time you begin a new piece.

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

I hope still to be playing the piano for a living. I would like to have more autonomy over certain programming choices and to have the ability to convince promoters to get larger numbers of people together for certain repertoire (Janacek The Diary of One Who Vanished, Schoenberg Pierrot Lunaire, Ravel Trois Poemes de Stephane Mallarmé or the Chausson Concert for example). Also budgets that would to make it possible to bring people from different countries for fantasy football style chamber collaborations (which feels even more decadent and luxurious in these pandemic times) would be wonderful.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A small house on the Greek island of Hydra with a good piano and a excellent espresso machine.

What is your most treasured possession?

My hearing.

 

‘Regards sur l’Infini’ was released on 27 November 2020 on the 7 Mountain Records label. With this album of French songs centred around Olivier Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi, American-Dutch soprano Katharine Dain and British pianist Sam Armstrong have constructed a meditative programme that also includes Claude Debussy’s complete Proses lyriques as well as individual songs by Henri Dutilleux, Kaija Saariaho, and the little-known Claire Delbos, a violinist and composer and the first wife of Messiaen. More information


Hailed as ‘a major new talent’ International Piano and a ‘pianist of splendid individuality’ Arts Desk English pianist Sam Armstrong has made solo recital debuts at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in New York as well as at the Wigmore Hall in London, and as concerto soloist with the National Symphony of Ecuador.

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

My biggest influences have been my piano teachers:

• My first piano teacher in Toulouse’s conservatoire, Claudine Willoth, who understood I was different than the other kids and cultivated my curiosity for music in general, not only for the piano. At that time I wasn’t thinking of being a professional and was reluctant to practise scales or exercices. She didn’t insist and helped me to realise what I really wanted at that time : to compose music, to sightread some masterpieces ( too difficult for me at that time ), to improvise, to listen to all kinds of music.

• My second teacher in Paris’s conservatoire, Jean-François Heisser, who I met in Toulouse when I was only 13 and who convinced me I was could become a professional musician. From that point I started to practice seriously.

• My third teacher, in London, Maria Curcio, who convinced me I could go much further and become an international soloist. I was sometimes having 5 or 6 full days of lessons in a row. It was like that every month and she really prepared me to perform on stage, to open up and find my identity as a musician.

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

They have all been ultimately very positive challenges. For example, when I first played a solo recital at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, after which I realised I could probably consider myself as a soloist; when I played Bartok 2nd Concerto with Pierre Boulez, one of my biggest idols; all my big debuts in major venues and with major orchestras; and, more recently, creating my own festival (Festival et Académie Ravel) and Academy for young musicians, and, hopefully one day, a new concert hall, in one of my most beloved places, the French Basque Country.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Difficult to say, though I’m very proud of the last one, ‘Good Night!’,  I should say! Also the Saint-Saëns album which won the Gramophone 2019 Album of the Year Award. I could also mention an older recording, Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage. But I’m quite happy with everything, even if I know I could do everything better.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

It’s difficult for me to answer that. Probably music by Liszt, and generally-speaking music from the 20th and 21st centuries. I’m also quite at ease with the classical style and Beethoven’s music, though that’s one side my audience knows a little less, I think.

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

Meditation. Just before going on stage.

Elsewhere in my life, I enjoy being with friends, good food (I love to cook myself), travelling, and my relationship with all forms of art and all kinds of music, including pop. I also read a lot of books, articles, magazines, all kind of things, depending on my state of mind. This all probably goes someway in inspiring my interpretations but it is totally subconscious.

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

I built a very big repertoire and musical knowledge when I was a teenager. I continue to discover new things all the time but I mainly extract ideas from this big body of work. The question is more what’s next? To try to find a logical order. But I have ideas for the next 60 years at least! Regarding new repertoire, I’m mainly interested in contemporary compositions and discovering new composers. So I try to confirm some new commissions each year so that I can regularly give premieres. This stimulates me a lot.

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

There are so many. I could mention Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for example, which gives me such an intense emotion each time I enter on stage and face the audience. Such an impressive and magnificent place.

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

I think that artists and promoters should work much more to promote contemporary music and to help the audience discover it gradually so they get used to it – like visual art, for example. The younger generation needs to feel that there are living artists and composers behind it. The most contemporary music should be absolutely central in my opinion. It’s fundamental to get out of this museum experience feeling. Or if not, it should at least be in the style of a modern art museum…!

We also need to destroy the existing frameworks. The look and format of a concert should not just depend on old habits.

Why should a recital consist of two halves of 45 minutes each? Why should a concerto be played at the same part of the concert each time? Why always this same ritual of encores? Why does the orchestra have more or less the same layout? Why are the (bright) lights always more or less the same in every concert hall across the world? We should innovate much more to make the whole experience more alive. It’s also essential we maintain – now more than ever – a standard of very high quality. The worst thing for me is levelling down.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are too many.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being happy. And proud to achieve what we can achieve. To continue to have dreams and to try to make them become reality.

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

To remember that success is not about having your name written in gold letters at the top of a poster.

It’s a long quest and a process of building. You need to build your repertoire, your personality… to try to learn who you are as an artist. That all takes time. Search inside yourself, as most of what you have to say is already inside you from very early on.

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

I don’t know exactly but certainly not where I am right now!

I like movement. I’d like to continue to travel, to develop my repertoire, to commission and premiere a lot of new works. To develop my Festival and Academy project and to create a real musical centre to experiment with new ideas. Maybe to teach again a bit. I’d like to be more linked to the younger generation and to today’s composers, as well as to other kinds of artists.

Bertrand Chamayou’s new album Good Night! is released on 9 October on the Warner Classics label.


Bertrand Chamayou is one of today’s most strikingly brilliant pianists, recognised for his revelatory performances at once powerfully virtuosic, imaginative and breathtakingly beautiful.

Heralded for his masterful conviction and insightful musicianship across a vast repertoire, the French pianist performs at the highest level on the international music scene. He is recognised as a leading interpreter of French repertoire, shining a new light on familiar as well as lesser known works, while possessing an equally driving curiosity and deep passion for new music. He has worked with composers including Pierre Boulez, Henri Dutilleux, György Kurtág, Thomas Adès and Michael Jarrell.

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Artist photo: Warner Classics

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

Music was part of the house in which I grew up as both my parents were  wonderful musicians: my father was the Cathedral organist in Ottawa, Canada for 50 years, and my mother a piano (and English) teacher. She started  me off when I was three years old, though I was already playing some toy  instruments before that. So they were the biggest influences of course.  I always had excellent teachers: Earle Moss and Myrtle Guerrero at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto (I never lived in Toronto, only  went there for lessons); and especially the French pianist Jean-Paul Sevilla at the University of Ottawa. He was a huge influence, being a marvellous player himself, especially of the Romantic and French repertoire. But he was also the first person I heard perform Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which he did magnificently. I also studied classical ballet for 20 years from the age of 3 to 23, and that was a huge influence on me in every way, and very beneficial for playing the piano.  I also sang in my father’s choir, played violin for 10 years, and also the recorder. All of those things made me the musician I am today.

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

The whole thing has been a challenge. From beginning to end. Even if you have the talent, it’s nothing without the work. I’ve sacrificed a lot to be where I am today, but that’s OK. I struggled to get known as a young  pianist. I did many competitions. I won some, got thrown out in others.  When I did win a big prize (the 1985 Toronto Bach Competition), at least that meant I didn’t have to do any more. But then it was up to me  to keep the momentum going. I’ve had good and bad experiences with agents. I’ve always done a lot for my own career. An enormous amount, actually. It was a challenge to come to London in 1985 when I was totally unknown and make a name for myself here. I worked hard at that.  It took me 15 years of renting Wigmore Hall myself before I started selling it out and being promoted by the hall instead. The recording contract with Hyperion I got myself. That was one of the best things ever, also thanks to the great integrity that label has. Artists of my  generation have also had to adapt to the social media world and work with that in a good way. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to stay sane and healthy when you are doing a job that demands the utmost of you, both physically and emotionally.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve been happy with every recording I’ve done for Hyperion in the past 26  years. I never leave the studio unless I feel we have the best possible  versions. Of course things change over the years—that’s only natural.  But each CD is a document of how I best played the works at that time.  Apart from my Bach cycle, I am happy that I’ve recorded so much French music (Ravel, Chabrier, Fauré , Debussy, Messiaen, Rameau, Couperin) and  also the more recent Scarlatti CDs. Great stuff! I’m almost finished my Beethoven Sonata cycle which has taken me 15 years, and that gives me enormous satisfaction.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’ve always done a very wide repertoire. People think I only play Bach, but no. In my teenage years I was more known for the big romantic works like the Liszt Sonata and the Schumann Sonatas, though of course everybody knew that I played Bach. I think it’s important for a good musician to play in many different styles. On the whole I like to take complicated works and make them sound easy (like Bach’s Art of Fugue).

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

Everything you experience in life goes into your music and your interpretations. Talking with friends, reading books, going to the theatre, travelling,  seeing a movie, reading the news, experiencing the tragedy of this awful  pandemic….all of that ends up in what you produce later on at the  piano.

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

Often it follows recording projects because I like to perform what I am going  to record, of course. But also it depends on what people ask you to do.  It’s a very difficult thing, choosing programmes for a whole year, and I’ve never been one to play the same programme all season. I can change  several times a month.

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

Oh, just one where people don’t cough!

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

Just go out and perform each time in a way that makes people want to hear you again. Then you build an audience. If a concert is boring, nobody is  going to return. You have to make people really want to go to hear you.  Of course there’s all the stuff about developing a younger audience, and that’s extremely important. I support a project in my home town of Ottawa, Canada called ORKIDSTRA which gives free music lessons to children in under-served areas of the city. It’s wonderful to see how  much learning an instrument adds to their lives and to their general  development and sense of community.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I don’t know about most memorable, but certainly playing the Turangalila  Symphony at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in July 2018 was a night to remember. Fantastic performance, conducted by Sakari Oramo.  Very moving. Great audience. That’s the right hall for that piece. If I never play it again it doesn’t matter—I had that experience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success?  Well, playing a piece you have worked very hard on, and finally  memorising it and performing it well in public. That gives great satisfaction. Material success, as we have seen with this pandemic, can vanish in an instant. I suppose success is when concert promoters think of you when they are putting together their season. You have to have something they want to sell. When you have that something and have totally kept your integrity and got there because you’re good and worked  hard, then I think that’s success. But I don’t really like to think of  “success”. It’s very fragile.

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

To play their instrument with joy and not to be stiff and tense when they play. They must easily communicate with their audience and show that every part of their body is feeling the music.

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

Alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Playing for a friend and having a meal afterwards.

What is your most treasured possession?

My new Fazioli F278 concert grand piano.


One of the world’s leading pianists, Angela Hewitt appears in recital and as soloist with major orchestras throughout Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Asia. Her interpretations of the music of J.S. Bach have established her as one of the composer’s foremost interpreters of our  time.

Born in 1958 into a musical family (the daughter of the Cathedral organist and choirmaster in Ottawa, Canada), Angela began her piano  studies age three, performed in public at four and a year later won her  first scholarship. In her formative years, she also studied classical ballet, violin, and recorder. From 1963-73 she studied at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music with Earle Moss and Myrtle Guerrero, after which she completed her Bachelor of Music in Performance at the  University of Ottawa in the class of French pianist Jean-Paul Sévilla, graduating at the age of 18. She was a prizewinner in numerous piano  competitions in Europe, Canada, and the USA, but it was her triumph in the 1985 Toronto International Bach Piano Competition, held in memory of Glenn Gould, that truly launched her international career.

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

From a very early age I was surrounded by classical music. Although my parents were scientists, they were very drawn to and active in classical music. Both were enthusiastic members of concert choruses; my mother studied singing for many years and my father played piano and viola. Almost weekly there were chamber music/string quartet evenings at home and my parents read through many songs together – from Schubert to Hugo Wolf. Before I entered grammar school, I was already familiar with a large art song repertoire.

As was usual in my generation, early on I joined a children’s choir. I played the recorder for years and finally was allowed to study piano as well. As a ten  year old I first experimented with composition and at fourteen it was already clear to me that I wanted to be a musician. The question was only whether it was to be as a pianist, conductor or composer. All of them seemed equally desirable. For a while my mother suffered from my decision to follow a slightly different path. Next to chamber music, the human voice fascinated me above all else, so my passion led me to become an accompanist for singers. I have never regretted it.

I had fine teachers, but the most important inspiration/impetus came later: above all, from my friend and colleague Leonard Hokanson and from the two most important singers of my early career, Irmgard Seefried and Hermann Prey. Today I still learn a great deal from the singers I accompany, much of which is not taught in schools.

What have been the greatest challenges in your career?

I had the good fortune at a relatively young age to work with singers who were ahead of me both in age and, more importantly, in their careers. The first steps with these well known artists were always a big challenge for me. I often had the feeling that in the course of a few minutes my chosen career path could change dramatically and this was, in fact, several times the case. The first rehearsal with Irmgard Seefried, at that time a celebrated star especially to Viennese audiences, remains unforgettable because of her ‘motherly’ severity. Then there was the audition for Hermann Prey, during which my right leg shook so much with nerves that I could scarcely control the piano’s pedal. Such critical situations no longer happen, but in general every concert is a new challenge, first regarding my singing partner, but also for myself. That is a part of this occupation and one gets used to it.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I would not say that I am proud of a particular concert or recording. Some are more successful than others. There are, for example, around twenty-five songs on a CD, and it can happen that I am satisfied or even happy with some of the songs. With concerts, it is more complicated. I think one has certain ideals in performance which one attempts to reach, even knowing that they are unattainable. There are thousands of notes in any concert performance. For me, it is inconceivable that they will all sound as perfectly as I imagine. One must be satisfied with ninety percent and often a great deal less. Perhaps one can be ‘proud’ of a particular phrase or passage, but never of an entire concert.

Which works do you think you perform best?

In answer to this question, I can only say what kind of music I like best, which musical style I feel most comfortable and secure playing. That is clearly the Romantic era from Schubert to Strauss and Mahler. This is music which demands emotional depth, reflectiveness, infatuation and passion. The fact that these musical emotions, as well as the often wonderful texts, comprise most of today’s usual song repertoire, definitely influenced my career choice. In addition to the great volume of German art song, I especially love the Slavic repertoire.

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

I do not consciously do anything in order to inspire myself on stage. Of course I listen to recordings and attend concerts. I read books about composers and their times. Sometimes I learn a lot from all this, but, in the end, the inspiration comes from the life I live and have lived: from the dreams, the fears, the anger and the frustrations which I have experienced. It comes from a wonderful evening atmosphere by a lake or on a mountaintop, from the longing, the loving, the disappointments and the happinesses I have known. Many of these are unforgettable memories and some I still experience today, thank heaven! Inspiration comes from everything which has formed my personality – in good times and in bad.

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

Song recital programmes are ideally discussed and decided upon by both the singer and the pianist. At the beginning of my career, well-known and experienced singers simply gave me the programmes. Later, little by little, it became a joint decision. Today, because of my long experience, I am often asked to make up a programme or at least to make suggestions.

Creating a good programmme is not a simple matter, and there are no easy recipes to follow, rather there are warnings about what one should not do: for example, not too many multi-versed songs in a row. I admire singers and colleagues who can devise an exciting and meaningful programme in a short amount of time. I often need several days.

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

There are certainly many famous halls in which one is happy to perform/play: Carnegie Hall in New York, for example, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona, and many more. But when one has grown up in Vienna, already during one’s school years, one dreams of appearing at least once in the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein. This hall, opened 150 years ago, where numerous famous works have had their world premieres, where Liszt and Brahms, Bruckner, Strauss and Mahler performed, a magnificent hall which is praised for its wonderful acoustics, and which broadcasts its New Year’s concerts throughout the world, is internationally known. Even when one has often had the good fortune to play there, each appearance brings a special joy and a feeling of ‘coming home’.

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

It is certainly pointless to dwell on the past, where music was actively played in homes. My generation was the last to experience this and it will not return. It seems to me more realistic to wish that music be taught in schools, starting with elementary schools and continuing through the entire educational path.

Many concert promoters have tried for years to offer programmes for children, and
have had success with this. But in general music education in schools is more and more curtailed to the point where in some places it no longer exists. It is not so much a matter of teaching knowledge, but a simple familiarisation, an introduction to great works, attending concerts together, and, in my view most importantly, choral singing. Good and enthusiastic teachers who can ‘sell’ this are necessary, but young people often find doing things together a lot of fun, and, of course, it does not always have to be classical music. Actively involving students with music – no matter what the style – can make them curious and hopefully form new audiences. I can only speak about the current poor situation in Austria and Germany. There it is, in general, pretty sad and hopeless.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

After a career of over fifty years, I am fortunate to be able to look back on many memorable concerts. Some were in small, elegant halls such as Wigmore Hall, others where the size of the hall or the enthusiasm of the audience impressed me more than the quality of the concert itself. Those include concerts at Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires or the Herodes Atticus Theatre in Athens, as well as the stages of La Scala in Milan and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Growing up, I was an eager concert-goer with many subscriptions to the Musikverein and the Konzerthaus in Vienn,a and many unforgettable concert experiences. One concert, however, occupies the very pinnacle of all of these, a concert at which I was neither in the audience nor was I playing: Verdi’s Requiem in the massive Theater of Epidaurus with 13,000 seats, built in the 4th century before Christ. Herbert von Karajan conducted one of his absolutely favourite works, and I sang bass in the chorus of Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. In the “Lux Aeterna”, as the moon rose over the surrounding hills, I felt as if I were in a dream. No concert in my life has moved me as this one did. With a nighttime return to Athens by boat, newly in love with another
chorus member, who later became my wife, the evening came to a close – forever unforgettable.

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

Your talent is a gift, not an accomplishment. Make as much out of it as you can!
Some success comes late, sometimes never. But do not give up too quickly! Try, with everything at your disposal, to understand what the composer wanted and fulfill that as best as you can. These were geniuses to whom we can only look up with respect and wonder. Personal vanities have no place in the music of these gods.

Imagine an exact idea of what you would like to express musically, and do not be satisfied with solutions which only approximately reach your ideal. Try to remain honest with yourself.

‘Success’ can sometimes be achieved in an amazingly cheap fashion. It is wonderful when you can make an audience happy. It should always be more important to be satisfied with yourself.

“Always play as if a master were listening!” (Robert Schumann)

“There is no end to learning!” (Robert Schumann)

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

Even if it not very realistic, in ten years I would wish not only to still be alive, but, even if I am not making music, to still be able to enjoy it.

What is your present state of mind?

A continuous fluctuation between optimism and pessimism. I try to see my situation realistically, but the results are always the same: I can be very happy about some things and quite sad about others. That is probably normal for my age, but, on the whole, I must be very thankful for all the wonderful experiences I have had in my career and in my life. And there is still hope that there will be more wonderful experiences to come.

Helmut Deustch’s book ‘Memoirs of an Accompanist’, with a foreword by Alfred Brendel, is published by Kahn & Averill in September. Further information here


Helmut Deutsch ranks among the finest, most successful and sought-after song recital accompanists in the world. He was born in Vienna, where he studied at the Conservatory, the Music Academy and the University. He was awarded the Composition Prize of Vienna in 1965 and appointed professor at the age of 24.

Although he has also performed with leading instrumentalists as a chamber musician, he has concentrated primarily on accompanying song recitals. At the beginning of his career, he worked with soprano Irmgard Seefried, but the most important singer of his early years was Hermann Prey, whom he accompanied for twelve years.

Subsequently, he has worked with many of the most important recital singers and played in the world’s major music centres. His collaborations with Jonas Kaufmann, Diana Damrau, Michael Volle, Camilla Nylund and Piotr Beczala as well as the young Swiss tenor Mauro Peter are currently among his most important. Helmut Deutsch has recorded more than a hundred CDs.

In recent years, the development of young talent has been especially close to his heart. After his professorship in Vienna he continued his teaching primarily in Munich at the University of Music and Performing Arts, where he has worked as a professor of song interpretation for 28 years. He is also a visiting professor at various other universities and gives an increasing number of masterclasses in both Europe and the Far East.

Photo : Shirley Suarez

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

I was inspired from music and art from my first life and birth. My Grandmother, Katharina, bought a Steinway on the occasion of my birth, and I still have the original receipt from this purchase. During my birth, music by Chopin had been played. I began to play at the early age of 3. Still  From a young age, I played pieces from memory. To study music and piano was self-evident.

The most important influences in my career are first, as already pointed out, my grandmother; later my teachers Bruno Leonardo Gelber, Poldi Mildner, Shura Cherkassky and Herbert Seidel. Through them I’m a representative and guardian of the great Romantic Tradition – a tradition, which I preserve for myself, but also pass on to my students.

Today, being a recipient of the renowned ‘Goethe-Prize of Frankfurt/Main, presented to me in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt in January 2020, was another decisive challenge and turning point in my career.

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

My latest project, ‘Chronological Chopin’ (Divine Art label ddc 25752), and my current project ‘Fantasies’ with major works by Robert Schumann (also with Divine Art)

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

‘Chronological Chopin’ and the Goldberg-Variations (Bayer), but also the Chopin – Schumann Anniversary Edition 2010 (MSR-Classics), Schumann: Kreisleriana Op. 16 and the Symphonic Etudes Op. 13, including the Variations posthumes (Bayer), Schumann – Liszt: Fantasie in C major Op. 17 and Sonata in B minor (Bayer), Scriabin: Piano Works, Opp. 2 – 74 (Bayer), and the DVD with Liszt: Piano Transcriptions of Schubert Songs and Godowsky Symphonic Metamorphoses on Waltzes and Themes of Johann Strauss (Arthaus), produced by WDR-Television. These productions have been broadcast on all major tv-channels since 1997, and today they are available on Fidelio, a new tv-channel from ORF and UNITEL.

But I’m also proud of and happy that the highlights of my ‘Chronological Chopin’ enjoyed a re-release in 2018 on a luxury 2-vinyl-edition from‘Divine Art.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Bach: Partita in C minor, BWV 826, Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903, Italian Concerto, BWV 971

Weber: Rondo brilliant, Op. 62

Franck: Prelude, Choral and Fugue

Chopin: Prélude in C sharp minor, Op. 45, Ballade No. 3 in A flat major, Op. 47, Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49, Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52, Scherzo No. 4 in E major, Op. 54, Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57, Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60, Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61

Mendelssohn: Variations sérieueses, Op. 54

Schumann: Kreisleriana Op. 16, Fantasy C-major, Op. 17, Arabeske Op. 18, Fantasies Op. 12

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

Hugo Shirley in ‘International Piano’ (February 2020) described me as a “multifaceted pianist”, who “unites intellectual clarity with an intuitive sense of colour, influenced by his artistic upbringing and his parallel life as a scuba diver”. Yes, I’m inspired in my parallel life by the experiences from the underwater world. As a ‘PADI Master Instructor’ I can refer to more than 8500 logged dives on the oceans all over the world and have visited countries even in out-of-the-way areas. I’m also certified to teach classes for Underwater-Photography and Videography, and I’m the official Ambassador of the PADI Project Aware Foundation for the “Protecting of Our Ocean Planet.” (If interested, one can visit my site under: www.diving-adventure.org

The inspiration of the variety of colours of the underwater world I convert into differentiated sounds in my artistic interpretations, a phenomenon called synesthesia.

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

I try to be at home in all epochs and styles of music, to cover the whole literature. But mainly I like to focus on Bach, Chopin and the German Romantics

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

Yes, indeed I have: Carnegie Hall, New York. The acoustics are unique and outstanding. And of course also the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Besides the acoustics, the hall there has a singular mood and atmosphere.

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

I fear losing the tradition; this has already begun in school for children with a false “system of learning”. Back to the roots of learning, that the experience and realization of values is a way to the future …

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Japan, Tokyo: Bunka Kaikan and Suntory Hall

USA, New York: Here I once played a sensational ‘American STEINWAY D’ number ‘207’; I had the chance to selected this piano for a recital in New York City in the concert basement of Steinway Hall on 57th street, assisted by my longtime friend Peter Goodrich, who was chief of the concert and artists department of Steinway NY. In my career, I have played and performed on countless excellent and singular instruments, but I never will forget the number, and the unique and warm sound of this instrument, the ‘207’… Now I’m sure I made a major mistake not to have purchased this gem….it was “love at first sight”.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

True success is connected and bounded to the truth of interpretation. There begins and starts a long lasting experience: the chance that the artistry of a true artist will live on for generations, and will influence other epochs. This is the meaning of artistic integrity – and the definition of success.

Related to this, one could ask “what  is talent?”, to which I would immediately answer: “To have the strength, power, endurance, courage and stamina to start new after each setback.”

These characters blend into one: Virtue

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

I would like to rephrase the question: What I would not impart to aspiring musicians? If they are not authentic and true to themselves, if they do not express the music in a proper and thoughtful way.

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

To be even more successful and to achieve “musical heaven”, which would mean artistic truth

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being on stage and to feel at one with the (art)work and the audience

What is your most treasured possession?

My two very special Steinway D-274 pianos, which I use for all my recordings and important recitals/concerts.

Also my intelligence, the alertness of my mind and my indefensible intuition, which provides me a special view of life and art, and my visual memory

To lose both, or even only one of this indispensable unit, would mean the end of my life; it really would kill me

What is your present state of mind?

Inspired, vigilant, alert and ambitious for more artistic ideas and inspiration, eagerly looking forward to my upcoming projects.


Burkard Schliessmann, recipient of the renowned Goethe-Prize of Frankfurt/Main 2019/20, Germany, is one of the most compelling pianists and artists of the modern era.

Read more schliessmann.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

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

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

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

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A post-concert lasagne.


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


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