(photo: Marc Borggreve)

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

When I was young there was always music at home: my father was an amateur pianist and my parents used to play old records with all sorts of classical music: opera, lied, symphonic repertoire and piano music.

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

Studying with truly wonderful piano teachers: Peter Feuchtwanger, Bernard Roberts at the Royal College of Music and Hamish Milne at the Royal Academy of Music. But also the legendary German baritone Hermann Prey with whom I was fortunate to work in my early twenties.

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

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 3, I guess.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’d rather leave this for the critics to decide! But I am quite happy with my latest recording, Ravel’s complete works for piano solo.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have developed a very soft spot for Schumann since I started recording his entire piano oeuvre four years ago.

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

Generally, the concerto repertoire is decided by the orchestras and conductors. The choice of chamber music pieces, in turn, is a result of a dialogue with the chamber partners I love working with. For my solo recital repertoire I am almost 100% in the driving seat in terms of making the decisions. Often I try to programme pieces I am about to record during or just after a given season.

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

The Wigmore Hall in London and the Musikverein in Vienna – wonderful acoustics and atmosphere!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Beethoven’s Piano Concertos

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich, Leonard Bernstein, Chick Corea, Jacqueline du Pré – at least one for each letter of the alphabet…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

2007 in Caracas: performing Penderecki’s Piano Concerto under the baton of the composer with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

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

True passion for what you do, hard work, patience, perseverance and a good sense of humour

Your new disc is the complete solo piano music of Maurice Ravel. What is the particular attraction of this composer’s music for you? And what are the special challenges of his piano music?

Ever since my childhood I have been in love with Ravel’s music: the colours, the atmosphere, the exotic beauty and inner lucidity of his writing. The special challenges: an enormously nuanced virtuosity, subtlety of hearing and colouring.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my family.

What is your present state of mind?

Onwards and upwards!

 

Florian Uhlig’s new Ravel: Complete Solo Piano Works is available now on the Hänssler Classic label.

Born in Dusseldorf, pianist Florian Uhlig gave his first solo recital at the age of 12. He studied with Peter Feuchtwanger and continued his studies at the Royal College of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London where he now lives, as well as in Berlin.

Full biography on Florian’s website:

florian-uhlig.com

 

 

(photo: Roberto Masotti)

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

I was inspired by the music and my never-ending desire to be part of such a unique art form, be absorbed by it, forgetting everything around me and becoming the music itself by bringing it to life under my fingers. Only then, being able to communicate it to others.

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

Musicians and artists around me, such as the countless performances, concerts, operas, ballets, expositions I was enriched with since I was a child and now. Also, my teachers, contemporary music and the art and the beauty I was surrounded by in my native Tuscany.

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

Playing Stockhausen for Stockhausen. I was really nervous, and being very young I wasn’t sure at all if what I had carefully prepared by myself was simply “right”.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My next recording, which will be out soon.  It focuses on the evolution of Stravinsky’s music, starting from his folk roots, his native Russia and traditional folk tunes and themes featured in Petrushka. Stravinsky is then inspired by returning to music of ancient Classicism also following his refusal of the new revolutionary Russian ideals, and it is what we call now his “neoclassicist” period. Here I linked it with the Suite for piano or harpsichord by living French composer Karol Beffa. It features at the same time Stravinsky’s concept of “non descriptive” music as “the music expresses it-self”. It is followed by his serial period: Stockhausen and Stravinsky influencing each other. Stockhausen was influenced in his youth by listening to the Rite of Spring. Less obvious is the influence of Stockhausen’s serial groups music on Stravinsky’s later production.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Everything I love.

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

Ideally every recital I play would feature one new piece and a juxtaposition of music picked from my repertoire. I always follow my wishes when choosing new repertoire.

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

I love to perform at the Wigmore Hall: the projection of sound is very clear and transparent yet rich and warm.

Favourite pieces to perform? 

I have many, and these have been changing over years. At this particular moment I would say Chopin Piano Concerto n. 1, the 4 Chopin Ballades, Petruska by Stravinsky, and Brahms Paganini Variations among others.

Listen to? 

The Rite of Spring

Who are your favourite musicians?

Igor Stravinsky, Sviatoslav Richter, Natalia Gutman.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One of them was performing Liszt Piano Concerto n.1 at the Berliner Philharmonie: just before walking on stage the conductor I was playing with said to me the following words: “just think about music”. I will remember that forever, and it gave me huge confidence. Only after the closing chord of the Concerto performance I realized I was surrounded by thousands of people in this amazing artistic architecture.

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

We do it to make people’s lives better.

What are you working on at the moment? 

On my next recitals: chamber music programmes, concertos and recitals including Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, 5 Pieces in Folktunes, Janacek Pohadka, Tsintsadze 5 Pieces, Rachmaninov cello and piano Sonata, Chopin Polonaise Brillante for cello and piano, Bartok Romanian Dances, Beethoven Spring Sonata, Franck Sonata, Chopin Ballades, Rachmaninov 2nd Concerto, Arensky and Shostakovich 1st Trios, C.M. Weber and Nino Rota and Tchaikovsky Trios and a solo recital programme featuring Mozart and Liszt, up to December 2014.

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

Around the world performing every day.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

See above plus my and my dears’ health.

What is your most treasured possession?

Hand written notes.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being surrounded by friends, reading, travelling.

What is your present state of mind?

In constant pursuit of perfection.

 

Vanessa Benelli Mosell is a rising star on the international music scene. She is continuously praised for her virtuosity, her technical brilliance and the sensitivity of her musical insight, which have been shaped significantly in mentorships with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Yuri Bashmet.

Benelli Mosell gave her debut appearance at eleven years old with pianist Pascal Rogé, who described her as “the most natural musical talent I have encountered in my entire life”. She has since performed with orchestras such as the Münchner Symphoniker, Berliner Symphoniker, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna.She also performed with the Moscow Soloists, replacing Martha Argerich in 2012. In the same year, Vanessa gave her celebrated debut at Londonʼs Wigmore Hall. Last year was one of new encounters including a tour to South America, concerts with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, as well as a sell-­out solo recital at Hamburgʼs Laeiszhalle.

Vanessa Benelli Mosell began her comprehensive musical studies when she was exceptionally admitted at the International Piano Academy in Imola at seven years old, where she studied with Franco Scala. In 2007 she was invited to the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory to study with Mikhail Voskresensky. Vanessa entered the Royal College of Music in London in 2007, where she graduated in 2012 studying with Dmitri Alexeev, generously supported by the Russell Gander Award.

Full biography

www.vanessabenellimosell.com

(photo Marco Borggreve)

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

I don’t remember not playing the piano. As my parents were also musicians, it was probably a rather obvious thing to do. I never thought of music as a career per se, but it was clear to me rather early (certainly before my teens) that music would consume my life.

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

So many people! Obviously my teachers, Sulamita Aronovsky and the late Susan Bradshaw, have both been crucial. I learnt very different things from each of them. In a way they were very contradictory, but I have never felt confused, rather enriched by having multiple views on so many issues. I am hugely grateful to them both. Beyond that, clearly the influences on a musician who is even slightly inquisitive will be very wide-ranging.

Several pianists have been personally very important to me, most obviously perhaps David Tudor – who helped me most generously in my early 20s, as I was preparing a major Cage project – and Maurizio Pollini, whose work was influential on me in many ways from an early age, and who in recent years I’ve come to know personally. He invited me to share a concert with him at Suntory Hall last season, which was a huge pleasure – I played a work of Manzoni in the first half, and he played Beethoven Sonatas in the second.

I have had the honour of working with many living composers over the years and have learnt many things from them. When that honour has been dubious, I have learnt what to avoid rather than what to embrace. But in the case of a composer like Birtwistle, whose “Variations from the Golden Mountain” I am premiering at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday 14th September, the relationship has been only fruitful and enjoyable (for me at least).

Conductors, studying works in other genres (string quartets, orchestral works), visual arts – everything goes into the artistic pot and influences the flavour like herbs in a stew.

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

Challenge in what sense? Every concert, every confrontation with a work of music, is a challenge. And practical life is a challenge. And bad conductors are a challenge.

Yes, that’s it: bad conductors are definitely the greatest challenge.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

A composer was once asked which piece he was most proud of, and said it’s always his most recent. I guess the same is true for me. I’m just seeing a disc of the concertos of Birtwistle through the press, and have also just finished a disc of the complete piano music of Brian Ferneyhough. So I guess they’re the ones I’m most proud of.

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

There are many things I think about for ages but don’t programme for many years, and on the other hand sometimes I decide quite quickly that I want to do a particular work. One of the joys of my situation is collaborating, and bouncing ideas off a trusted promoter can be extremely stimulating.

You are performing a new commission by Sir Harrison Birtwistle at your Wigmore Hall concert on 14th September. What is especially exciting about working on new music such as this?

Working with great composers personally is something that can only happen with contemporary music. All the others are dead. I can’t work with Beethoven or Debussy, but I’m overjoyed to have the opportunity to work with Birtwistle, for example. So much is made clear in our personal meetings and discussions; at the same time one understands the freedom available with more precision.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? What is your most memorable concert experience?

Well there are many remarkable acoustics around the world, and many halls with intelligent and searching programming. But what makes a concert really memorable is the situation – the programme, the audience, my mood, my collaborators (dead or alive). When everything aligns the experience is unforgettable.

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

The most important starting point for young musicians is the score. Students sometimes seem to view it more as a hint, rather than as the least indirect link to the composers intentions, which is what it is. Understanding notation in the deepest manner is one of the most important things which can be taught.

What are you working on at the moment?

After the Wigmore, I have to prepare a new piano concerto by Simon Steen-Andersen, and will also be working on Brahms 2nd Concerto for a concert in Finland in November. And many other smaller things in between!

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

No idea. I am sure though that I won’t be anywhere I could now guess.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I am still trying to work that out.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Steinway (which is beyond obvious).

What do you enjoy doing most?

Watching my children develop.

What is your present state of mind?

Expectant before the birth of a new work at the Wigmore tomorrow!

 

Nicolas Hodges performs music by Mozart/Busoni, Debussy and Sir Harrison Birtwistle in an 80th birthday tribute concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, Sunday 14th September. Further information here

 

Born and trained in London, and now based in Germany, where he is a professor at the Stuttgart Conservatory, Hodges approaches the works of Classical, Romantic, 20th century and contemporary composers with the same questing spirit, leading The Guardian to comment that: “Hodges’ recitals always boldly go where few other pianists dare … with an energy that sometimes defies belief.”

Full biography

 

Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)
Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)

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

I owe everything really to Charlie and Ciss Hammond, who were our next-door neighbours when I was a toddler in Kent; they had an upright piano on which I used to fiddle around. Although I don’t come from a musical background it must have been apparent to my family that I was musically inclined very early on. I was too young to remember much about it, but my guess is that it was exactly the same instinct which makes us learn language as children. I was extremely fortunate that my first teacher, Dr Jennie Coleman currently of Dunedin, was beyond excellent and gave me a very solid foundation at a very early age.

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

Originally I had intended to be a violinist. At that time Yehudi Menuhin was it! I think the experience of having been a good string player has shaped my way with the piano.

Later on I hero-worshipped (and still do) Sviatoslav Richter and I am lucky enough to have been one of the few of my generation to have heard him live outside of Russia, an experience I shall never forget. No recordings represent what I heard on those evenings.

As I get older two figures return to my work over and over again; if I face a thorny technical problem or one of those little niggles where the head contradicts the heart I will ask, “what would Graham Fitch or Peter Feuchtwanger recommend?”. I believe the advice of these two men will always be a guiding light.

Being a pianist is less about playing the piano than it is about being a human being. The numerous extra-musical things which have made me who I am have also made me the artist I am. A musician can only express what they are and what they know.

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

I’m in my early forties and still a musician – that is challenge enough.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My complete Faure Nocturnes. I recorded it in tremendously difficult emotional conditions. My whole heart is in it and it is the recording I feel most accurately mirrors my inner being.

Although I move forward from past stuff quickly, I will always take pride in my Liszt and Erard project. The concert at the Wigmore was a definite high point in my career and I can still bear to listen to the CDs, which is unusual for me. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_wSsz-K8Cg)

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Schubert

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

I am a Gemini and my mind is always jumping from place to place, this has given me a very large repertoire so my choices are more often than not subject to passing whim.

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

Give me a piano that works and people who want to listen and I will play.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This changes by the hour though I always seem to return to Schubert and Liszt who I think of as artistic brothers. Last year I subjected my home village of Brenchley to the entire first book of the Frescobaldi Toccatas, which I was in love with at the time – the following week I performed Liszt. I have a hungry mind and like not only to know the music posterity calls great, but the music around it.

Mostly I listen to music other than piano. I love the Organ and wish I were clever enough to play it well. I listen to the Symphonic repertoire most and lately I have been much impressed by the Symphonies and Cantatas of Sergei Tanayev.

I listen to the Monteverdi Vespers every Christmas and I love them.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I favour different artists for different qualities. Some because they resonate with my nature, others because they challenge my nature. For example, I have long loved Ignaz Friedman, and there is something in his improvisatory streak that I recognise in myself. On the other hand, Daniel Barenboim, a pianist who couldn’t sound more different from me in many ways, fascinates me. The tone production is extraordinarily concentrated. I can’t get enough of his late Beethoven at the moment. I have worn out Stephen Hough’s CDs of the Saint-Saëns Concertos and I’ve lately very much enjoyed listening to Maria Joao Pires play Chopin with unusual depth. I just bought a splendid recording of Bart van Oort playing Field and Chopin Nocturnes on original pianos with highly original extemporisations. I could carry on…there are so many of us! But what is amazing is that we all have something totally different to say.

I can’t not mention Ingrid Haebler – hardly anyone I know has heard her Schubert Sonatas yet it is some of the most cultivated music making I have ever heard.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One in a London hotel where a leg fell off the piano.

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

Follow your own instincts at all times. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Know your audience – all of them – and always remember that music is a birthright not a luxury. Never forget that we are the luckiest people alive; our job is our hobby – however difficult a life in music gets, and at times it really, really does – never lose sight of how much you love your art.

 

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

In front of a piano

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Dvorak in the bath by candlelight…

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music, running

What is your present state of mind?

Contented

 

www.danielgrimwood.co.uk

by Guy Rademaeker.

He is 25, lives in Brussels, and things are going well for pianist Matthieu Idmtal. He just organised the second edition of the ‘Brussels Chopin Day’, next month he goes to France and Switzerland to perform with his violin partner Maya Levy, and his concert agenda for the future looks full. “I try to find my way” he says almost laconic.

We sit in a bar in Ixelles, the town where he lives, and during our conversation he will order three coffees. Nevertheless, the calmness of this young man will never disappear.

How did you start playing the piano?
I always found that I walked a rather atypical path to arrive at where I am now. I don’t come from a musical family, and compared to many others I started relatively late with playing the piano. I never went to a music academy and so on.

I remember we had an old upright piano standing in our house to which I was always going as a child. On a good day my mother kind of decided that she maybe had to do something with the kid that was always plucking that piano, and she searched for a private teacher for me. I must have been 7 or 8 at that time. Thinking about it, I believe that she was a very good teacher: a Russian pedagogue who was able to give me a good foundation. She noticed a certain talent, but I had no clue at that point that playing piano could or would become my profession. Maybe the people around me noticed faster than myself my potential and my need to play music. I remember how I would walk to school, and midway just decide to walk back home because I considered playing the piano a much nicer way to spent my day than sitting in a classroom. The problem was that I took these decisions more and more often. And that is how I entered to the Kunsthumaniora Brussel, a high school in Brussels that offers, next to standard courses, music courses as well which prepare you for entering conservatoire. From that moment, there was no doubt anymore. Music took me every day more and more. Till now.

Who do you consider as your significant teachers?
Without doubt, I must mention Vitaly Samoshko. I could say that he taught me how to play the piano. Of course we’re all made out of our lived experiences, what we hear and see, how much we invest in our art….… but Samoshko is the one I refer to.

You’re not studying in conservatoire anymore. Do you still work with him or do you study on your own now?
We still see each other. Less often than before, but I regularly visit him as a kind of……touching base. It is true that I work much more on my own, but that is what we all will have to do. At a certain moment you must become your own teacher. And it makes you think a hundred times more about each note and decision you take. When, after a concert, someone comes to you and asks “why did you play that piece that way?”, you can’t answer “because my teacher wanted it so”. Everything I do now is my own decision. I follow my intuition.

You also teach yourself. What advice do you give your students?
To give you the best answer you should actually ask my students how I teach, but I believe that it is a mix of my own experiences as a student, together with my own personality and ideas that I formed myself during over the years. I see my role as a teacher a bit like a sounding board. I prefer to suggest than to oblige, and I like to see a lesson as a moment between two friends who try to work and search together for the best possible solution to play a certain piece. Of course, some things can be radically wrong and I will say them, and I have some general ideas. Never to imitate for example, search for your own way. I also encourage them to experiment, try something, to dare. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong and you will learn from it, but dare to do something wrong. Take a risk, surprise me and yourself..… and at the end of the trip, remember and take all the best of these experiments. Sometimes I will ask a student to exaggerate something, to make something more clear, or just to give it all a bigger dynamic range. I also notice that I speak a lot about pulsation in the lessons, or to see a piece in orchestral terms, or to imagine a singer. And of course, sound is crucial.

It goes with your last question. When teaching, you’re very much faced with questions that force you to think how to play a certain thing very concretely. That helps yourself tremendously. For example, in a recent lesson, some of my better students asked me how to position the fingers on the keyboard, flat or curled. Honestly, there is not one answer to me. Everything depends on the sound you want to create. When I play a Scarlatti sonata for example, I can imagine myself playing with curled fingers, but I would never do that which a Chopin Nocturne. It all depends on sound. Play with your nose if you wish, if it sounds fantastic, do it!

What about your chamber music collaborations? I noticed that you have two regular duos?
I do. I have a piano duo with Ukranian pianist Anastasia Kozhushko. We met years ago in the class of our teacher, and started playing together. We won some competitions, mostly in the Netherlands, and most of the time we perform there. We aim to include less familiar pieces and composers in our programs. In combination with the more known works we play works by Cui, Rosenblatt, Vilensky, Clementi, etc. Absolutely amazing music but unfortunately underplayed.

I have also formed a duo with violinist Maya Levy. I consider her one of the young upcoming violin talents. We’ve worked together for about a year now, and some nice projects are coming up.

Playing chamber music is a real joy to me. You know, being a pianist is a lonely profession most of the time, you sit for hours a day alone behind your instrument – something that other instrumentalists rarely do because they all need a pianist to play with them! – and so it is a very welcome change to collaborate with someone. To have some interaction, to search together and to find compromises. And the repertoire is also fantastic.

Do you have any favorite pianists?
This generation has amazing pianists, absolutely amazing. But for most of them, the individuality has rather disappeared. Before you could hear two bars of a piece, and nearly say: “ah, that is Gould playing!” or “no doubt, that’s Horowitz”.

To answer your question, the latter is absolutely one of my favorites. I generally like the old generation. I think of Cortot, of Friedman. No one plays Chopin Mazurkas like Friedman.

Do you have a particular system how for selecting and learning  the pieces that you play?
Good question because I wondered about it myself recently. More and more it seems that a work “chooses” me, and not the other way around. What very often happens is that a work is floating in the air for a very long time. The work attracts me, in a free moment I will open the scores and play it a little, I listen to it, it is present in my life but I don’t study it. That process can be very long, years even. And than, at an inexplicable moment, it’s like the work is calling me. And there is no way back, I just have to learn it. So I lock myself in my flat and study all day long that one and only piece. That happens very often to me. It’s a bit like a love story: when you fall in love with someone, there is nothing to do about it anymore, your whole being is focused on that one person.

Besides playing the piano, do you enjoy other kinds of music or activities?
In every genre you can find good music. But I must admit that I don’t often listen to non-classical music. I feel a big affection to the work of Jacques Brel, and I regularly listen to his music. And I enjoy jazz. In my younger years, there were periods when I listened more to Oscar Peterson than to anybody else.

Considering real activities, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. Music became my life, and my life music.

Recently I have enjoyed playing chess, or having a coffee on a terrace in the sun with some nice company, that’s a perfect activity to me.

What would you be doing in life if you weren’t a pianist?
[thinking] I don’t know. Maybe I would have been a writer. I enjoy writing, and I’ve always wondered what I would be able to do when fully engaged in writing a book, or poetry. But that’s not for now.
In my youth, like many children I guess, I thought of becoming a tennis player.

When I’m into something, I am quite fanatic. So also with tennis: when I had my period of playing tennis, it was the only thing I could think of, doing it from morning til evening. But I don’t think the music will ever stop. It’s a gift for life.

May I conclude that you consider music as the most beautiful thing in life?
No, that is love. But music is more faithful.

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

Although I’d learnt a number of instruments, I first got really passionate about taking music further when I discovered contemporary music and the unique thrill of composition. During my undergrad years at the University of Sydney (while studying a number of other things including Mathematics and Philosophy), my energies became increasingly focussed on performance, playing the works of composers of today (and particularly those I knew as fellow students). Although a lot has changed, this remains the focus of my work, and it’s inspiring to work at the cutting edge of the art form.

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

I had a series of great teachers from my late teens onwards: my teacher in Australia, Ransford Elsley, had some eccentric ideas about technique, including that all the tools for playing Messiaen or Xenakis could be found in Chopin’s Etudes. Rolf Hind, my teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in London, taught me a lot about the art of interpretation, but also about being an artist – he has a holistic approach to his work and life (including yoga, meditation and veganism) which I’ve found inspirational. And he remains a great friend and mentor.

I’d also need to mention some of the greatest teachers of all have been my chamber music colleagues, especially the members of Ensemble Offspring, who I’ve not played with for 14 years, as well as duo partners like Thomas Adés, Brett Dean, Neil Heyde and Rolf Hind.

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

As my career has grown, the biggest challenge has been juggling a busy schedule – not just learning the repertoire, but pitching to promoters, negotiating contracts, marketing, getting composers organised, fundraising, my research/lecturing position at Royal Holloway.… and also trying to eat, sleep and exercise and have a life outside of work.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The big piano and multimedia tours I’ve done in the last few years: Dark Twin, Cyborg Pianist and now currently, Piano Ex Machina, are my proudest achievements – they’ve been major creative projects, often featuring 6-8 new works by leading composers (including most recently, Alexander Schubert) all innovating new ways of combining the piano with new technologies, and they’ll all really connected with audiences internationally and played to festivals and series like Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Klang Festival (Copenhagen), Transistor Festival (Mälmo), Podium Festival (Esslingen) Melbourne Festival and Unerhörte Musik Berlin.

And I remain very proud of the double concerto I performed, alongside Rolf Hind, by Beat Furrer (under his baton) with the London Sinfonietta at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – a career highlight.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The works I think work best for me are often tailored to me by composers – a lot of recent works by Alexander Schubert, Adam de la Cour, Neil Luck, Claudia Molitor, Christopher Fox, Scott McLaughlin and others have all worked with my love of extended techniques, of integrating theatre into performance, interaction with film and interactive media, wild changes in tone (from incredibly intense to light and comic) as well as referencing my abilities to play a lot of key works from the canon.

I still enjoy playing a lot of those major canonical works, particularly 20th century works like Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, Bartok’s 2nd piano concerto, John Adams’ Phrygian Gates, John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes and lots of Messiaen. And I also feel an affinity for Baroque and pre-Baroque repertoire, which I’ve started including in mixed programmes – a recent one combining British contemporary works, with 17th-18th century composers like John Bull, William Byrd, Orland Gibbons and Henry Purcell worked particularly well.

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

I’ll be talking to dozens of composers at any point, with each collaboration often taking years of gestation – at the moment the general theme has been screen cultures including film, TV, video games and the internet, and it often becomes clear as I talk to them how these programmes will emerge (and how they might be combined with existing works with similar concerns).

Other programmes (like my Ancient/Modern British keyboard music project) start with a clear vision and quite a few works already arranged, and then it’s about commissioning to complete the missing pieces of the project. And as someone who performs a lot of chamber and ensemble repertoire, a lot of programming choices are made collaboratively, and there’s often a lot of different factors to juggle.

One thing that’s important in all these decisions is to consider how diverse the composers represented on these programmes are. I don’t like quotas, but if you’re only programming music written by cis white men, you need to consider whether you’re exacerbating structural inequalities in the industry, and also missing out on a lot of great music.

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

Melbourne Recital Centre has the wonderful Salon space. Excellent acoustic (that can be adjusted to a very fine degree), excellent choice of pianos, excellent tech (including the best projector I’ve ever used), and excellent staff. And of course, the audience is a big part of it, and I’ve had a great reception from sell-out crowds there over many years.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many inspirational performers I know in new music: pianists Rolf Hind, Vicky Chow, Adam Tendler, Philip Thomas, Sebastian Berweck, Siwan Rhys, Eliza McCarthy; vocalists Lore Lixenberg, Jane Sheldon, Jessica Azsodi; string players Mira Benjamin, Brett Dean, Anton Lukoszevieze; wind players Peter Knight, Heather Roche, Carla Rees; and percussionists Claire Edwardes, Eugene Ughetti, Joby Burgess and Colin Currie.

In terms of pianists specifically, there are so many great ones who are a constant source of inspiration, like Glenn Gould, Alfred Cortot, Ignaz Friedman, Leon Fleisher, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladamir Sofronitsky, Samson François as well as iconic new music pianists like

David Tudor, Roger Woodward and Yuji Takahashi, and improvisers like Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

And when it comes to composers it’s a long list of favourites, and if they’re on my list I try to meet them and find a way to collaborate.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes at Melbourne Festival, and becoming completely hypnotised by the prepared piano sounds – you only really hear this piece when you’ve got all the preparations exactly right, and in a really great acoustic space, so it was a disembodied experience, like I was playing the work and enjoying listening as a member of the audience at the same time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success, in any of the arts, is a really problematic concept. Is it about living from your work? Or about reaching a wide range of audiences? Or about being respected by your peers? Or the impact you have on other musicians (including the next generations)? Or about the quality and originality of the work itself? It’s all these things to some degree, and these are all questions that I keep in mind when planning projects.

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

1. Find your métier – find something new and unique to bring to the art form, and make that your focus.

2. Don’t be afraid of failure – it’s more important to take risks than always stay in your comfort zone.

3. Go to concerts – it’s how you learn about music, and how you meet musicians and develop your networks.

4. Always act professionally – learn your part, turn up on time, answer emails promptly, meet deadlines, contribute your share to collaborative work, be honest when there’s a problem, pay anyone working for you on time, and behave with respect and decency to your colleagues.

5. Have a life outside of music – study other subjects (or like me, other degrees). Take an interest in visual art, cinema, theatre, literature, science, anything else! Be politically aware and active. And have some friends who aren’t musicians.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cameras. I love cinema and photography in all its forms, and love taking photos of friends and colleagues, and of the behind the scenes work of musicians. There’s something quite magical about capturing a specific and fleeting moment in time, and distilling its essence, which could be considered the flipside to a musical performance: existing across time, and yet ephemeral.


Pianist, Zubin Kanga has performed at many international festivals including the BBC Proms, Cheltenham Festival, London Contemporary Music Festival, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK), ISCM World New Music Days, Metropolis New Music Festival, Melbourne Festival, Sydney Festival, Four Winds Festival, BIFEM (Australia), IRCAM Manifeste Festival, Mars aux Musées Festival (France) and Borealis Festival (Norway) as well as appearing as soloist with the London Sinfonietta and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He will be Artistic Associate at the 2018 Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music. 

Zubin’s international touring projects focus around the extension of the pianist through interactive multimedia, including live and fixed electronics, film, live video, motion sensors, and AI. He has collaborated with many of the world’s leading composers including Thomas Adès, Michael Finnissy, George Benjamin, Steve Reich, Beat Furrer, Liza Lim, Michel van der Aa and Stefan Prins and premiered more than 80 new works. He is a member of Ensemble Offspring, one of Australia’s leading contemporary music ensembles, as well as the Marysas Trio, which performs across Europe. He has also performed with Ensemble Plus-Minus, Endymion Ensemble, Halcyon, Synergy Percussion, and the Kreutzer Quartet, as well as performing piano duos with Rolf Hind and Thomas Adès.

Zubin has won many prizes including the 2012 Art Music Award for ‘Performance of the Year (NSW)’, the Michael Kieran Harvey Scholarship, the ABC Limelight Award for Best Newcomer and the Greta Parkinson Prize from the Royal Academy of Music. His recent recordings include Not Music Yet for Hospital Recordings, Orfordness for Metier (UK) and Piano Inside Out for Move Records, which was nominated for Best Classical Album at the Australian Independent Music Awards.

A Masters and PhD graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, London, Zubin recently finished a post as post-doctoral researcher at the University of Nice and IRCAM, Paris and is currently the Leverhulme Research Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London, as well as a Research Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music, London and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.  He was the convenor of the Inventing Gestures symposium in the 2015 Manifeste Festival at IRCAM and was the guest editor for a special issue on new interactive technologies in music for Contemporary Music Review.

zubinkanga.com

Artist photo by Richard Hedger