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

I don’t think it was the piano specifically that attracted me as a child – I just always loved music and wanted to be involved in it in any way possible. I don’t come from a musical family, and my parents didn’t really know any classical music till I came along (I was brought up on Motown, Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Queen…), but they’re both creative people and incredibly supportive, and recognised that I had an absolute fascination for music of all sorts from a very young age. The first ‘classical’ record I remember my parents buying for me was of David Munrow playing Mediaeval and Renaissance wind instruments, which I became quite obsessed with. As a child, I took up the recorder, piano, cello and oboe, but what I really wanted to be more than anything else was a composer. I’m not quite sure how I ended up being a pianist – I don’t remember a conscious moment of decision, and always feel the instrument chose me rather than the other way round. As for making music my career, I just never considered doing anything else, though for a long time I hadn’t the faintest idea how a career actually worked.

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

My first piano teacher, Hilary Morrison, was a schoolteacher who lived round the corner – she’d never taught the piano before, but it’s only with hindsight that I realise what a brilliant start she gave me. I wish she was still alive so I could thank her properly. I was incredibly fortunate to study from the age of nine onwards with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who taught me pretty much everything I know about playing the piano, pushed me to achieve things I thought I couldn’t, and inspired me to work much harder than I ever would have done otherwise. I owe her so much, and my life would have been very different without her. Many of the principles of chamber music playing which I hold dear were instilled in me by the wise guidance of Michael Freyhan at Pro Corda when I was in my teens. He showed me how to really listen – to myself and to others. There are so many other wonderful people who have had a huge influence on me, from primary school music teachers to chamber music colleagues; I can’t list them all for fear of leaving someone out, but I hope they know who they are!

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

In the earlier stages of my career I had to fight hard to avoid being pigeon-holed: I played a lot of chamber music from a young age, because I’ve always loved it, and discovered at a certain point that once people see you in that box, they often assume you’re not really a ‘solo’ pianist, despite the fact that I’ve always had a busy schedule of concertos and solo recitals. Such assumptions strike me as very odd, because it seems only natural to me that a pianist exploring Beethoven (for example) should want to play his solo sonatas, duo sonatas, trios, concertos, songs and so on – everything feeds into everything else. I’ve always thrived off the variety and balance of repertoire, and I’d hate to close the door on any part of it. And I already feel that being a pianist is more of a specialism than I’d originally intended!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m not sure that pride is a feeling I particularly associate with, but sometimes there are wonderful, indefinable moments in certain performances (I wish they happened more often!) where everything comes together in a magical way and it feels like you’re flying, as if anything’s possible. I have so many reservations about the process of recording (not least that I miss the audience hugely when I’m in a studio), and I find it very difficult to listen to my own recordings, but I do feel a sense of achievement over my new recital disc, In Dance and Song, which contains a very personal selection of works and reflects some of my wide-ranging passions. Also, the one time I dared to listen to it, I quite enjoyed the disc of the Chausson Concert which I recorded two years ago with Jennifer Pike and the Doric Quartet – it’s a wonderful piece, full of soaring melodies (and a ridiculous number of notes for the pianist).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Not sure if I can answer that, but I’ve always adored melodies and vocal music, so I find pieces with a lyrical bent particularly gratifying to play.

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

Pianists are spoiled for choice when it comes to repertoire, and it would take so many lifetimes to explore all the great works – as time goes on, I realise more and more that it’s a waste of time for a pianist to play anything that doesn’t really grab them. I enjoy hugely (though it sometimes requires an exhausting amount of thought) coming up with interesting and (I hope) cohesive programmes. Often, however, the ones I’m most pleased with are then scuppered by promoters saying e.g., “[A much more famous pianist] is already playing most of those pieces in his recital this season” or “Can you include a barcarolle by Snosveldt to mark his 186th anniversary year?” or (and this is a genuine quote, from a much missed promoter in Ireland) “Fauré spells death at the box office”.

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

Among many others, I love the Holywell Room in Oxford, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, and the Wigmore Hall. Playing at the BBC Proms is always a huge thrill. The Spoleto Festival in Italy when Gian Carlo Menotti was around was unforgettable.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To play – far too many to list, but here are some which I find particularly enjoyable and/or rewarding to play: Beethoven concertos (including the Triple), Brahms piano quartets, Chopin solo works, Dvorak chamber music, Fauré (lots), Grieg miniatures, Mendelssohn chamber music, Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time, Mozart (all!), Rachmaninov concertos, Ravel (lots), Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, Schubert’s Trout Quintet, Schubert and Schumann Lieder, Richard Strauss’ early chamber music, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio. And – stretching back to my schooldays and early jobs in hotel bars – I’ve always loved playing Gershwin, Kern, Cole Porter and the Great American Songbook. To listen to – this changes a lot, but perhaps most consistently Bach, Mozart operas, Sondheim musicals, Ella Fitzgerald’s songbook recordings.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Along with the great composers whose music I play (of whom Mozart has perhaps brought me most joy of all) and the wonderful colleagues I have the pleasure of working with (not least my dear friends in the Aronowitz Ensemble), here is a very incomplete list featuring some musicians who have greatly inspired me in some way or other, which I’ve restricted to those I don’t know personally: Leonard Bernstein, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Emil Gilels, Fritz Kreisler, Dinu Lipatti, Radu Lupu, Joni Mitchell, Ginette Neveu, Luciano Pavarotti, Oscar Peterson, Lucia Popp, Nina Simone.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a listener – a concert in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge in 1999, part of John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage; most specifically the final aria of BWV 159, one of the most heart-stopping moments of my life so far. As a performer – I think I have a pretty good memory, so I remember most of my concert experiences, both good and bad, quite vividly. Two experiences which I will always associate with a wonderfully heady mixture of fear and immense joy both involved Robin Ticciati and the SCO – touring with the Ligeti Concerto in 2010 (the most fiendishly difficult piece I’ve ever played, but also utterly enthralling), and playing my first Brahms 2 at three days’ notice when Pierre-Laurent Aimard cancelled. (That wasn’t actually my most last-minute stand-in: I once got off a plane at 4.30pm and, when I turned on my phone, there was a message asking if I’d play the Grieg Concerto at 7.30pm that evening. The rehearsal had already taken place, but I jumped in a taxi and somehow got through the performance unscathed, and with a curious sense of liberation on stage!) I will always remember with huge fondness my appearance in the BBC Young Musician final back in 2000, under the starry ceiling of the Bridgewater Hall. It was a big, thrilling moment for a rather naïve boy who’d always felt something of an outsider and who’d never experienced anything remotely on that scale. It also opened a lot of doors. On a non-pianistic note – and perhaps reflecting my early desires to be an actor as well as a musician – I enormously enjoyed appearing as reciter in Walton’s Façade a few years back at Aberystwyth Musicfest (where I’ve also played the swanee whistle in drag).

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

First and foremost, that music is the most important thing, and if you love it so much that you can’t be without it, then immerse yourself and go for it – but try to be flexible and open-minded about your exact path. Avoid cynics and negative people – there are a lot of them around, such as the ones who like to hover after a concert and say helpful things like, “It’s a terrible struggle, the music business, isn’t it? Must be very difficult for you.” Of course there are tricky times, but no money in the world could persuade me to switch to another profession.

Regarding education, I personally think it’s important to remember there are valid alternatives to the music school/music college route. All my schooling took place in the comprehensive system, and my first degree was at university. It dismays me when people express surprise (which they really do) that some of us in the classical music profession hail from a regular state school background; I’m also immeasurably saddened that, if music in state schools continues to be eroded and marginalised by the government, before long there may not be many aspiring musicians to pass such advice to.

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

Doing pretty much what I am now. Though I’d like to have written a hit West End musical in the interim. And to have successfully campaigned (without it having taken up too much time) for the provision of free music education for all children, which would incidentally have enabled world peace.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To see an aardvark, moose, tapir or dugong in its natural habitat.

What is your present state of mind?

Sleepy.


Tom Poster is internationally recognised as a pianist of outstanding artistry and versatility, equally in demand as soloist and chamber musician across an unusually extensive repertoire. He has been described as “a marvel, [who] can play anything in any style” (The Herald), “an unparalleled sound-magician” (General-Anzeiger), a “young lion” (The Guardian), and as possessing “great authority and astounding virtuosity” (Est Républicain). He won First Prize at the Scottish International Piano Competition 2007, the Ensemble Prize at the Honens International Piano Competition 2009, and the keyboard sections of the Royal Over-Seas League and BBC Young Musician of the Year Competitions in 2000. 

Tom’s full biography and diary is available on his website: www.tomposter.co.uk

Interview date: 10th March 2014

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

I think the piano was its own inspiration.  We had no classical music in my home at all but an aunt had a piano and it was love at first vamp.  I picked out tunes on its yellow keys and wanted to take lessons.  it was a short step (over a long time) for that to become my career.

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

Definitely my main piano teacher Gordon Green.  Also Derrick Wyndham (both taught at the RNCM) then later Robert Mann (former 1st violinist of the Juilliard Quartet) with whom I played and recorded all the Beethoven sonatas in the 1980s.  I was 23 and had everything to learn; he was a great partner and, indirectly, a teacher.  I would also cite Alfred Cortot and many other pianists from the first decades of the 20th century whose playing I got to know well through recordings.  They were always and remain my favourites.

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

Just doing it – day after day.  Specifically the extreme contrast between being as tough as a old boot offstage (travel, hotels, paperwork etc. etc.) and as sensitive as a bejewelled ballet shoe when at the piano.  It requires a unique kind of schizophrenia!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ah tough to say!  The Hummel concerto record was the first one where I felt good in the studio, despite very little time.  We had less than six hours for each concerto, to rehearse from scratch (correcting parts along the way) and record.  it was seat of the pants but I still remember the exhilaration and excitement of playing those pieces and making the first complete recording of works which were absolutely central to the repertoire of Liszt, Chopin, Schumann etc.  Later Mompou was a joy to record and more recently my own 2nd piano sonata (on the CD ‘In the Night’).  Strange to record your own music!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I really can’t say.  But I do feel able to slip into different roles.  I feel as involved and connected playing Mozart and Beethoven as I do playing Chopin and Liszt as I do playing Schoenberg and Webern.

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

Some of it ties in with recording plans, sometimes there are anniversaries, or specific requests.  With concertos it depends a lot on the programming being done by the conductor and management of the orchestras.

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

Not really.  Many famous halls are famous because they’re great – main stage of Carnegie New York or Concertgebouw Amsterdam or Musikverein Vienna.  The Wigmore of course is special.  I also love Severance Hall in Cleveland … too many to name though.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Impossible to say!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Mainly those who died before I was born – Cortot, Rachmaninov, Friedman, Kreisler etc.  I’ve worked a lot with Steven Isserlis and he is one of my favourites, for personal as well as musical reasons.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my debut at the Hollywood Bowl when I raced over from Cheshire to replace Pogorelich at the last minute.  it was my first taste of the fast-lane, crazy side of having a career.  Paganini Rhapsody with Sir Charles Groves.

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

Study the score intensely then play as if you’re improvising.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think ‘success’ is one of the hardest words for a musician to define. There is no way to measure it externally; it passes and fades like life itself; it depends entirely on the subjective impressions of others; chasing it almost guarantees its lack. All I can say is that if music still thrills, charms, touches, moves, inspires us every day (and through us, other people too) then we are successful musicians.

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

Same place but deeper.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Surprised by happiness when not looking for it – and sharing it with someone else.

What is your most treasured possession?

My sanity.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Many things.  To choose one would be to squeeze it dry of magic.

What is your present state of mind?

Content yet tired and a little anxious – but grateful for life and health and food and friends.


Named by ‘The Economist’ as one of 20 Living Polymaths, British pianist Stephen Hough is a rare renaissance man of our time. Over the course of a long and distinguished career as one of the world’s leading concert pianists, he has also excelled as a writer and composer. Mr. Hough combines an exceptional facility and tonal palette with a uniquely inquisitive musical personality, and his musical achievements have resulted in many awards and accolades for his concerts and a discography of more than fifty recordings.

Stephen Hough was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List.

Stephen Hough’s full biography

www.stephenhough.com

 

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

I was born in a musical family and there were 3 pianos at home, my mother was a pianist…my choice was obvious!

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

First my mother, she was my only teacher till the age of 9.Then my teachers at the Paris conservatory, Lucette Descaves, Louise Clavius Marius, Geneviève Joy, Pierre Pasquier, and above all Julius Katchen, whom I met when I was 16, more than a teacher, a mentor, an inspiration, I should also mention two great ladies…Marguerite Long and Nadia Boulanger.

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

Always being at the top of my musical abilities and being able to pass through my emotions and my love for music…and enjoy life!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Performances are not to be remembered…each of them is a “once in a lifetime” experience, but out of my +\- 300 performances of the Ravel G Major Concerto, I do remember the one in London with Mariss Jansons…something special happened on that day…

Recordings…I still enjoy many of them because I always made a point not allow the release of a recording I was not happy with…but if I need to keep some on a desert island – the St Saens Piano concerti with Charles Dutoit, the Fauré Piano Quintets with the Ysaye quartet and the first CD with my wife, “Wedding cake”

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The French repertoire in general but almost anything I play, since I would never perform a work which I don’t enjoy or I am not convinced I can bring something personal in it.

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

For the reasons I just mentioned…because I love the pieces I play and I can express myself with them.

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

Nearly all the concert halls in Japan…acoustics, design, installation, they arealways perfect…and filled with a fantastic audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

The French repertoire in general, with perhaps at the top, Ravel G Major Concerto and Debussy ‘La Mer’ (with my wife)
To listen to…very different and more “eclectic” music…Opera…Jazz…never piano music!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Glenn Gould, Carlos Kleiber, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The creation of a new concerto for 2 pianos written for me and my wife by Australian composer Matthew Hindson, at the Sydney Opera House with Sydney symphony orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

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

To be yourself, express something unique, think different, enjoy everything you do, and as Debussy said: “N’écoute que les conseils du vent qui passe…”

What are you working on at the moment?

Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in the 4 hands version.

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

Traveling the world…in good health…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My life at the moment..traveling the world with my wife, playing music and using Apple devices…!

What is your most treasured possession?

My iPad

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living the way I live! (See previous question!)

What is your present state of mind?

Extremely happy…!

Pascal Rogé gives a masterclass at the Institut français, South Kensington on Saturday 5 April, 6pm followed by a recital of music for four hands with his wife, Ami Rogé on Sunday 6 April, 6:30pm as part of It’s All About Piano!

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

My mother chose the piano for me. I was a small child. I was inspired by Furtwängler conducting Beethoven’s 9th symphony. The slow movement made me cry. I chose music so I could be moved throughout my life.

 

 

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

Denyse Rivière, Marcel Ciampi and Paul Badura-Skoda.

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

Every concert, every meeting with a great artist, is the greatest challenge for me.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

None, except the one I had in my dream last night.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

None. Because at the end of one performance, I know exactly what not to do the next time.

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

I never plan. It’s a difficult question to answer. It’s just like a love story; you don’t know who you are going to fall in love with. Each season it’s a new surprise, a new love story.

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

Usually the most important concert is just the next one. There is no difference between a small village and Carnegie Hall.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I listen like crazy to the music from the film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Michel Legrand.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Usually, the greatest dead ones because they are the most inspiring and they are no longer dangerous.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

In Kuala Lumpur. When I arrived on stage, there were no pedals on the piano.

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

To always be curious and inspired by the past. And I can say for myself that I love the past. It’s more relaxed than the present and much more secure than the future.

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

How can I answer this question, when I don’t know where I’ll be in the next ten hours?

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To fly in love (not fall).

What do you enjoy doing most?

I watch movies all the time, for example, Umbrellas of Cherbourg by Jacques Temy, Le Charme discret de la Bourgeoisie by Louis Bunuel, and all Frederic Fellini’s movies. And occasionally I like to practice.

What is your present state of mind?

I feel totally out of my mind. Fauré and Schubert are depressing me. The music is so very sad.

Jean-Marc Luisada gives a recital of works by Fauré, Schubert and Chopin at the Institut français, South Kensington on Saturday 5 April, 4pm as part of It’s all About Piano!

www.jeanmarcluisada.com

This weekend sees a celebration of all things piano at London’s Institut Français, with workshops, lectures, film screenings and performances. In the run up to this surfeit of piano goodness, I am delighted to be publishing Meet the Artist Interviews with some of the performers, including acclaimed French pianist Pascal Rogé (who also performs at Wigmore Hall in June) and harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss. The first interview is with French pianist David Bismuth.

Full details about the festival here:

www.institut-francais.org.uk/itsallaboutpiano