Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
My great-grandmother, Freda Loaring, was a significant influence and I was lucky enough to know her for the first few years of my life. She must have been an able amateur pianist as I have inherited her scores of works including the Grieg Concerto with her own markings. She played for Santangelo’s Orchestra in Guernsey which often accompanied visiting singers and silent films at the old Royal Hotel. She encouraged my sister to play and once she had been playing for a while, I showed an interest in starting too.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Every one of my teachers has had a huge impact on my playing. Mervyn Grand’s teaching back in Guernsey motivated me and he and his son Sebastian (a pianist, now a great friend of mine and an exceptional conductor) were one of the major early inspirations that turned a hobby into a career. I studied with Murray McLachlan for six years at Chetham’s and RNCM and he really worked wonders on my technique and the way I thought about music and artistry more broadly. In America I’ve studied with Boris Berman and James Giles. I think what I’ve learned most from them is a more nuanced sensitivity to different styles and, physically, how to find appropriate sounds and colours for those styles.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Everyone tells you that music is competitive as a profession, so this comes as no surprise, but I think the greatest challenge so far for me has been the gradual realisation that there’s not a ‘divine’ justice determining success. I think I used to believe that if you worked hard enough and played well enough then someone would look after you and see that you got where you deserve to. I now realise that you’ve got to go out and make it happen for yourself. That might seem obvious, but it has been a gradual learning curve.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud and which works do you think you perform best?
In terms of live performances, I have very fond memories of performing Rachmaninoff’s five works for piano and orchestra with Guernsey Sinfonietta and with Stockport Symphony Orchestra. I’ve always felt a very immediate connection with Rachmaninoff’s music, as many young musicians do, but as I have gotten older that connection has only deepened. This gives me the courage of my convictions. I feel I have an authentic and meaningful personal approach and can be more authoritative as a result.
When recording Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons and Ireland’s Sarnia, I set out to record a disc that comes as close to a live recording as possible. This approach, together with the possibilities offered by the piano and acoustic at Chethams’ Stoller Hall, allowed me to find sounds and colours that I am happy to hear back (once in a while).
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Programming is a delicate balance between what I feel I can play with personal authenticity and conviction, what the promoter(s) might want and what the audience might like to hear. It is also sometimes quite practical, for instance prioritising larger Romantic masterpieces like Liszt’s Sonata, Schumann’s Fantasie, Chopin’s Preludes and Brahms’ F minor Sonata so as to get them in my fingers and to start a journey with these pieces sooner rather than later. This has sometimes led to very unusual and ambitious programmes. One of these included Ireland’s Sarnia, Beethoven Sonata Opus 110, Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka and Liszt’s B minor Sonata in one evening!
Most of all I look for music that I like and that means something to me, and I try to thread a theme through the programme if I can. I also like creating global tonal schemes through a programme. Ideally all of these concerns come together in the same programme!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I love playing on home ground. I’m very proud of my island home of Guernsey and I’m lucky to be able to return home to play for a very supportive and appreciative audience in one of the country’s best acoustics for piano and chamber music at St James. I also just love the place itself. It’s not surprising that it has inspired artists from Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Victor Hugo to John Ireland, Julie Andrews and Oliver Reed.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Performing in Wigmore Hall in 2016. Of course, it’s a great hall for solo piano music but you can’t help but be inspired by the history. Backstage, the framed photographs and signatures from great musicians of the past and present are both humbling and inspiring.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
This is a difficult question to answer but I think, if we are honest, there is an ideal and a practical answer to this. Ideally, a successful musician is one that stays true to themselves and to their artistry. Someone that ‘successfully’ connects to others in their performances, in their teaching and in everyday life. Practically, if you can make enough to continue striving for this ideal then I’d say you’re a successful musician.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
As a teacher, I am always working towards the independence of my students. There are day to day concerns like how to analyse a problematic passage and practice it more efficiently on their own and how to make interpretative decisions more independently, but eventually the student needs to be equipped with a sure sense of self (and what it means, to them, to be an artist) in order to be a happy and successful musician. Artistry for me is about inward truth, outward connection and continual striving and I try to share that with my students.
Tom Hick’s recording of John Ireland’s Sarnia and Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons is available now
Hailed as an artist of ‘magnificent pianism’ with an ‘engaging personality,’ Guernsey-born pianist Tom Hicks has gained first prize in competitions including the Wales International Piano Competition, the Croydon Piano Concerto Competition and the EPTA UK Piano Competition and was also a finalist in the New York International Piano Competition and a semi-finalist in the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition. In addition, Tom has won awards such as the Richards’ Prize for Piano and Musicianship and the Dennis Midwood Keyboard Prize from Chetham’s School of Music; the Faculty of Humanities Outstanding Academic Achievement Award, the Keith Elcombe Prize for Best Overall Performance and three Proctor-Gregg Performance Prizes from the University of Manchester; and the Gold Medal Award and Peter Frankl Piano Prize from the Royal Northern College of Music.