What inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music?

In an odd way, music itself. I was eleven, still at primary school, when I wanted to explore some extra-curricular interests, something to call my own, and I was drawn to the piano in the corner of the assembly hall that one of the teachers used to play to lead us in songs. In addition, a couple of my close friends took piano lessons, so it felt like a natural course for me to take. I asked my mum if I could start piano lessons at school, but she reluctantly said no, having just been made redundant from her job as a result of the financial crisis.

I decided to get creative, so I drew a keyboard onto some pieces of paper, and I began to follow music theory lessons online; I started cross-referencing the sounds of notes, scales, and chords with the visual patterns on my paper, until I could begin to her those sounds in my head, when I could then pick out some easy pieces. I found the internet was an invaluable resource when it came to understanding how music worked, but it was also my first introduction to classical music. I didn’t come from a musical family at all, and the only classical music I heard was the odd offering from an advert, so when I discovered such a vast selection of music, across Bach, Debussy, and Rachmaninov to name some of my favourites at the time, I resolved then to play those pieces myself; I’m proud that I’ve ticked off a few, but I’m still working my way through the list!

I worked like this on my own for six months, until my mum managed to raise enough money from friends to pay for my first piano lessons at school. I would pass my Grade 1 exam with Distinction after only four hours of tuition, practising at home still on my paper keyboard; the excitement of performing, even if only to the examiner, encouraged me never to look back. I have tried to retain that childlike curiosity and delight as I continue to work through my repertoire now.

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

I came quite late to the piano, so there was a lot of catching up I needed to do if I were to realise my ambitions of a career in performance. I spent the much of my teens scrambling for opportunities to practise on real pianos. I would wake up at 5:30 in the morning to ensure I got to school by 7am, when the gates opened, as the Head of Music there allowed me to practise on the school’s grand piano whenever it was not in use. I would fit in about an hour and a half’s worth of practice in the morning, followed by the total time of another hour of my mid-morning break and lunch, and another long stretch after school, normally until the caretaker kicked me out. I would get home for dinner, but I would rarely get to sleep before 1am, due to work I had to do for both my school commitments and mental practice… and added to all this, I was continually bullied by my father, who refused to support my musical efforts. I don’t think I’ve been pushed quite so physically or mentally since the three years I followed that daily routine.

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

I have had a news article about Lucas Debargue on my wall for several years, whose story renews my spirits when things get tough. I am grateful for the encouragement and advice of my piano teachers, particularly Soojin Kim, who encouraged me as I first turned my attention towards a career in music, and Charles Owen, my current piano teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who inspires me every week. I must also thank the Head of Music at my secondary school, Johanna Martin, and William Fong and Mary-Kate Gill at the Purcell School, for all their guidance and support. I am forever thankful, though, for my mum, whose love and belief in me has helped me every step of the way.

Which performance are you most proud of?

I was awarded the opportunity in my second and final year at the Purcell School to perform at the Milton Court Concert Hall at Guildhall, where I performed Berg’s Sonata Op 1. I relished the musical, mental, and emotional challenges of such an incredible piece — I had to learn to look at music in very different ways — and it felt like a culmination of everything I achieved there. I’ve enjoyed more performances of the work since, and I think back to that concert every time I play it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I doubt I’ll ever figure that one out, but I’m happy to spend my life trying.

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

I always look for something that will push me towards greater playing; after all, what is a musician without the curiosity to learn? I like to include a mix of repertoire favourites with less familiar works, which I hope leaves the audience with two interesting experiences: hearing the classics in new and different contexts, and discovering music within the wider history of the musical catalogue. I like to incorporate a single unifying thread into my recital programmes too, although I don’t always share exactly what that is!

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

Milton Court, St John’s Smith Square, and the Fazioli Concert Hall in Italy are among my favourites — have you tried those pianos?! I’ve had some really lovely experiences at several other venues, however, simply because the people there were so caring and welcoming, which makes all the difference as the nerves begin to set in.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Aaaah, there are far too many! I’ll have to mention Alfred Brendel, Martha Argerich, Robert Levin, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Claudio Abbado, Mariss Jansons, Dame Janet Baker, Diana Damrau… I’m afraid this list could go on quite a bit longer!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was once asked to play a short recital as part of an outdoor arts festival. I took to the stage, and as I sat down to play Bach, a young boy at the front shouted “Beethoven!”, so I played Beethoven for him instead. I ended up taking requests from the audience for the whole recital as they shouted out the names of different composers after each piece. I never got to play any Bach, but I did get a taste of the ‘rock star’ life, or at least as close as I can expect to get!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

As a human, to be happy. As a musician, to be human.

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

Listen, in every sense; I can’t begin to explain how important that is.

I’ve found you can’t just wait to be inspired, rather you need to find inspiration from within, and that comes from the love of music; if you find new ways to love music, you’ll find new ways to be inspired.

Finally, another item from my bedroom wall:

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well…”

— Johann Sebastian Bach

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

If all goes well, at the piano.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Yamaha b1 SG2.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited. Inspired. Happy.


Andrew Garrido began learning the piano at the age of eleven, in 2010; lacking funds to afford lessons or an instrument, he drew a keyboard onto paper and learnt from YouTube for six months before his first piano lesson. He began study with Danielle Salamon upon his entrance to the prestigious Purcell School only five years later in September 2015, where he was awarded the Senior Piano Prize and Senior Academic Music Prize in 2017; Andrew obtained a Licentiate Diploma from Trinity College London (LTCL) that August.

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Andrew Garrido also hosts a podcast series Scores and More

 

 

(Photo Paul Cochrane)

Wu Qian is an internationally acclaimed pianist and Co-Founder of Investec International Music Festival, which takes place from 26 March to 16 May 2020.

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

It was more like an accident; my parents took me to a friend’s house when I was 6 years old and they had a piano. As a child I have never seen anything like it before and immediately asked my parents if I could have one – they agreed thinking that it was proven how piano playing helps children developing both sides of the brain! After the first lesson, the teacher told my parents I was very talented so my mother had secretly hoped that I might make something out of piano and has pushed me ever since! There were times when I almost resented the amount of practise I had to do, but fortunately later on, I really started to appreciate music and it enlightened my life. That is what drove me to pursue a career in music.

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

I was very fortunate that I had wonderful teachers from different backgrounds. I feel it’s the combination of all these incredible musicians and mentors who influenced my musical path.

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

I think challenges are everywhere, but thankfully music makes me forget them!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am never that content with my own performances. I could perhaps pick out a few sections here and there to say “ah that was quite nice!”, but it is difficult for me to be completely satisfied.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

When I listen back my performances and recordings, I feel Schubert, Schumann suit me well.

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

I always like to add a few new works that I would like to learn or challenge myself, then there are always plenty of promoters requesting more of their wishes! So then it becomes a balancing act; trying t develop your repertoire while having a programme ready to perform.

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

We are lucky these days as there are many beautiful venues with good acoustics, so it is very difficult to pick one, but I do think it’s the combination of the space we perform in, the quality of the piano, the audience, the ambience and the performer’s mood and energy at the very moment of the performance which create a unique feeling.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I am lucky that I have been to quite a few concerts and even lectures that I was very moved by. I can’t always explain what it was but when a performance touches you, it is unforgettable.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, it’s knowledge of the entire music history, and I am sad to admit I feel there isn’t enough time in one’s lifetime to find out everything, but I try my best!

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

Love the music you are making, work hard but never forget to enjoy it! We are all so lucky to be able to work on incredible repertoire, created by these titans of history; I really can’t think of something as exciting and rewarding as working in the arts.

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

Too many possibilities that I honestly can’t choose, but I can’t imagine doing something in life that doesn’t involve music.


Wu Qian was born in Shanghai, where she received her early training before being invited to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School. At fifteen she performed Mozart’s E flat Major concerto (K449) in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and again at the Menuhin Festival in Switzerland. She also played the Saint-Saens Concerto No.2 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in St. John’s Smith Square. She made her debut recital at the South Bank Purcell Room in 2000 and has since played there again on several occasions, including a recital broadcast by BBC Radio 3.

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

It might sound weird, but music itself guided me to become a professional musician. As a child and teenager, I lived in my own world and spending time playing and listening to music was my favourite activity. It was much later – around my 15th or 16th birthday – when I realized pursuing a different career would equal spending less time with music and that was no option for me. You could say I was naÏve enough to think you could just choose a life. With time I learned that you have to make your way first.

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

Without doubt the people I love – my parents, my sister and my wife. They supported me from early on and without them I would not have had the luxury of mainly focusing on music. As a musician, I’m convinced it’s impossible to fully seperate the professional from the private parts of life. It’s interwoven and therefore I don’t like to call a vocation a career.

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

I’ve always believed in doing what I love and avoiding the things I don’t like as much as possible. Music has become such a big part of myself; therefore certain elements such as competitions never fit with my perspective on it.

The greatest challenge is, consequently, to stay true to yourself and to keep in touch with your instinct, especially in our noisy, stressful and competitive world. 

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

This is impossible to define, because my assessment constantly changes. When I record I have the exact version in mind and I want to believe it is set in stone and made for eternity. However I have learned that even after a few months my concept has evolved and the recording is not up to date any more. The same applies to live recordings or performances. At first it frightened me, but thinking about it now, isn’t change the only true certainty we know?

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That I can’t decide. All I know is that my interest and passion are generated by the works I play or record. It’s hard to choose favourites, because music is too diverse and too dependent on mood and many other parameters.

I feel a strong affinity for Alexander Scriabin and also Franz Liszt, but that doesn’t mean I don’t equally enjoy Scarlatti, Ravel, Yun or Brahms. 

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

I love compiling recital programmes, creating  a proper ‘menu for the ears’. Proportion, variation, dimension and relations in between the works chosen make such a big difference. Sometimes promoters engage me for certain works desired and some other times they like my suggestions. It’s very much a fluctuating thing.

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

I love the Wigmore Hall, like so many other musicians do. Venues with a rich history usually fascinate me, but there is a few, partly modern concert halls I enjoy very much, such as the Philharmonie Luxembourg, the Maison Symphonique in Montréal or the wonderful Concertgebouw Amsterdam.

A great venue is more than just good acoustics – it’s atmosphere, surroundings, spirit and architecture.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are many memorable experiences on stage. Alongside the highlights, such as sharing the stage with close friends or living legends such as Yannick Nézet-Séguin there is a series of exceptional incidents I encountered so far: Medical emergencies on or off stage, pets smuggled into concert halls or drunk promoters involuntarily popping up live on stage…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is when you achieve separating your self-worth as a person from the satisfaction with your performance. I strongly believe you can only remain independent and free if you don’t allow your personal approach on music to be commercialized.

It’s a lot harder to achieve than it sounds.


Joseph Moog’s ability to combine exquisite technical skill with a mature and intelligent musicality set him apart as a pianist of exceptional diversity. A champion of the well-known masterworks as well as a true advocate of rare and forgotten repertoire paired with his quality to compose and arrange, Joseph was awarded the accolade of Gramophone Young Artist of the Year 2015 and was also nominated for the GRAMMY in 2016.

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(artist photo: Askonas Holt)

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

JOO: I was in love with music from the moment I was born. At least, according to my parents. I loved all kinds of music. As a baby, I couldn’t stop listening to music and used to drive my parents crazy listening over and over to the same thing. When I was able to walk, I used to stop in my tracks when walking past a music store. So immovable was I, that my parents had no choice but to ask the shopkeeper if they could keep an eye on me while they went ahead and did their shopping. In those days, people trusted strangers to look after their kids! I was super happy just staying for hours listening to whatever was playing in the store. I started piano lessons at age eight, and two years later, by fluke, I entered the Yehudi Menuhin School. From that point on, there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to become a musician.

IGUDESMAN: I started to play the violin before I was born. Or so it seemed. I was born in St Petersburg – back then it was called Leningrad. And before that Petrograd. And before that Hetrograd, Metrograd, Sexograd, Retorgrad and Rome. But that was a long time ago. I come from a very musical family. My mother played the piano, my father the violin, my grandmother the cello, my uncle the oboe, my sister the banjo, my cousin the ukulele and his wife the didgeridoo. So it was kind of inevitable I would go into music. Shortly after my birth, I said to my parents: “Mummy daddy, I think maybe one day some time when I am older, I might perhaps want to learn to play the violin, maybe.” I was immediately locked in a room and tied to a music stand with a violin taped to my neck. Every time I started to practice, the dog started to howl. After a while my dad screamed: “Damn it, can’t you play something that the dog DOESN’T know?”

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

JOO:Too many of them to list here. But from the musicians of the past:
Yehudi Menuhin. Glenn Gould. Leonard Bernstein.

All my teachers from Peter Norris, Seta Tanyel, Nina Svetlanova to teachers that I only had few a lessons with but gave me lifetimes of inspiration and knowledge such as Richard Goode, Oleg Maisenberg, and Ferenc Rados. My composition teachers Simon Parkin, Malcolm Singer, Nils Vigeland, and my English and Drama teacher, Kevin Jones. Kevin was a huge influence on what I do with my duo Igudesman & Joo, and when Aleksey and I recently wrote a book together about creativity, we asked Kevin Jones to write the “Afterword”. It was clear to us from the start that Kevin should have the final word about creativity.
Then, I must add people such as Monty Python, Spike Jones, Chaplin, Oscar Wilde, Ionesco as other major influences. And don’t get me started on the composers…

IGUDESMAN: For me it is basically the same as Hyung-ki. I should also include Prokofiev, who was my favourite composer when I was young. In fact as a composer I have often been compared to Prokofiev. Okay, to be fair, I was the one who made the comparison. Frank Zappawas also a strong influence as well as Queen and Pink Floyd. And from the violinists, I would have to say that my biggest idol was Gidon Kremer who we had the great pleasure and honour of working with for a few years earlier in our career. In fact, it felt quite sardonically satisfying to give Gidon a violin lesson on stage in a show we did together! Also, I do have to mention my oldest and besides Hyung-ki, my best friend Julian Rachlin who I grew up next to and who is now not only one of the greatest violinists and viola players alive, but also a brilliant conductor.

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

JOO: To refresh the minds of some people in the world of classical music.

IGUDESMAN: There are daily challenges literally daily. For example having to do this interview, while I have to finish writing a harp concerto for Magdalena Hoffmann, the wonderful harp player of the Bavarian Symphony Orchestra, who has been pestering me about receiving the part for weeks! But seriously, I am actually extremely thankful for having the ability to give interviews and having people interested in all the madness that we do as individuals and together.

Of which performances are you most proud?

JOO: Playing at the Hollywood Bowl- but not because of what you might think. It’s certainly not the history nor the prestige of the place, in fact, I never had any idea what the Hollywood Bowl was. My only reference to this place was a video I had of “Monty Python at the Hollywood Bowl” which I watched several times. The fact that the Pythons had performed there made this place the Holy Grail for me so being on that same stage as my Gods of comedy, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, meant more to me than anyone could imagine.

IGUDESMAN: I have to say, it may even have been our last performance at the RFH in London with the LPO. Not just because of the special venue but the audience.We had almost the entire Yehudi Menuhin School come to it, the school we studied in. And then our dear friends Sir Roger Moore and Terry Jones, who have meanwhile both sadly passed away.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

JOO:“Narcissus” by E. Gocomplex.

IGUDESMAN: I have to admit, that I have become an expert at interpreting my own music. That may sound like a bit of a joke but it really is not. I am very lucky to have published a multitude of works for violin, 2 violins, piano and violin, as well as chamber music and orchestral works on Universal Edition. And although I may be the composer of those works, I still have to discover them. I truly believe that often as a composer one has no idea of how to interpret ones own works. But after some years of playing them in concert, I believe I have cracked some of them. Although I absolutely love discovering young talent playing my music on YouTube.

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

JOO: Consult a crystal ball and try to foresee what I might want to be playing in 2 years time. Jokes aside, I’m very lucky that I am able to conjure up different types of programs, and my interests are so diverse, that almost everything works at anytime. I also love playing the same thing over and over again as one can get deeper into the piece, and I love the process and challenge to make a piece you’ve played so often make it sound like the first time you’re playing it.

IGUDESMAN: Together as Igudesman & Joo, we are very blessed to be able to chose our own repertoire. People (mostly) trust in our choice and programming. So we tend to give show titles with the description and maybe a few videos of some of the piece we will probably play, but the rest is up to us. Often we would decide Orchestra programs only a month or so ahead, while we are preparing parts. And when we have duo shows, we can even decide on the day. This is a great luxury that most people who perform in the classical music world do not get and we are extremely thankful for it. It gives us a way greater spontaneity. We have talked about this problem with many friends and colleagues. How on earth are we supposed to know if we feel like playing the Beethoven Spring Sonata in two and a half years time?

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

JOO: I’ve only performed there once, but I think it’s the most beautiful concert hall in the world – the Palau de la Musicà Catalana in Barcelona. In a way, I wish I hadn’t been playing so that I could have taken in the full experience of being a listener. I can’t wait to return there, either as a performer or as an audience member.

IGUDESMAN: I may have to chose the Vienna Konzerthaus, Vienna being the city we are based. It’s basically in our backyard. And it takes literally 4 minutes for me to cycle from my home to the Konzerthaus Vienna. Which is also a little dangerous, since at times when my concert is at 19:30, at 19:20 I may still be in the shower!

Who are your favourite musicians?

JOO: Most of them are dead! But from those alive today, I’m a big fan of Ebene Quartet, Barbara Hannigan, Tord Gustavsen, Leszek Mozdzer, Stefano Bollani, Gilles Apap.

I had a piano trio for seven years with Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne and Thomas Carroll, and they were some of the best seven years of my life.
I have also been really lucky to have shared the stage making music with special musicians such as Joshua Bell, Renaud Capuçon, Michael Collins, Martin Fröst, Janine Jansen, Gidon Kremer, Dame Felicity Lott, Viktoria Mullova, Lawrence Power, Julian Rachlin, Radovan Vlatkovic, Yuja Wang, the Belcea Quartet and members from the Alban Berg, Artis, and Ebène String Quartets, and many more!- and every one of those collaborations and performances are among my most treasured musical experiences.

IGUDESMAN: I think Hyung-ki has pretty much named a lot of my favourite musicians! From the dead ones, I would have to add Frank Zappa, Glenn Gould and Freddie Mercury fo sure.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

JOO: Playing as soloist in Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin conducting the Warsaw Sinfonia. It was his 80th Birthday Concert at the Barbican Hall, and after having had gone through a few rough years, where I even contemplated giving up music, this concert reminded me why I could never have a life without music.

IGUDESMAN: Perhaps it was our Carnegie Hall debut where we had Joshua Bell and then Billy Joel join us on stage for pieces. Strangely enough it did not feel scary but arm and welcoming to play on that legendary stage!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

JOO: Being able to understand what the music means. And then, if you’re lucky, and work hard, at some lucky points, you are able to transport that meaning.

IGUDEMAN: Being able to do what you want to do. Play the repertoire you want, with who you want. Write the music you want to write. And above all, live the life you want to live, always full of love and creativity.

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

JOO: Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.

IGUDESMAN: Every musician is like an own company. And I don’t mean that in a pragmatic way. It means one has to be creative on many fronts. One has to love the music, live the music. But also one has to understand how to communicate with people, how to market oneself, how to promote yourself as a “product”. And to find out what your USP is – your unique selling point. Trust me, we all have one! To be a musical entrepreneur is the way forward for everyone.That is also why I am a co-founder of the online platform “Music Traveler”, where one can find rooms to play, practice or record online anywhere in the world. We started in Vienna where we have over 100 venues, but are coming to the UK soon. This enables professionals as well as amateurs to have a space to play anytime anywhere. And we are very lucky to be supported by great artists like Yuja Wang, John Malkovich, Billy Joel and Hans Zimmer who even invested in Music Traveler! Both Hyung-ki and I are actively promoting the wonderful platform which improves the world of music.

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

JOO: On a tennis court giving a teenager a tough time on the tennis court.

Other than that, working with youthful orchestras and musicians.
And continuing to explore and being creative with my long-standing collaborator and partner-in-crime, Aleksey Igudesman.

IGUDESMAN: I would love to explore the genre of making movies and documentaries more. I have already directed the Mockumentary “Noseland” featuring Roger Moore and John Malkovich, besides many music videos. There are numerous film ideas, especially linked to music and musicians that I want to produce, direct and enable. My pet peeve is seeing musicians being portrayed by actors who can not play the instrument. I certainly want to change that. So I plan to live in Los Angeles for a time, which may well be in 10 years. And a couple of Oscars would be quite nice. Our friend Vangelis likes to use his as a paper weight, so I would like at least two to prop up my books.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

JOO: No idea. But when everything is flowing and you only see and feel kindness everywhere, that’s a pretty happy state to experience.

IGUDESMAN: Happiness is not a constant. It is a temporary feeling of pleasure and contentment which has to be earned on a daily base. One can not chase it. It comes to you. And mostly when you are being true to yourself and maintain constant creativity in your life. With creativity even interviews can be enjoyable!

What is your most treasured possession?

JOO: I’m trying to get rid of possessions.

IGUDESMAN: My friendships and relationships in my life. Even though the people do not belong to me, my friendships and relationships do, as long as I nurture and cultivate them.

What is your present state of mind?

JOO: Thinking about what the next question is going to be…

IGUDESMAN: Excitement about our next performance in London on the 4th of March at the Royal Festival Hall. Having Erran Baron Cohen, the brother of Sasha [creator of Ali G and Borat] and composer of the Borat soundtrack will be super exciting. And to do the rather insane show “Clash of the Soloist” in London is something that is literally on my mind now, since I am about to rehearse it with Hyung-ki and Thomas Carroll, our dear friend and great musician, who will conduct the performance with the LPO at the RFH!

On Wednesday 4 March the London Philharmonic Orchestra play it for laughs with comedic duo Igudesman & Joo.

The pair are masters of the art of mashing up classical music masterpieces with their own unique twist.

They join the orchestra for an evening of creativity, madness and hilarity with their two acclaimed shows Clash of the Soloists and Big Nightmare Music.

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

I was brought up in a small seaside town, and was extremely lucky to find there an excellent teacher, who had studied with Tobias Matthay at the Royal College of Music. I loved piano playing from day one. Later, I joined the junior college at the Royal Northern College of Music, and it was then that I decided to pursue a playing career.

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

Each of my teachers has influenced me in their own way. Sir William Glock (a Schnabel student) worked a lot on phrasing. George Hadjinikos was a very philosophical musician and Guido Agosti was the pinnacle of refinement. Perlemuter gave me a direct line to Ravel (he studied all Ravel’s works with the composer himself). I have also learnt a great deal from working with other instrumentalists and singers.

I am also very grateful to some key musicians who have helped shape my career, for instance Carola Grindea who encouraged me to become involved with EPTA (the European Piano Teachers Association), and BAPAM (British Association for Performing Arts Medicine) where I now advise injured musicians.

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

There were two main turning points in my career. As a young pianist, I thought I was invincible. I was working with a teacher who pushed me very hard technically, and in my third year at music college, I developed tenosynovitis (severe pain in my right thumb). This forced me to reconsider my whole approach to technique, and led to my life-long research into healthy piano playing.

I continued focussing primarily on performance for many years, until I had several years of bad health, followed by the birth of my children. This resulted in a second change of direction, in which I reduced my touring and focused more on teaching, which I have found very fulfilling.

I keep having to remind students who have major challenges or setbacks of one kind or another, that if one door closes, we can look for a different door.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Impossible to say! I love performing and have been fortunate to play in both major concert venues and very intimate settings – I enjoy both. Sometimes one plays one’s best in the least expected places. When I was in my twenties, I played a lot of concerts abroad for the British Council, sometimes playing to audiences who had rarely heard classical music played live before. In those circumstances, I felt a huge responsibility to bring across the music’s message very strongly, over and above any technical concerns. This proved very liberating and I think that it is very valuable training for any young pianist to gain experience of a wide range of audiences and venues – it also helps you develop resilience and adaptability.

In addition to performing, you have a distinguished career as a teacher. Who or what inspired to you start teaching?

I started teaching while still at school, teaching some of my fellow students and helping them prepare for their piano exams. I partly funded myself through college by teaching, and then was lucky to be offered a teaching post at Keele University in my postgraduate year. I am eternally grateful to Sir William Glock for recommending me to the post at Keele which later led to conservatoire teaching posts. I have been teaching at Trinity Laban (formerly Trinity College of Music) for twenty years now, alongside work at other colleges and a private practice.

Who/what have been the most significant influences on your teaching?

I was fortunate to experience a range of dedicated and inspiring teachers from an early age. Each had a very different approach, (and at times I even worked with two very contradictory teachers simultaneously). This worked well for me as the contradictions stimulated me to question everything and to try to work out the best solutions for myself. However, I do not recommend this for everyone – I think every pianist needs a regular, committed teacher who can oversee their longer-term development.

My experience of other movement techniques including yoga, Tai Chi and Alexander technique, my collaboration with an osteopath, and my research into anatomy have also been invaluable. However, it took many years of research and experimentation before I could work out how to apply all this knowledge directly to piano playing.

Having come across many pianists who missed out on a thorough grounding in their early years, I feel passionate about the need to train a new generation of enthusiastic, committed and knowledgeable teachers. Music colleges still tend to focus predominantly on performance, yet so many pianists would enjoy teaching more if they knew how to do it really well. Confident and knowledgeable teachers nurture enthusiastic students, who in turn inspire the teacher’s work further. There are some good piano teaching courses available, but in order to fill a perceived gap in the understanding of teaching technique, I am starting up a teacher training course next winter, in which teachers can explore new methods of teaching technique, based on the exercises in The Complete Pianist.

What are your views on music exams, festivals and competitions?

I think this depends very much on the individual. Some thrive and feel motivated by exams and competitions, others prefer to play concerts, or just to play piano for their own pleasure. I think there is a role for everyone in music. As a young pianist, I much preferred playing concerts to competitions, as I played better in front of a real audience. Having said which, I now very much enjoy being a member of competition juries, especially those that support and nurture young musicians. It’s a major challenge and a huge responsibility to have to judge one talented student against another.

Your new book ‘The Complete Pianist’ is published on 20 February. Tell us more about the motivation for producing this and what you hope pianists will gain from it.

Over my lifetime, I have acquired an enormous amount of experience and understanding on all aspects of playing and teaching, and about fifteen years ago, I finally decided that I was ready to share this for the benefit of future generations. I started by writing magazine articles, mainly in Piano Professional magazine, which I always intended to build into a book eventually. A friend introduced me to Peters Edition, who said they ‘had been looking for this book for ten years’ so it was an ideal match! They encouraged me to be more and more ambitious, and once we had settled on the title of ‘The Complete Pianist’, it became clear that the book had to be as comprehensive as possible. (It now includes more than 500 pages of text, 250 exercises of my own devising and access to 300 videos in which I demonstrate all the main points myself). This posed an interesting challenge: it forced me to think in depth about some aspects of playing that I had not yet fully clarified in my own mind (a process which has, incidentally, also greatly enhanced my own teaching.) Several years on, the book is finally finished.

I think The Complete Pianist has much to offer every pianist, whether professional or amateur, teacher or student, and I have included musical examples which range from elementary to concert repertoire. I have also tried to recognise and address the differing needs of a wide range of pianists (for instance, I may recommend different exercises for pianists with weak hands to those with strong but rather inflexible hands). I think it is true to say that it’s one of the few major books on piano playing which has seriously addressed the additional challenges that pianists with smaller-than-average hands face.

For me, it is never enough just to tell a student what to do – I feel that it is incumbent on me as a teacher to explain very precisely and simply how to achieve that pianistically. In the book, therefore, each new aspect of playing is addressed through a series of practical exercises which guide the readers step-by-step towards healthy, inspired playing. The book covers all aspects of playing, from a whole-body approach, through every aspect of piano technique to informed interpretation. I also delve into the way we think about music: from mental preparation, effective practising and motivation to developing confidence for inspired performance.

I have tested all the exercises repeatedly on my own students. Many of my students are teachers themselves who have also used the exercises for their own students at different levels and given very valuable feedback.

I hope that the book will help many pianists overcome obstacles and realise their full potential at the piano.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Good question – what is success? I think success is doing whatever you do with absolute commitment and to the best of your abilities. There is still a tendency amongst musicians to relate success to prestigious venues, fame and money. It is quite natural for young pianists to aspire to that, but that kind of celebrity status only comes to a small number of pianists per generation. I think that success, and achieving a real sense of job satisfaction, is much more complex than that. Although external appreciation is encouraging, it can be fickle, and it is unwise to build our self-esteem mainly on the recognition of other people. Ultimately it is the knowledge that you are doing good work that is the most important thing. Musicians should take pride in their own and their students’ successes, whether that be playing a major concerto or just encouraging a new student to play a simple piece beautifully. Success is about genuine sharing of music making in a way that touches others, through playing or through teaching.

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

That the music comes first! Still I hear of many pianists who have been taught to focus on technical ability above all else. This suppresses natural artistry and is more, not less, likely to lead to injury and disillusion. Cultivate your imagination and your humanity and it will shine through in your music and sustain you through a lifetime of playing.

The Complete Pianist: from healthy technique to natural artistry by Penelope Roskell is published on 20 February by Edition Peters and is available from shops and online: www.editionpeters/roskell


Penelope Roskell is Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. As a soloist she has played in major concert halls in more than thirty countries. She is the leading UK specialist in healthy piano playing, and Piano Advisor to the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine, where she holds a clinic for pianists with tension or injuries.

peneloperoskell.co.uk

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

The natural long-term choice for me would have been the violin, or at least a string instrument, as my father was a violinist with the Orchestre de Paris and my grandfather was the Principal Violist of the same and of the Paris Opera Orchestra before that. And naturally, violin was my first instrument, but one I abandoned within just months of starting it. I am not entirely certain why – perhaps I should ask my father about it actually – but a new, shiny black lacquered piano appeared in our house one day and I immediately felt pulled to it. I found a world richer than any other I had known until then, one which gave my imagination free rein and which completely absorbed my attention. Piano just felt natural to me, an extension of my own physical and spiritual being, and still does, although I am far from chained to it or obsessive about it. Of course, learning to play the piano while growing up was not always a smooth road, and I was not always disciplined or desirous of playing, especially as the pressure mounted (I did play many hours each day, usually). But I never questioned my choice of instrument, and I feel like it was always the right one for me. And when adults inevitably asked me what I wanted to do later in life, I always said that I wanted to be a pianist. It seemed like a perfectly natural answer and one which was easy for me to imagine, as I already had experience regularly attending concerts and seeing professional pianists solo with the orchestra. With that said, as a teenager and young adult I did question my choice of career, and tried a number of different things before finally making music my life…

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

My parents, of course, who supported and guided me all along. And some of my teachers, some of whose influence was particularly important, of which I can cite Aïda Barenboïm, my first real teacher (Daniel Baremboïm’s mother) who gave me my musical foundations; Elena Varvarova, with whom I massively improved my technique and discipline; Brigitte Engerer, who guided me in a period of uncertainty; Rena Shereshevskaya and Vladimir Krainev, who gave me confidence and brought me to a truly professional level; and Earl Wild, who encouraged me to go where the music took me. I also have to acknowledge Ursula Oppens and James Giles who exposed me to America’s rich musical world which I did not know much about. I was also lucky to learn bits and pieces from, and be supported by, Carlo-Maria Giulini, Maria Curcio, Charles Rosen, and Kurt Masur, all of whom added something important to my musical journey. But then, my life has also been filled by books, films, museums, travel, and people near and far. It is one thing to learn how to play and how to be a good musician, and it is another to experience life and learn about oneself and one’s humanity, which then should come through in the expression of music.

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

My career has been unusual, and I have always been out of the system. I have never liked the idea of competition in music, whether in formal or informal terms. Either music is an art or it is a sport, and I don’t believe a sport-like competition is how you hone and find the best artists, even if on occasion you do in a sort of coincidence (although without a doubt, true artists will be true artists no matter how they build their career). The reality is that there is a selection process that occurs anywhere you are, whether formally through a competition or a conservatory entrance audition, or through the acclamation or lack thereof of a public and the press. I don’t personally like to participate in something that to me seems antithetical to the development of the artist and the meaning of music. I say this only because my refusal to play that game has probably penalized me in some ways, and made it harder for me to find my place in the so-called music business.

I have also allowed myself to live life and take the time to learn life from a wide-array of experiences, to find where my truth lies and why I even bother being a musician. And then I also have been active as a teacher, as a concert and festival organizer, and as a recording and film producer of sorts, learning along the way many skills that help me express my personal artistic vision more fully and effectively. I am also quite certain of the joy I feel when sharing something I love with an audience: indeed, music is both uniquely personal and also uniquely communal. For this reason, I hope I will have the chance to share my love of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier with as many people as possible, both through the album as well as through performances down the road.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

While I began my musical life at the very tender age of three, four years old, and began my performance career at ten, I never rushed into making recordings until I felt sure enough of what I had to say, knowing that there was no absolute need to engrave music permanently that had already been recorded by others before, unless there was another compelling reason to do so. Perhaps surprisingly at this stage of life, my recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is my first solo release, but I am not shy of saying that I am exceedingly proud of it and happy to have made it just that way. And while my playing of Bach has already changed since I made the recording, I feel that it is a very accurate representation of who I am as a musician.

I am also still proud and honoured to have given the World Premiere performances and recording of Beethoven’s Piano Trio Hess 47 with my Beethoven Project Trio back in 2009 in Chicago and New York, an adventure forever engraved in my memory.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I like to get under the skin of the composers whose music I play. When I begin to explore a sound world, I want to go deep and feel the sensitivities and emotions of the composer who wrote that music, which is one of the reasons I like to isolate a composer and focus very intensely on that one artist, usually making pilgrimages to the places where that composer lived and worked and reading a lot, along with exploring as much of his or her music as possible. For big composers, I do think it’s a very valuable experience to really go deep, which is what I did with Bach and his Well-Tempered Clavier, and is what I am doing now with Beethoven as I prepare to record his complete sonatas. Those two composers will always be very close to my musical heart, as well as Rameau, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and Ravel. I also love Brahms, but am taking my time to take a full dive into his world. More importantly, life is usually circular, and I approach these composers many times, over time and in due time, and until the time I feel ready to go straight to the heart of what they mean to me. As far as specific works that I play best, I don’t think that is as relevant as just feeling close to a composer’s musical language and being free to express my own sensitivity through that adopted language.

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

I don’t play the seasons game. Music and a musical life have to remain organic, natural, flowing. I cannot force myself to think in terms of seasons. I simply go where my passion takes me and let things fall into place as they will. I am human, and more importantly a musician, not a bureaucrat. As long as I have joy to play a program, I will do so. If for any reason I lose that joy, the program will change. What I do guarantee is that I will show up, barring any impossible situation, where I said I would, and I am always game for a challenge. But I will never do anything that will threaten the joy of music making, and the desire to share something that rings true to me at a specific moment. The idea that I can program something more than one, two or three years in advance rings hollow to me, with the probable exception of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, which I have never grown tired of and don’t expect to. But clearly I also love to take my time to explore one work or one composer, and that usually lasts two or three seasons at least…

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

No. As long as there is a minimal amount of climate comfort, and a decent piano, and more importantly a curious audience, I am happy. But I will say that I never had as much pleasure as I did when recording the Well-Tempered Clavier in Weimar’s historic Jakobskirche and on a very unique Hamburg Steinway D that I had found in Paris, through Régie Pianos. Everything about the acoustic and physical experience there was satisfying, and I suppose that’s a good thing when it comes to making a permanent record!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I don’t know. There are lots of musicians whom I admire, and who have made some great recordings, who have performed some memorable concerts, who have moved me, dead or alive, at one time or another of my life. Some musicians have done it more regularly than others, but it’s so subjective, even to me! And truly, for the most part, there is no debate to be had on most of the great musicians. In no particular order, Artur Rubinstein, Josef Hofmann, Dinu Lipatti, Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau, Marcelle Meyer, Pau Casals, Jascha Heifetz, Henryk Szeryng, Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein… to stay only with the dead, and to remain terribly incomplete. But I love going down rabbit holes and listening, either to radio, one of the streaming services, or just randomly picking through my record collection, and acquainting or reacquainting myself with a musician. But I am not a guru seeker, so while I enjoy listening, going to concerts, and so on, I am also happy with silence sometimes, which is a great teacher of music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’ve been to many. A performance of Eugène Onégin with Valery Gergiev conducting his Mariinsky orchestra and singers in Paris some twenty years ago has stayed with me emotionally. Deeply memorable also was a masterclass given by Kurt Masur in New York where he showed the arm-waving student conductors how to conduct without even moving his arms (and of course do it better)! It taught me the power of intention and focus.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

There are several sides to success and different ways of understanding the meaning of success as a musician. For me, first, it is being able to express myself from the fount of my inner truth, in other words, it has to ring true to me first, and remains entirely personal, involving no one else, and which is only possible following a long inner journey of discovery and experience. Second, it is succeeding in the practical sense, having the ability to make albums, to perform, and to transmit what one has learned, in such a way as to be free from need and free to be creative. But that sometimes comes and goes with life’s many ups and downs! So then I hold on to my first precept.

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

Stop practicing! Begin living! Seriously, if you know how to play scales and arpeggios, know how to read music, and have covered some basic repertoire from different periods, your basic instrumental education is over. I think way too many musicians try the athletic approach to music, and think they have to be as good if not better technically than the current stars. Perhaps so, in a sense, okay, fine. But a big part of learning to be a good performer, even a good technician, comes from loosening up and taking a step back. Live! Love! Make mistakes! Learn! What else is true music, true art about, if it is not about life? The practice room is too small to let life in. Don’t let life slip by, and find your truth through experience, through the highs and the lows of it all. Confront yourself to reality, not theory. The conservatory is not the place to learn to be a musician, but only a technician. That’s fine for a bit but don’t expect too much from it, if you really have it in you to be a musician. Stop studying as soon as you can, and you’ll have a greater chance of becoming a musician someday.

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

A good place, on a cooler and calmer planet, in harmony with my environment and humanity both physically, emotionally and spiritually.

What is your present state of mind?

Bach and Beethoven. Also, where have our winters gone?

George Lepauw’s first major solo album, the complete Well-Tempered Clavier by J S Bach, is released worldwide on 14 February on the Orchid Classics label.


A concert pianist since his formal debut at age ten in Paris, George Lepauw has performed ever since as a recitalist, chamber musician, vocal collaborator, and soloist with orchestra. He also occasionally collaborates with musicians from other musical genres, including cabaret, musical theater, traditional Chinese and Persian music, flamenco, blues, and pop.

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