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

It all happened rather by accident. I’m from, what I like to call, an atonal family and I owe it to the music school in Gdańsk – my home city. They were looking for talented children in kindergartens and so my parents received a letter one day. A little bit like Hogwarts! I remember discussing the options with my dad before the audition. He only asked that I don’t choose the piano as it’s a big, heavy instrument that takes a lot of space. Soon enough we had to find the space…!

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

From a professional point of view my teachers and fellow music colleagues. I’m infinitely grateful to all the professors I came across in my life. I’m getting to know that process from the other side now and I realise every day how tricky being a teacher can be.

From the psychological or mental side, I couldn’t have done it without my parents. I guess most musicians would say the same thing.

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

Freelancing! It still is. Also the post-graduation blues. I wish we’d speak about it more – how difficult it is to finish studying and to be in the world on our own, without the support of the institution behind us.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

First, my recent release with Naxos called ‘A Century of Polish Piano Miniatures’. I think I managed to put together a programme of the real 20th century jewels of Polish piano literature, allowing the listener to explore all that happened after Chopin. I’m proud of that one. The biggest challenge would be Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, a recording I did last year. Because of the technical difficulties my session lasted for 1.5 hours instead of 3. That’s not enough time to play it through even twice. No space for mistakes!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that would be everything from Impressionism to contemporary music. Ravel has never let me down, same for most of the 20th-century repertoire. However, I must say there’s nothing more satisfying than some good Bach.

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

I aim for a selection of styles and variety of soundworlds. Something that will be good for competitions and recitals with different audiences. I usually make a list of pieces I want to continue playing and try to add works that would go well with it to create interesting programmes.

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

My room. Everything always works! And if I really want I can make it a performance venue. Concert is a state of mind after all!

Who are your favourite musicians?

The passionate ones. No time for accurate boredom.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There is so many memorable experiences…It’s extremely hard to choose the one! Maybe I will go for the finals of Tallinn International Piano Competition when I performed my beloved Ravel for the first time. I felt so powerful, like nothing could stop me. There are also a lot of earlier experiences which are connected with becoming professional and finding my own identity as a concert pianist. I think that’s material for a book…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A balanced combination of high-quality artistic experiences and self-preservation.

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

We do it primarily for the others. We have to always remember that. We serve the audience, whoever they are. We serve the music, the composers, the beauty… It’s our duty to share the love and passion for arts – that’s the best way to make this world a better place.

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

Close to the people I love most, doing what I love to do most.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The above, and loving your work (then you don’t have to work).

What is your most treasured possession?

My mind, nobody can read it.

What is your present state of mind?

Relaxed post-tax return!

Anna Szalucka’s latest CD, A Century of Polish Piano Miniatures, is available now


Anna Szałucka is a Polish pianist and started her musical education at the age of seven. She completed the Bachelor Degree at the Stanisław Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdańsk studying with Waldemar Wojtal. In years 2013 – 2014 she continued her studies at the Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Wien in piano class of Stefan Vladar. Currently she is studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London under the supervision of Ian Fountain. In November 2016 Anna won the 1st Prize together with The Eller, Recital, Orchestra and Estonian Museum Awards at the 3rd International Tallinn Piano Competition. She’s a prize winner of many other competitions including the 1st Prize in Young Pianists Forum in Rybnik and the 2nd Prize and The Special Prize of Jerzy Waldorff on IX Iternational Competition for Young Pianists “Arthur Rubinstein in Memoriam” in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Anna is also a laureate of the 46th Festival of Polish Pianism in Słupsk (Poland). She’s been awarded The Jacob Barnes Piano Scholarship, Musicians’ Company – Harriet Cohen Bach Prize, Kenneth Loveland Gift Prize as well as the 3rd Prize in the International Sussex Piano Competition. Her recent successes include multiple prizes: Janet Duff Greet, Walter MacFarran and Alexander Kelly Memorial Prizes, The Regency Award as well as 2nd Prize and the Audience Prize at the Sheepdrove Intercollegiate Piano Competition. She was selected by the prestigious Musicians’ Company to give her Wigmore Hall debut recital in 2016.

Anna Szałucka has given many concerts across Poland and abroad cooperating with such institutions as The National Fryderyk Chopin Institute, Wiener Beethoven Gesellschaft, The Arthur Rubinstein International Music Foundation, The Worshipful Company of Musicians as well as BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 and Radio Gdańsk. The orchestra appearances include concerts with the Polish Radio Orchestra, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Worthing Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia Baltica, Pomeranian Philharmonics, Górecki Chamber Orchestra and others. Anna has developed her passion for music by taking part in many piano masterclasses, among others with Aleksiej Orłowiecki, Alon Goldstein, Andrzej Jasiński, Kathryn Stott, Imogen Cooper, Dina Yoffe, Lee Kum-Sing, Paul Roberts, Joanna MacGregor, Yevgeny Sudbin and Alberto Nosè.

As the Royal Academy of Music scholar Anna is generously supported by the Thompson Family Charitable Trust. In Poland, she received a scholarship from the Marshal of the Pomeranian Voivodeship, the President of Gdańsk City and the Principal of the Stanisław Moniuszko Academy of Music in Gdańsk. She was also awarded the Ministry of Science and Higher Education Prize as well as Ministry of Culture and National Heritage Prize.

www.annaszalucka.com

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

I first discovered the piano at a friend’s birthday party when I was six years old. They had an upright piano in the living room, and that interesting large object immediately caught my attention as something that looked very interesting. Later, when most people were outside playing football, I remember climbing onto the piano stool and started just tinkering some notes, and realised that there was a connection between each note, and a kind of weird relationship I couldn’t quite describe – I started to slowly pick out tunes that were stored in my head from my even earlier years at nursery (tunes such as ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’). It took me a while to pick out full tunes, but I was immediately aware that some of the notes fitted in the tune as the ‘right’ notes in the right order, and some notes which didn’t, and thus were ‘wrong’. I also could somehow differentiate each note in terms of pitch by an instinct – later, I was told that this was perfect pitch. My friend’s mum was impressed, and later phoned up my own mother and told her that she didn’t know I was taking piano lessons, and wanted to know who my piano teacher was. My mother was shocked at all this, and was in confusion with pianos and piano teachers, since it’s something that never really cropped up into her life until that point! A few months later, my mum bought me my first piano (a new upright), and after playing around with the instrument, I began taking lessons.

My passion for composing music came around the same time when I picked up the piano, but it started out as improvisation – I always loved to sit at the piano and make up my own pieces and remembered having tremendous fun! When I was about eight, someone told me that it might be a good idea to start learning to write ideas and improvisations down. A music student, who was a friend of my dad’s, came round to our house and recommended we get a music notation software. I began to play around with that, and would spend hours playing on there and experimenting with different instruments, sounds and styles. I would sometimes perform them to friends and family, and got great fulfilment out of that. However, I didn’t have formal tuition until secondary school, which was a place where I had the chance to open myself up to even more kinds of styles, and refine my composition techniques as well as learning new ones – there was the beginning of my life-long search to find my own compositional voice, integrity, and individuality

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

My parents and my teachers – they have been very supportive with my musical passion ever since the beginning, and have always been there for me. I feel very lucky indeed.

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

For me, the most difficult thing about playing music is not technique – rather, it’s finding the most musical, communicative, faithful, fresh, authentic way of interpreting music, that is true to yourself and to the composer. One of my old piano teachers always emphasised about making the music sound as natural as possible. The process of learning and performing a piece is a deeply fulfilling, but never-ending journey to find the real spirit, character, depth, and true understanding of the piece in terms of its theme and stylistic context, and then, it’s the question of how to convey all that into the interpretation, bearing in mind that, if you’re practicing the right way, every time you work on a piece, you discover something new. The greatest pianists all manage to somehow achieve this – it’s this very essence on how they express and communicate the music that can give audiences goosebumps, move them to tears, or drop their jaws and think ‘wow’. Music is one of the few things in the world that, when unleashed to its full potential, has the power to do just that – to summarise, the biggest challenge for me in music is making music! I am somewhat relieved that this process is never leisurely for me – it’s what motivates me to carry on, and is one of the soul reasons why I love music so much.

As for composition, it’s always a flow of inspiration which leads to many good ideas forming a piece to be written down – the challenge for me, however, is overcoming the self-doubt that usually follows immediately after this. I’m always questioning myself about every minuscule idea I put to paper, and then forgetting about it and continue to do what I’m currently doing. The end result has mainly been positive and gratifying for me. Of course, there’s always the challenge of rehearsing the piece with the player(s), but it’s always the feeling that you want your next piece you write to be somewhat even better than your previous piece that drives me forward, and makes me continue!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I always try to put in the same effort and concentration into each performance and recording I do. I am however, pleased with my debut album for Orchid Classics, which will be released in September this year!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I always strive to try and bring the same amount of justice to whatever it is I’m playing – I try to convince myself that I’m fully versatile with all kinds of works and styles.

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

It always varies, and usually depends on my mood and my taste at that particularly time. I strive for a kind of variety, and try to include at least one of my own compositions.

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

For me, every single venue, be it large or small, has its own uniqueness and story. I try to look for the best in every venue I play, and what matters for me is how to convey the music in the best way that suits whatever venue I’m in at the time. Also, the warm receptive and enthusiastic audience matters to me more than the venue. I do, however, love venues that are architecturally stimulating.

You are also a composer…. Which musicians/composers have had a significant influence on your composing?

Practically everyone! I’m influenced by such a wide range of genres, styles and composers, that I can think of very few composers and styles I don’t like. But sometimes, I even LIKE listening to a piece just because I DON’T like it, as I find it challenging to digest in someway, which leaves me wanting more. Music that I don’t like is like a puzzle for me – I would spend time listening to it in secret to try and ‘decipher its puzzle’. I’m a big like a vacuum cleaner – everything somehow makes their way into me creative thought-process. This is also why I sometimes find it dangerous to ‘open my doors’ too wide – sometimes I get an ‘influence overload’, which can then lead to the self-doubt I was talking about earlier on. But yet, that’s also a good thing, as it expands my knowledge and makes a mark on the inspiration in my subconscious – it’s a bit of a paradox!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I’ve always had a natural affinity to write in any style/genre required or thrown at me. I’ve enjoyed writing filmic music, pop songs, folk music pastiches, and hope to write musicals and film scores as well in the future. I have done lots of arrangements of Chinese folk songs and other well-known tunes – usually all through improvisation.

Although, for my concert music, I don’t think my style has settled down firmly yet – it’s continuing to evolve. I’ve always been more fascinated by the inspiration and concept behind a piece, and the musical ideas and how they are used, and that’s why I infrequently think about my music as being ‘tonal’ or ‘atonal’ or not. Having said that, a few years ago, I was enjoying writing music that ended up being almost inadvertently atonal or mixed tonal music, but now it’s starting to edge towards the more tonal side. I’m starting to think there is so much I can experiment and play around new ways to use tonality, and combining them both. Some may say that this is unfortunate, but I personally feel very lucky to be living in a time with so many musical languages at our disposal, and we can write whatever we want – like a painter having lots of different types of paintbrush. I feel lucky to be fluent in so many ‘musical languages’

How do you work (as a composer)?

I’m always improvising and recording myself to help generate ideas. I usually compose with pen and paper, and then put it into a notation programme. I now have several good ideas for pieces I want to write, but haven’t started yet, because I’m currently writing another piece. I try not to write several pieces at once, as I feel it clogs up my mind.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Again too many to list here! I’d feel guilty mentioning someone with the worry of missing someone else out! Although there’s never really been a pianist or composer that I love 100% of everything he/she plays/writes – it’s always a few or more pieces that are my favourite interpretation, or a particular piece by a particular composer that I really love, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I love all other pieces written/played by him/her.

That said, pianists include Argerich, Sokolov, Zimmerman, Horowitz, Hoffman and Cortot to name just a very few. Apart from the great composers of the past eras, such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Bartok, Szymanowski, Stravinsky etc., more recent composers include Arvo Part, Gorecki, Oliver Knussen, James MacMillan, John Adams and many more. Film and musical composers include John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and many more

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I have a few, but from the recent period, I won’t forget performing a solo piano tour in Portland, USA, and as an encore, I offered to do an improvisation on the spot – I’d ask for any member of audience to either come onstage to the piano and play any random notes (which I will base the improvisation on) and any style/composer – this rather intellectual member in the audience shouted ‘how about a piece using only notes G and F#, in the style of Weber and Oscar Peterson’! I accepted the challenge – turns out the audience liked it very much, and they gave me a very warm reception.

Here is an improvisation I did on a famous musical motif from ‘The Hunger Games’ in an Impressionist style: http://sg.abrsm.org/en/about-abrsm/abrsm-blog/article/my-musical-journey/791/

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

For me, as clichéd is it might sound, it’s about being able to see between the notes of what the composer wrote to really convey a performance that is special, memorable, moving and deeply musical. For aspiring composers, it’s important to open up your mind to as many different kinds of music as possible. Always strive to do everything in music to the very best of your ability and not to compromise your quality. Above all, enjoy it, cherish it, and allow music to take over your life!

What is your present state of mind?

Happy and contemplative.

 

Yuanfan Yang’s debut disc of music by Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Philip Cashian and his own compositions is available now on the Orchid Classics label


Born in Edinburgh, Yuanfan began learning the piano when he was 6, passed Grade 8 with Distinction at the age of 8 and achieved a Diploma of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (DipABRSM) when he was 10. He was awarded the AMusTCL Diploma in Music Theory with Distinction in 2015, and is a Scholar of the Drake Calleja Trust.

Yuanfan has won numerous piano competitions. He has won 1st Prize at the Cleveland International Young Artists Piano Competition in the USA in 2015, and 1st Prize of the 4th International Franz Liszt Piano Competition in Weimar, Germany in 2014, with which he was awarded the Special Prize for Best Interpretation of a Classical Sonata, the Special Prize for Best Interpretation of Works by Liszt, the Special Prize for Best Composition and Improvisation, the Junior Jury Prize, and the European Union of Music Competitions for Youth (EMCY) Prize for Most Outstanding Contestant. In 2013 he won the 3rd Prize in the Minnesota International E-Piano Competition. He has also won 1st Prizes in the 2010 RNCM James Mottram International Piano Competition (under 19), and the 2009 Manchester International Piano Concerto Competition for Young Pianists (age 16 and under). Yuanfan is also a fluent sight-reader, having been the champion of the ongoing Michael Abraham Sight-Reading Award six years in a row, ever since he joined Chetham’s. He has also won 1st Prizes in the UK Liszt Society International Piano Prize 2015, the Royal Academy of Music’s Sterndale Bennett Prize 2015, and the 9th Grand Prix Interlaken Classics International Piano Competition 2016. He was the Keyboard Category Winner and a Grand Finalist of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition 2012, and won both category and overall prizes at the European Piano Teachers Association (EPTA) UK Piano Competition 2010. Most recently, as the youngest participant and top eight semi-finalist in the Cleveland International Piano Competition 2016, Yuanfan’s performances earned him the Special AAF (Alink Argerich Foundation) Prize.

Yuanfan has performed for many eminent music societies, festivals and key events throughout Britain, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and the US, and has performed concertos by Beethoven, Chopin, Gershwin, Grieg, Mozart, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky with many eminent conductors and leading orchestras including the Northern Sinfonia, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Romanian Radio National Symphony Orchestra, the Wuhan Philharmonic Orchestra, the Canton Symphony Orchestra in Cleveland, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Leeds Sinfonia, and the Manchester Camerata.

Yuanfan is also a versatile composer and an accomplished improviser. His ‘Fantasy in G’ for piano was broadcast on BBC Two in 2007 and 2008, and his arrangement of ‘Scarborough Fair’ was shown on BBC Four in 2010. His piano composition ‘Waves’ won the Overall Award in the European Piano Teachers Association UK Composition Competition 2011. This piece also won Highly-Commended in the BBC Proms Young Composers Competition 2011. His ‘Haunted Bell’ won first prize in the Junior Group of the Golden Key International Piano Composition Competition in 2012, and it was broadcast on BBC Four and BBC Radio Three. He was a finalist in the National Centre for Early Music Composers’ Award 2013, where his piece ‘Crushed Suites’ was premiered and recorded by the leading early music ensemble Florilegium. In September 2014, Yuanfan’s new Piano Concerto – ‘The Wilderness’, scored for solo piano and full symphony orchestra, was premiered in Qianjiang, China; the concerto was performed again at Wuhan University as part of his China tour in November 2014, and it had its UK premiere with the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra in June 2015 – all the performances were enthusiastically received with critical acclaim from the press and audience. This concerto will be performed in 2017 at the Beijing Concert Hall with the Beijing National Theatre and Dance Orchestra.

Yuanfan has recently recorded his debut album for Orchid Classics, which is due for international release in mid-2017.

www.yuanfanyang.com

 

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

I remember being drawn to the piano as a very young child. I had a French aunt who was a superb pianist. When she came to visit and sat to play at the old Bechstein grand that we had at home, a kind of magic descended on the household. I naturally enjoyed starting lessons at the age of seven. It was only quite late in my life that my mother confessed to me that she had listened to gramophone records incessantly while she was pregnant with me, with the express intention of producing a musical child (my older brothers had not shown great interest in music…). I was a bit taken aback to think that I had been brainwashed in the womb, but, on reflection, I am quite grateful!

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

I could make a long list of people who have been important in shaping my musical life, amongst whom would be many composers and colleagues, not least my fellow players in the Schubert Ensemble (which has remained unchanged for 22 years). But three teachers stand out above all others. My greatest debt of gratitude goes to Rosemary Hammond, a local schoolteacher and choir director, who took me under her wing when I was eleven years old and floundering at an unmusical boarding school. She was no great performer, but had an infectious love of music and was an inspirational teacher. She introduced me to playing on clavichord and fortepiano as well as modern piano, taught me to compose and encouraged me with astonishing warmth and generosity. In my twenties I was lucky enough to study with Vlado Perlemuter, whose honest and unmannered musicality is still an inspiration to me, and also with Peter Feuchtwanger, a maverick and unorthodox teacher who taught me to open my eyes and ears in unexpected ways and gave me the courage to shape my career by following my enthusiasms.

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

It may sound simplistic to say this, but the biggest challenges of my career have been developing that career in the first place and then sustaining it. I can honestly say that I have loved my professional life, but for years it involved a huge amount of hard work and uncertainty about the future, together with the constant battle of trying to juggle travelling and working at unsociable hours with bringing up a family. These pressures are common to many freelance professions, but we pianists inhabit a world overcrowded with dazzling talent and I can’t think of a single moment over the years when I have felt I could take my career for granted. The musical challenges (of which there have been many!) have felt easy by comparison.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Without any hesitation, I would hold up my recording of Pavel Zemek Novák’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, which came out on Champs Hill Records in 2011. It is a monumental work lasting around 75 minutes, which was written for me over a 17-year period from 1989 to 2006. I found the pieces incredibly difficult to play (and to read – they were written in manuscript and almost every page was covered in dozens of corrections!) and the recording took a huge amount of preparation. It was a labour of love, but massively rewarding. The Preludes and Fugues comprise some of the most important and original piano music that I have ever played. Pavel is not hugely well known outside the Czech Republic, but I am convinced that his music will become better and better known. Of the 45 or so CD recordings that I have made over the years, I think this is the one most likely to outlive me.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I am probably the last person who should try to judge what I play best, but I feel especially at home playing Schubert, Chopin, Fauré and Janáček, and if I had to single out one work of each composer, they would be the Wanderer: Fantasie, the First Ballade, the Sixth Nocturne and In the Mists.

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

I like to introduce new works into my repertoire each season and to return to works I have not played for a while. Recording plans and new commissions also affect the make-up of programmes, and large-scale projects too at times. At the moment my programmes are built around love songs for solo piano, both romantic pieces and a large collection of newly commissioned works.

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

I tend to judge venues as much by the pianos they offer as well as their acoustic. The Wigmore Hall ticks all boxes for me. While I love performing in its acoustic, it also has one of the best-maintained Steinways in the country. Next year will be the fortieth anniversary of my first concert there, so I can add familiarity and decades of happy memories to its attractions! Competing with the Wigmore is the medieval Great Hall at Dartington, which is a beautiful space to perform in, and is also full of memories for me. I heard many of the most memorable concerts of my life there as a student at the Summer School in the late 60s and 70s and it always gives me a huge thrill to be playing there myself.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It would be too difficult to choose my favourite pieces to perform – they tend anyway to be what I am working on at any given time. Naming my favourite pieces to listen to is easier. They would be Mozart’s G minor String Quintet and Janáček’s Second String Quartet.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have too many favourite musicians in the present who I could list – composers, instrumentalists and fellow pianists who are friends and many others who I admire from afar – so I will stick to those from the past who I heard play live and whose recordings I still love to listen to Artur Rubinstein, Vlado Perlemuter, Shura Cherkassy, and Rudolf Serkin.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Nearly 20 years ago the Schubert Ensemble launched a project called Chamber Music 2000, in which we commissioned several dozen new chamber works for young pianists and string players. We put on over twenty public concerts in venues all over the UK, including the Wigmore Hall and South Bank Centre, in which young musicians, mainly teenagers, performed whole concerts of works by living composers. These concerts had a wonderful spirit of engagement and adventure and were some of the most memorable I have attended as a listener.

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

It is the privilege of older musicians to specialise (if they want to!), but I think for younger and aspiring musicians a broad experience of music is essential. It is important to hear lots of live performances and to study as wide a repertoire as possible, and, very particularly, repertoire beyond that written for your own instrument. And I firmly believe that working with living composers can teach us an enormous amount about how to approach interpreting music from the past.

What is your present state of mind?

I feel very positive about life at the moment! I am enjoying playing the piano more than ever right now and I have a number of projects on the go that I am finding fascinating and challenging. 

William Howard is established as one of Britain’s leading pianists, enjoying a career that has taken him to over 40 different countries. His performing life consists of solo recitals, concerto performances, guest appearances with chamber ensembles and instrumentalists, and regular touring with the Schubert Ensemble of London, Britain’s leading group for piano and strings and winners of the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Best Chamber Ensemble. He can be heard on around 40 CDs, released by Chandos, Hyperion, ASV, NMC, Collins Classics, Black Box, Champs Hill, Nimbus and Orchid Classics.

His solo career has taken him to many of Britain’s most important festivals, including Bath, Brighton and Cheltenham, and he has been artist in residence at several others. He has performed many times in the Wigmore Hall and the South Bank in London and has broadcast regularly for BBC Radio 3. For many years he has been invited to perform and teach at the Dartington International Summer School. His recording of Dvořák Piano Works was selected in the Gramophone Critics’ Choice, and his recording of Fibich’s ‘Moods, Impressions and Souvenirs’ won a Diapason D’Or award in France.

Recent solo engagements have included a performance at the 2015 Bermuda Festival, the premiere of David Matthews’s Four Portraits at the Spitalfields Festival in London and performances at the Cheltenham, Deal, Leamington, Petworth and Paxton Festivals, at Kings Place in London, in Brno (Czech Republic), Italy and Oregon, USA. In 2011 he made a recording of Pavel Zemek Novák’s extraordinary 75-minute cycle of 24 Preludes and Fugues. A double five-star review in the BBC Music Magazine described the performance as “superb” and the music “a real discovery”. His most recent album, Sixteen Love Songs, released in June 2016 on Orchid Classics was selected as ‘Drive Discovery of the Week’ on Classic FM.

He is passionate about 19th century piano repertoire, especially Schubert, Chopin, Schumann and Fauré. He also has a strong interest in Czech piano music, and has been particularly acclaimed for his performance of Janáček, for which he received a medal from the Czech Minister of Culture in 1986. Many leading composers of the present day have written for him, including, Sally Beamish, Petr Eben, Piers Hellawell, David Matthews, Pavel Novák, Anthony Powers, Howard Skempton and Judith Weir. In 2016 he launched a project to commission sixteen love songs for solo piano from leading composers in the UK and abroad, including Elena Kats-Chernin, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry and Judith Weir. He also set up an international composing competition for writing piano love songs that attracted over 500 entries from 61 countries.

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

My grandmother owned an upright piano and used it to play simplified arrangements of jazz standards. As a young child, I used to live in the flat above and enjoyed visits during her morning ritual, which consisted of drinking Turkish/Arabic coffee, cigarette in hand, and listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie and Billie Holiday amongst other jazz artists from the Golden Era. She almost certainly passed on her pure love of music to my father, who had similar recordings playing on cassettes, LPs and CDs in our own flat most of the time.

I’m not sure that this led to me becoming a professional classical pianist though. I believe the joy experienced by amateurs while listening to or playing music is often lost on professionals (especially within the classical music industry) who often use music to serve rather personal goals in their lives, such as becoming the very best at something – a very questionable goal to aspire to in the subjective world of the fine arts, in my opinion. My family’s love of jazz certainly made me want to have music all around me and led to drum kit lessons with my father at the age of three and piano lessons at the age of five with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva – an exceptional teacher and composer who was based in Amman at the time. I moved to the UK as an eleven year old to pursue my professional training and education. This was probably what actually placed me on the path to becoming a professional, having received a solid technical foundation in the Russian School of piano playing from Agnes, a Georgian educated in Moscow.

My grandmother gave me her piano about a year after I started lessons because she felt that my electric keyboard had surpassed its usefulness. This will always be one of the most precious gifts anyone has ever offered me.

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

I’ve been very fortunate indeed to have received input from quite a few extraordinary musicians; I met Yo-Yo Ma as a ten year old during the first West Eastern Divan workshop, which was directed by Daniel Barenboim who has mentored me on many occasions since. He has also invited me to tour with him and the West Eastern Divan as a soloist, playing works that include Berg’s Chamber Concerto which certainly shaped my interest in the Second Viennese School. I am privileged to have been introduced to a genre by one of its top authorities.

I will certainly never forget the late Sir Colin Davis’ advice on how to start the angelic ‘Siciliana’ movement (II) as I prepared for our performance of Mozart’s Concerto no. 23 in A major with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Barbican Centre. Furthermore, my lesson with the late Pierre Boulez on his own ‘12 Notations’ for solo piano at the Royal Academy will remain one of the most important and cherished musical experiences of my life, of course.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that my piano, theory, composition and conducting teachers had the biggest influences on my development, as they helped shape my musicianship very directly. Since leaving Jordan, I have studied piano with Tatiana Sarkissova (who was my main professor in the UK), Hinrich Alpers and Tessa Nicholson, composition with Jonathan Cole and Graham Williams, conducting with Paul Brough, Denise Ham, Quentin Poole and Peter Stark. Though I have had many fantastic theory teachers over the years, the Chicago-based conductor and arranger Cliff Colnot was one of the best pedagogues one could ask for, as I discovered during the many hours I spent analysing full scores of the symphonic repertoire with him. We met during summer West Eastern Divan workshops Seville, Spain and during visits that I made to Chicago for intensive courses as a teenager.

Since moving to Berlin, I have spent a lot of time learning about early music from the renowned scholar, viol player and director of Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus. I remember attending one of his lectures during his visit to the Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and subsequently reading his essay ‘Beyond the Interpretation of Music’ which, I can safely say, forced me to reconsider everything I had learned about studying and preparing repertoire of any genre.

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

Remaining moderately sane.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m quite concerned about the levels of narcissism within our industry – especially since the onset of social media – so I’m careful to avoid pride, as much as I can. For clarity, I do use social media but try my best to be as pragmatic about it as possible. Focusing on the experience of performing is more of a priority for me, rather than the many emotions and thoughts that follow. They are after all pretty useless unless they help me improve.

However, if I had to choose one memorable performance to discuss, I would say that it was particularly interesting to play Schoenberg’s op. 11 to a group of students at the Hind Al–Husseini College in occupied East Jerusalem, Palestine. It is very likely that some of these students had never been exposed to any classical music at all until then (within the frame of attending live concerts). So the discussion about ‘Drei Klavierstuecke op. 11’ that followed my performance was fascinating, particularly as they had the advantage, as listeners, of having no strong standard to compare atonality to.* I remember one student saying that she imagined a scene from a horror movie while I was playing. Considering the fact that Schoenberg moved to Hollywood in 1934, I thought that this was very perceptive indeed. After all he must have influenced a whole generation of film composers as one of the University of Southern California’s and University of California, Los Angeles’ most valued pedagogues.

I’m very pleased that this event took place.

*Arabic music is mainly monophonic, with intricacy and complexity in the melodic ornamentation and rhythm rather than the homophonic movement of parts – in other words it’s more of a horizontal tradition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Not sure, tough one. Sorry!

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

I am naturally quite a curious person, so my approach to music has always been interest-driven. What I offer in recitals is usually linked to what I have been exploring as a listener, these days, now that I am no longer a studying in a traditional sense. Certainly my engagement with English Renaissance music developed because of my interest in Renaissance music in general. I was exposed to it at the Purcell School – we had to sing a fair amount of Palestrina, Lassus and Byrd in choir – and really enjoyed the counterpoint and modality back then, although I was probably too young to fully appreciate its beauty. However, it was a performance of Monteverdi’s ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’ at the English National Opera (especially the final duet) that really got me hooked as a listener. So by the time I met Laurence Dreyfus, I was ready to start working on and studying the genre more extensively.

There is no rich tradition of performing Renaissance keyboard music on the modern piano, (Sokolov and Gould are both true heroes of mine, as different as they are, but there aren’t many others who venture out into this territory) so the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s survey of John Bull’s keyboard works was a very important and revelatory recording to listen to. Thankfully, he was very generous when I emailed him with questions, and invited me to Prague for some coaching. It was heart-warming to see how very encouraging he was about playing this music on the modern piano and using the instrument idiomatically to serve it. He had many suggestions for further keyboard repertoire that I should explore.

In general, I avoid chronological programming, so called well-balanced programming where one tries to tick boxes across genres that are limited to music written between about 1750 and 1950, exclusively nineteenth century programmes and single composer programmes (unless it’s a performance of the Goldberg Variations, which I sometimes play on it’s own, but usually start the concert with some Boulez or Schoenberg).

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

Not really, but playing at Luzern’s KKL and the new Philharmonie de Paris, both with Daniel Barenboim, were exceptional experiences – the acoustics really allow you to take risks with soft dynamics. Both halls were designed by the architect Jean Nouvel.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Mozart’s K467 in Petra, Jordan as an 11 year old. Nothing quite beats Mozart in the middle of the desert, in front of a World Heritage Site as far as memorability goes!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Artistic fulfilment and paying all the bills simultaneously.

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

1) Constantly listening to and studying (not only practising) music with child-like curiosity.

2) Keeping a healthy check on one’s ego – it’s important to know when it’s appropriate to be the centre of attention (i.e on stage) and when it’s in one’s best interest to be a more generous spirit (backstage and everywhere outside the concert hall).

Karim Said’s new album ‘Legacy’ is available now on the Rubicon Classics label. Further information


Karim Said came to the public’s attention in 2009, playing concertos with the late Sir Colin Davis and the English Chamber Orchestra in London’s Barbican Centre and at the BBC PROMS with Daniel Barenboim and his West Eastern Divan. Karim has regularly toured with the Divan orchestra as a soloist, under Maestro Barenboim’s baton, performing at such halls as the Philharmonie in Berlin, Musikverein in Vienna and the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Mostly recently, Karim appeared with the Maestro as a soloist in the opening night of the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, playing the Berg Chamber Concerto.

Karim’s debut album ‘Echoes from an Empire’ (Opus Arte – 2015) was one of Gramphone’s ‘Top Ten recordings of Janacek’ (2016). The repertoire on this album was inspired by his London recital debut series at the Southbank Centre in 2013, where he played the complete solo works by Arnold Schoenberg over three recitals as part of the ‘International Piano Series’ and ‘The Rest Is Noise’ festival. As a chamber musician and song accompanist, Karim has collaborated with artists including Waltraud Meier, Dorothea Röschmann, Gabriel Croitoru, Adrian Brendel, and the Utrecht String Quartet.

Earlier this year, Karim launched the Etihad String Orchestra in his native Jordan as its first Music Director and performed with the European Youth Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko at the Dubai Opera House.

Born in Amman, Jordan in 1988, Karim commenced his piano with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva before moving to the UK in 2000, aged eleven. He studied piano, composition and conducting at the renowned Purcell School of Music and later at the Royal Academy of Music, both on full scholarships. At the Academy he studied with Prof Tatiana Sarkissova. In more recent years, Karim was coached by Hinrich Alpers in Berlin, where he is currently based. As a conductor, Karim attended masterclasses with Bernard Haitink at the Royal College of Music during his studies in the UK.

Karim Said was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, London in 2017.

karimsaid.com


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

I remember being fascinated by the piano in my grandmother’s house, and this led to my mother teaching me to read music at the age of three.I do not remember,as a child, hearing much music, none of my friends played an instrument, but I remember my grandmother played by ear, and sang music-hall songs to me, which I loved. They must have embedded themselves deep in my memory, as I still remember many of these, including all the words!

One strange memory stands out. My mother, before her marriage, had worked in the office of a local chemist, a Mr. Lester, of whom she spoke occasionally, with the greatest respect and admiration. I had never met this gentleman before, but on one memorable occasion I was taken, by my mother, to visit him at his home. He possessed a fine gramophone, and played me some of his precious 78rpm records. I was about 6 years old at the time. Two recordings stand out in my memory. One was the Grieg piano concerto, which I was hearing for the first time. It made a tremendous impression on me, and I determined that I would one day perform it,(which I did.) The second recording was an odd choice to play to a child, but I was overwhelmed. It was Kirsten Flagstad singing Sibelius songs, and it was one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life. I had never heard anything like it, the powerful intensity of this magnificent voice, and the vivid colours of this unfamiliar music made a huge impression on me. I never saw Mr. Lester again, but he brought magic into my life.

And when I gave my first public performance, at the age of seven, the feeling of engaging with an audience , and sharing  this magical world of music was so exhilarating,that I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to be a pianist.

Further motivation and inspiration came from my repeated reading of ‘Prelude’,a book based on the early life of Eileen Joyce, who was arguably the most famous concert pianist at that time in Britain. I was captivated by this highly romanticised account of a child from a very ordinary background being swept into the extraordinary and exciting world of music. I devoured the stories of her inspiring lessons with eminent European teachers, and the manic regimes of practising, which all culminated in a dazzling career. It was heady stuff, and I became even more determined to enter this fascinating world myself one day.

I was taken to hear Eileen Joyce play on one  occasion by a family friend, who took me backstage afterwards to meet this glamorous superstar of the classical music world. I remember her gorgeous frocks, and, in marked contrast, her workmanlike hands. As she shook my hand, I remember being struck by their immense power.

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

The first time I heard a great pianist in recital was in my early teens, when I I attended a Sunday afternoon concert given by Artur Rubinstein at the Royal Festival Hall. I was mesmerised by the sheer joy and freedom of his playing. This represented the ideal of piano playing that I would, from then on, aspire to.

At the age of seventeen I began my studies at the Royal Academy of Music, where my teacher was Vivian Langrish, who had been a student of Tobias Mattay, alongside Myra Hess. He taught me the importance of sound quality and variety of colour, and greatly expanded my tonal range. Also, while a student, I played for many singers, and was hugely influenced by the great singing teacher, Flora Nielsen, who first revealed the wonders of French song to me, opening the door to the exquisite music of Debussy and Faure in particular.

But I think the greatest inspiration and influence on my playing came from two violinists, the remarkable Hungarian violin professor, Bela Katona, and the legendary violinist Nathan Milstein.

Bela had the most extraordinary ability to reveal the inner life and structure of the music, while at the same time demanding a meticulous attention to detail.

One of the greatest experiences of my life was playing with Nathan Milstein. Every rehearsal was a lesson with a great master. He would demonstrate on the violin what he wanted me to do on the piano. I learnt so much just trying to develop my touch to match his attack on the string, and the freedom of his bow arm to make the gestures of the music. It was awe-inspiring. And throughout, there was always his insistence on the vital importance of the bass line. I learned to focus my attention on a fully independent and fully present and vital bass line, which underpins everything.

Finally, I must acknowledge the influence of jazz, in particular, great jazz pianists, most notably Oscar Peterson Bill Evans and Erroll Garner. From first hearing jazz in my early teens, I knew that I wanted to play classical music with the freedom, spontaneity and immediacy of these artists. This is still my ideal.

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

One’s life as a musician is a continuous, never-ending series of challenges, and it is in meeting these challenges that one develops. But two huge personal challenges stand out for me.

The first was a very serious illness at the age of 28, when , quite suddenly, all my joints, right down to fingers and toes, seized up, and I became completely immobilised. I spent some weeks in hospital, where the doctors were completely baffled, and considered that I would never walk again, and certainly never play the piano. Eventually, however, slowly and painfully, movement returned, curiously, one joint at a time. The fingers were the last to return, taking several months. I gradually eased back into playing again, finding my way back gently into professional work by doing a little accompanying, and then duo playing and chamber music, as my strength returned. I did not return to solo playing in public, as, due to my illness, I had developed severe anxiety about performing from memory. I was now teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, and was also invited to teach at TrinityCollege, and to establish an ensemble class there. Thus I found myself enjoying a thriving and fulfilling career, performing and teaching, which continued over the following three decades.

And then, shortly after my 60th birthday, came my second huge challenge, when I lost most of my sight, due to haemorages behind the retinas of both eyes. It was extraordinary timing, as, just four years earlier, I had begun training in NLP, ( Neuro-Linguistic-Programming), during which, using one of the very powerful processes we were being taught, I succeeded in eliminating my memory anxiety. I had been looking forward to performing solo again when this new catastrophe struck. Recitals had already been booked, and these, of course, now had to be postponed, while I adjusted to a new, and frightening reality, but I knew that, although I had to give up all ensemble playing due to my severely impaired sight, I would be able to perform solo, from memory. Now there were new challenges, but my desire to continue to play carried me through, and again, I rebuilt my strength and my career, with the support of my wonderful husband Ian, and an amazingly loyal and devoted group of ex-students, who had become wonderful friends over the years.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My last CD , of solo piano music by Fauré, and the previously-released disc of music by Saint-Saens.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that is for others to express their opinions. During the past few years I have felt a particular affinity with the music of Chopin, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel.

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

I allow ideas, or the desire to play particular works, to come to me, and then I play around with them, experimenting, until they come together to form programmes. It’s a creative process.

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

The Holywell Music Room, Oxford. It has special personal memories for me, and I love its intimacy and unique history.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gyorgy Cziffra, Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau, Emil Gilles, Artur Rubinstein, Marta Argerich, Nathan Milstein, Beaux Arts Trio.

Jazz pianists, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience was when I performed in the Memorial concert for John Bingham In 2005, at Blackheath Halls in London.

John was a wonderful pianist and a very special colleague and friend. We had met at Harold Craxton’s studio when we were both 16 years old, and entered the Royal Academy of Music together the following year as scholarship students. We resumed our friendship later when we were both teaching at Trinity College of Music.

At the same time as John was suffering his final illness, leading to his tragic and untimely death, I also had been ill, and had lost most of my sight. Despite my extreme physical weakness at that time, I felt compelled to volunteer to play at John’s memorial concert, such was the bond between us. I knew exactly what I should play— the Fourth Ballade of Chopin, a work which had been special to both of us since our student days.

This would be a momentous experience for me for another reason. As I have related earlier, I had not performed solo in public since a previous illness three decades earlier had left me unable to perform from memory in public. I also described how I had cured this anxiety, and was able to resume performing solo again. This performance at John’ s concert was to be my first solo appearance for more than thirty years. As the date for the concert drew near,  I became apprehensive, thinking how crazy I had been to volunteer, when I knew that, not only would I be performing alongside some very eminent musicians, but that the hall would be packed with many distinguished pianists and other highly respected members of the music profession.

The little sight I had left was also highly distorted at that time, so, on the day, before the concert, I practised finding my way to the piano, which, fortunately, was at ground level, with no treacherous stairs to negotiate.

When the time came for my entrance, the doors opened, and then the most extraordinary thing happened. As I tentatively began to walk forward, I found myself following the figure of a woman, who I instinctively knew was another version of myself. She was taller than me, with hair much darker and longer than mine, but I had no doubts as to her identity. And I suddenly felt quite confident, knowing that she would lead me safely to the piano. As I sat down on the stool, I sensed her sitting down by my side, ( although there was no actual chair there.) I felt entirely at ease, and as I played the opening bars I felt her gradually drift away. I felt inspired, with a sense that all was well, and the music seemed to play itself. Afterwards I received a wonderful ovation from the audience, and I knew that this  was a turning point in my life. I have no explanation to offer, but assumed that my mysterious guide must have been a kind of doppelgänger.

As a musician, what is hour definition of success?

For me, success is when I experience the sense of being ‘in the flow’ in a performance, truly in the moment, being at one with myself, with the music and the audience, in a kind of ‘magic loop’. The music seems to play itself. One cannot make this happen. One can only prepare meticulously, and in a way which creates the greatest potential for this to happen. Then, miraculously, sometimes the gods will smile on us!

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

Be curious, allow yourself to experiment.

Ask the question How?

Be kind to yourself.

Embrace uncertainty.

Do not strive for perfection, but follow your dreams, and move step by step towards your goals. Enjoy the journey. Remember that we ‘play’ a musical instrument!

What is your most treasured possession?

I have two. My beloved Steinway piano, and my beautiful Cornish Rex cat, Leo.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious.
Christine Croshaw’s recording of piano music by Gabriel Fauré is available now


Christine Croshaw has enjoyed a long and successful career as a solo pianist, accompanist and chamber music player.

Her concert engagements have taken her to most major venues around the U.K., including many appearances at the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room.

She has performed across the Continent in France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Norway and Denmark, Finland, Poland and Switzerland, and also in North America. Festival appearances include Cheltenham, Lichfield, Kensington and Chelsea, Ludlow, Chichester, Lisbon, Bermuda and Taomina.

Read more

La and Leo – Christine’s Croshaw’s blog

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

I remember being fascinated by the piano in my grandmother’s house, and this led to my mother teaching me to read music at the age of three. I do not remember, as a child, hearing much music, none of my friends played an instrument, but I remember my grandmother played by ear, and sang music-hall songs to me, which I loved. They must have embedded themselves deep in my memory, as I still remember many of these, including all the words!

One strange memory stands out. My mother, before her marriage, had worked in the office of a local chemist, a Mr. Lester, of whom she spoke occasionally, with the greatest respect and admiration. I had never met this gentleman before, but on one memorable occasion I was taken, by my mother, to visit him at his home. He possessed a fine gramophone, and played me some of his precious 78rpm records. I was about 6 years old at the time. Two recordings stand out in my memory. One was the Grieg piano concerto, which I was hearing for the first time. It made a tremendous impression on me, and I determined that I would one day perform it,(which I did.) The second recording was an odd choice to play to a child, but I was overwhelmed. It was Kirsten Flagstad singing Sibelius songs, and it was one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life. I had never heard anything like it, the powerful intensity of this magnificent voice, and the vivid colours of this unfamiliar music made a huge impression on me. I never saw Mr. Lester again, but he brought magic into my life.

And when I gave my first public performance, at the age of seven, the feeling of engaging with an audience, and sharing this magical world of music was so exhilarating, that I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to be a pianist.

Further motivation and inspiration came from my repeated reading of ‘Prelude’,a book based on the early life of Eileen Joyce, who was arguably the most famous concert pianist at that time in Britain. I was captivated by this highly romanticised account of a child from a very ordinary background being swept into the extraordinary and exciting world of music. I devoured the stories of her inspiring lessons with eminent European teachers, and the manic regimes of practising, which all culminated in a dazzling career. It was heady stuff, and I became even more determined to enter this fascinating world myself one day.

I was taken to hear Eileen Joyce play on one  occasion by a family friend, who took me backstage afterwards to meet this glamorous superstar of the classical music world. I remember her gorgeous frocks, and, in marked contrast, her workmanlike hands. As she shook my hand, I remember being struck by their immense power.

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

The first time I heard a great pianist in recital was in my early teens, when I I attended a Sunday afternoon concert given by Artur Rubinstein at the Royal Festival Hall. I was mesmerised by the sheer joy and freedom of his playing. This represented the ideal of piano playing that I would, from then on, aspire to.

At the age of seventeen I began my studies at the Royal Academy of Music, where my teacher was Vivian Langrish, who had been a student of Tobias Mattay, alongside Myra Hess. He taught me the importance of sound quality and variety of colour, and greatly expanded my tonal range. Also, while a student, I played for many singers, and was hugely influenced by the great singing teacher, Flora Nielsen, who first revealed the wonders of French song to me, opening the door to the exquisite music of Debussy and Faure in particular.

But I think the greatest inspiration and influence on my playing came from two violinists, the remarkable Hungarian violin professor, Bela Katona, and the legendary violinist Nathan Milstein.

Bela had the most extraordinary ability to reveal the inner life and structure of the music, while at the same time demanding a meticulous attention to detail.

One of the greatest experiences of my life was playing with Nathan Milstein. Every rehearsal was a lesson with a great master. He would demonstrate on the violin what he wanted me to do on the piano. I learnt so much just trying to develop my touch to match his attack on the string, and the freedom of his bow arm to make the gestures of the music. It was awe-inspiring. And throughout, there was always his insistence on the vital importance of the bass line. I learned to focus my attention on a fully independent and fully present and vital bass line, which underpins everything.

Finally, I must acknowledge the influence of jazz, in particular, great jazz pianists, most notably Oscar Peterson Bill Evans and Erroll Garner. From first hearing jazz in my early teens, I knew that I wanted to play classical music with the freedom, spontaneity and immediacy of these artists. This is still my ideal.

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

One’s life as a musician is a continuous, never-ending series of challenges, and it is in meeting these challenges that one develops. But two huge personal challenges stand out for me.

The first was a very serious illness at the age of 28, when , quite suddenly, all my joints, right down to fingers and toes, seized up, and I became completely immobilised. I spent some weeks in hospital, where the doctors were completely baffled, and considered that I would never walk again, and certainly never play the piano. Eventually, however, slowly and painfully, movement returned, curiously, one joint at a time. The fingers were the last to return, taking several months. I gradually eased back into playing again, finding my way back gently into professional work by doing a little accompanying, and then duo playing and chamber music, as my strength returned. I did not return to solo playing in public, as, due to my illness, I had developed severe anxiety about performing from memory. I was now teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, and was also invited to teach at Trinity College, and to establish an ensemble class there. Thus I found myself enjoying a thriving and fulfilling career, performing and teaching, which continued over the following three decades.

And then, shortly after my 60th birthday, came my second huge challenge, when I lost most of my sight, due to haemorages behind the retinas of both eyes. It was extraordinary timing, as, just four years earlier, I had begun training in NLP, ( Neuro-Linguistic-Programming), during which, using one of the very powerful processes we were being taught, I succeeded in eliminating my memory anxiety. I had been looking forward to performing solo again when this new catastrophe struck. Recitals had already been booked, and these, of course, now had to be postponed, while I adjusted to a new, and frightening reality, but I knew that, although I had to give up all ensemble playing due to my severely impaired sight, I would be able to perform solo, from memory. Now there were new challenges, but my desire to continue to play carried me through, and again, I rebuilt my strength and my career, with the support of my wonderful husband Ian, and an amazingly loyal and devoted group of ex-students, who had become wonderful friends over the years.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My last CD , of solo piano music by Fauré, and the previously-released disc of music by Saint-Saens.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think that is for others to express their opinions. During the past few years I have felt a particular affinity with the music of Chopin, Fauré, Debussy and Ravel.

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

I allow ideas, or the desire to play particular works, to come to me, and then I play around with them, experimenting, until they come together to form programmes. It’s a creative process.

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

The Holywell Music Room, Oxford. It has special personal memories for me, and I love its intimacy and unique history.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gyorgy Cziffra, Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau, Emil Gilels, Artur Rubinstein, Martha Argerich, Nathan Milstein, the Beaux Arts Trio.

Jazz pianists: Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience was when I performed in the Memorial concert for John Bingham in 2005, at Blackheath Halls in London. John was a wonderful pianist and a very special colleague and friend. We had met at Harold Craxton’s studio when we were both 16 years old, and entered the Royal Academy of Music together the following year as scholarship students. We resumed our friendship later when we were both teaching at Trinity College of Music.

At the same time as John was suffering his final illness, leading to his tragic and untimely death, I also had been ill, and had lost most of my sight. Despite my extreme physical weakness at that time, I felt compelled to volunteer to play at John’s memorial concert, such was the bond between us. I knew exactly what I should play— the Fourth Ballade of Chopin, a work which had been special to both of us since our student days.

This would be a momentous experience for me for another reason. As I have related earlier, I had not performed solo in public since a previous illness three decades earlier had left me unable to perform from memory in public. I also described how I had cured this anxiety, and was able to resume performing solo again. This performance at John’ s concert was to be my first solo appearance for more than thirty years. As the date for the concert drew near,  I became apprehensive, thinking how crazy I had been to volunteer, when I knew that, not only would I be performing alongside some very eminent musicians, but that the hall would be packed with many distinguished pianists and other highly respected members of the music profession.

The little sight I had left was also highly distorted at that time, so, on the day, before the concert, I practised finding my way to the piano, which, fortunately, was at ground level, with no treacherous stairs to negotiate.

When the time came for my entrance, the doors opened, and then the most extraordinary thing happened. As I tentatively began to walk forward, I found myself following the figure of a woman, who I instinctively knew was another version of myself. She was taller than me, with hair much darker and longer than mine, but I had no doubts as to her identity. And I suddenly felt quite confident, knowing that she would lead me safely to the piano. As I sat down on the stool, I sensed her sitting down by my side, ( although there was no actual chair there.) I felt entirely at ease, and as I played the opening bars I felt her gradually drift away. I felt inspired, with a sense that all was well, and the music seemed to play itself. Afterwards I received a wonderful ovation from the audience, and I knew that this  was a turning point in my life. I have no explanation to offer, but assumed that my mysterious guide must have been a kind of doppelgänger.

As a musician, what is hour definition of success?

For me, success is when I experience the sense of being ‘in the flow’ in a performance, truly in the moment, being at one with myself, with the music and the audience, in a kind of ‘magic loop’. The music seems to play itself. One cannot make this happen. One can only prepare meticulously, and in a way which creates the greatest potential for this to happen. Then, miraculously, sometimes the gods will smile on us!

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

Be curious, allow yourself to experiment.

Ask the question How?

Be kind to yourself.

Embrace uncertainty.

Do not strive for perfection, but follow your dreams, and move step by step towards your goals. Enjoy the journey. Remember that we ‘play’ a musical instrument!

What is your most treasured possession?

I have two. My beloved Steinway piano, and my beautiful Cornish Rex cat, Leo.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious.
Christine Croshaw’s recording of piano music by Gabriel Fauré is available now


Christine Croshaw has enjoyed a long and successful career as a solo pianist, accompanist and chamber music player.

Her concert engagements have taken her to most major venues around the U.K., including many appearances at the Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room.

She has performed across the Continent in France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Norway and Denmark, Finland, Poland and Switzerland, and also in North America. Festival appearances include Cheltenham, Lichfield, Kensington and Chelsea, Ludlow, Chichester, Lisbon, Bermuda and Taomina.

Read more

La and Leo – Christine’s Croshaw’s blog