pianist Lucy Parham (© Sven Arnstein)

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

Originally, my Mum inspired me to play. She was a keen amateur pianist and there was always music in the house. One of my earliest memories is of her practising for her diplomas and strains of beautiful Chopin and Beethoven sending me off to sleep at night.

I always wanted to be a musician, or, more to the point, I could never have imagined not having music in my life. When I was 18 I was the Piano Winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year and things just progressed gradually from there. I was at the Guildhall but I began to do a lot of professional engagements.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing? 

Since I was a child I had a profound love for the music of Robert Schumann. Looking back, he seems an unlikely candidate for an eight year old but I felt something spoke to me. As if it was a voice I understood. And I still feel that – although who knows whether my instincts are right, of course! It’s not just the piano music – it is his entire output. I only have to hear the opening of the 4th Symphony and I’m off! Brahms has a pretty similar effect on me.

Pianistically, I have always been inspired by Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida. I heard Richard Goode at the Wigmore Hall in June playing the last three Beethoven sonatas. It was a revelatory concert and something I shall always remember.

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

I think everything is a challenge. Performing in itself is the greatest challenge. But all the organising of concerts, learning repertoire, writing scripts, practising, travelling. It all takes it out of you, emotionally.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

My recent performance of Rêverie (with actor Henry Goodman) at the Wigmore Hall was a very happy occasion, as was touring the USA with the Schumann Concerto, conductor Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra. And last year, playing the Clara Schumann Concerto at the RFH with Jane Glover was rather special evening for me. Generally though, I’m pretty self critical and rarely feel that happy with myself. It’s the same with CDs, I think. All my recordings were the best I could do on that day. I don’t like listening back to them – I think they are snapshots of how you were in a particular moment. You always want to re-record them a year later!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

London’s Wigmore Hall

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Brahms’ First Piano Concerto is a particular favourite to perform. But I think these things chop and change depending on your mood and what is happening in your life. There are far too many favourites to name. And I have obsessions about Jerome Kern, all Tchaikovsky’s ballet music and about many jazz musicians like Stacey Kent, Jim Tomlinson and Miles Davis. The John Wilson Orchestra is extraordinary. I have been to all their Proms, which are my idea of heaven. John and I have worked together too (with the Philharmonia) and he is a really exceptional musician.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Where to start..?!

Dinu Lipatti, Daniel Barenboim, Richard Goode, Andras Schiff, Bryn Terfel, Yo Yo Ma, Itzak Perlman, Mitsuko Uchida, Sarah Connolly, Paul Lewis, Natalie Clein, Sir Colin Davis. I could go on and on, but…..

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are too many to list – but playing the Ravel Concerto in Moscow with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, with a formidable female conductor called Veronica Dudarova, must rank among them! Being on stage with the most extraordinary actors in my words and music evenings makes my feel very lucky, too. Performing “Nocturne” at the Almeida with Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman on the very same stage I had seen them perform “Duet For One” was memorable for me. I learn a lot from them too and it has opened up a whole new world for me.

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

My own highly inspirational teacher was Joan Havill. She was (and is) quite extraordinary in so many ways and I owe so much of what I do now to her original belief in me and her dedication. I try to pass that on to my pupils but whether I succeed with that who knows?!

I feel that humility as a performer, and as a teacher, is crucial. We really are just the servant of the music. Trying to get to the heart of what the composer wanted and not about you as the performer should always come first.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am learning the Schumann Humoreske Op.20. It has taken me a long time to tackle this piece – and I’m not sure why I never learnt it before. It is a masterpiece and hugely underrated. I am also learning Brahms’ Op.116 which is pure heaven for me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Perfect happiness is being at peace with yourself and being good and kind to those around you. It would also be owning my own private swimming pool – but sadly that isn’t ever going to happen!

Launched in December 2013, Lucy Parham’s King’s Place Sunday Coffee Concerts (Word/Play) continues throughout 2014. All details can be found here: 

2014 sees the launch of her new Sheaffer Sunday Matinee Series at St John’s Smith Square, featuring all four of her words and music concerts. Actors will be: Henry Goodman, Martin Jarvis, Joanna David, Alex Jennings, Juliet Stevenson, Harriet Walter and Simon Russell Beale. There will be a Q and A session after each performance. The first concert ‘Beloved Clara’ is on Sunday 19th January 2014. Further details can be found here: 

Lucy Parham first came to public attention as the Piano Winner of the 1984 BBC TV Young Musician of the Year. Having made her Royal Festival Hall concerto debut at 16, she has since appeared regularly at all the major concert venues in London and around the UK. Conductors with whom she collaborated include Barry Wordsworth, Sir Charles Groves, Bryden Thompson, Jane Glover, En Shao, Richard Hickox, Antoni Wit, Owain Arwel Hughes, Yoav Talmi, Veronika Dudarova, Martyn Brabbins, Sian Edwards, John Wilson and Jean-Claude Cassadesus. Festival appearances include, in the UK, Brighton, City of London, Perth, Leeds Castle, Rye, Bury St Edmunds, Three Choirs, Newbury, Victor Hugo, Guernsey, Canterbury, Cambridge, Winchester, Harrogate, BBC Proms, Welsh and Scottish Proms, Chelsea, Cardiff, North Norfolk and Oxford, and abroad, Bergen, Istanbul and Mexico City.

Full biography and more on Lucy’s website

www.lucyparham.com 

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

My mother brought home from the public library a recording by Vladimir Horowitz. Already, I was studying music and learning to play the piano; but it was those sounds that ignited my musical interest.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

Early on, it was recordings of Horowitz (I only wanted to play pieces he played, for example), and earlier pianists, Hofmann, Petri. Later, I went another direction. My teacher at Juilliard was Jacob Lateiner, an extraordinary virtuoso with nearly Talmudic insights! He offered intensely detailed scrutiny of music and high ideals. He was the most important example to me, and he was my friend. At the same time, my awareness of John Cage’s music and my work with it were important. That makes for some combination of compulsive preparation and considerable letting-go in performance.

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

The greatest challenges are simple things, I believe. For virtuosos — or any kind of experts — it’s difficult to resist showing how much you can do, or know, or feel.

Which performances or recordings are you most proud of?

I’m pleased with a new recording of piano music by Meredith Monk that I made with Ursula Oppens. Along with solo pieces, there are 4 new transcriptions of Meredith’s music that I made from pieces that were first written for voices or other instruments.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Many. I play rather frequently in New York at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR). It’s a nightclub where very different kinds of music mingle or collide. One night, I played Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time right before a set by the French star Sylvain Chauveau.

Favourite pieces to perform?

I like performing chamber music. The necessary spontaneity and moment-by-moment awareness when playing with other people make the real pleasure of performing most clear.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably that would be the first time I played in Los Angeles, with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl – but the day before the performance there was an earthquake!

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

Close listening and curiosity – that’s paying attention!

What are you working on at the moment?

There’s a new piano concerto written for me by William Duckworth. I’m doing a re-editing project based on recordings by Glenn Gould.

What is your present state of mind?

Anxious anticipation. In London at Kings Place on May 19th, I’m offering an improvisation with a backing track I prepared. (As well as composed pieces by Glass, Nico Muhly, and Alvin Curran.) Last season, at the urging of Ran Blake, I did an improv in a public concert. Now I’m hooked.

brucebrubaker.com

artsjounal.com/pianomorphosis

Bruce Brubaker appears at London’s King’s Place on Sunday 19th May in a concert entitled Plugged and Unplugged: Post-Minimalist Piano Music. Further information and tickets here

Bruce Brubaker is an American artist, musician, concert pianist, and writer born in Iowa. Brubaker trained at the Juilliard School, where he received the school’s highest award, the Edward Steuermann Prize, upon graduation. At Juilliard, where he taught from 1995 to 2004, he has appeared in public conversations with Philip Glass, Milton Babbitt, and Meredith Monk.

Full biography here

brittencurated

A number of artists who have participated in my Meet the Artist series are involved in concerts and events to mark the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten. In a series of occasional posts, I will be highlighting these concerts while allowing readers the opportunity to revisit some of the Meet the Artist interviews.

Britten at 100 – Kings Place, London: Thursday 7th – Saturday 9th February 2013

British pianist John Reid is presenting his first concert series in London at King’s Place as part of the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten.

Fellow-pianist Andrew Matthews-Owen and John have gathered together a wonderful group of performers to celebrate the life and work of Benjamin Britten, through his music, works by his contemporaries (composers, librettists and visual artists), the repertoire which he championed as founder and director of the Aldeburgh Festival, as well as through commissions by Simon Holt, Jonathan Dove and Martin Suckling.

Other performers include Nicky Spence, Nicholas Mulroy, Joby Burgess, Claire Booth, Andrew Radley, Oliver Coates, Richard Watkins and Christine Croshaw.

Saver ticket: Only £9.50! Your seats will be the best available left 1 hour before the performance. Book early as seats are allocated based on first come, first served.

Further information and tickets here

John Reid’s Meet the Artist interview

John Reid

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

First of all, the piano chose me. And secondly, I’ve always felt myself to be a musician who happens to play the piano. Both of these clichés seem to have more than a grain of truth in them in my case. Music has been at the heart of my life for as long as I can remember, but there was a period of over twenty years between the time my parents would put me in front of the record player or radio to keep me quiet and my first day as a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy. My childhood and formative years were spent in the world of church music; as a cathedral chorister, playing the organ, dabbling in conducting, trying to be a good academic. I was a decent all-rounder.

I made the decision to pursue further piano studies, quite consciously, as an adult. I had always been drawn to the keyboard instruments because I could be self-contained, playing multiple musical lines and harmonies without the need for anyone else to be involved. The irony is that I was compelled, in the end, to concentrate on the piano because I found the organ such a lonely and dauntingly mechanical instrument – and I needed to make colours, dynamics and nuances with my own fingers, in close proximity to other living and breathing musicians.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing? 

Singing was at the centre of my life as a child. That’s why accompanying singers has always felt the most natural thing in the world to me: my default setting, as it were. I was bitten by the Lieder bug later on and, of course, I’ve had to learn a good deal about the technicalities of playing with singers; but I’ve had to work much harder when taking on other, far less instinctively-felt, roles as a performer. I still tend to think of a vocal ideal when I’m learning all but the most thornily anti-lyrical pieces: how a singer might phrase, or colour, this or that idea.

I’ve been very lucky with my teachers: most have appeared like good angels at exactly the right time for me to absorb their particular ideas and qualities. I also owe a huge debt to the many wonderful colleagues with whom I’ve worked – I’ve learnt something from every single one of them.

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

When you start out as a musician, nobody will ever tell you that it’s an easy life. And the doomsayers are right, of course! But, if you can rise above the insecurities and uncertainties of what can often seem a cruel and arbitrary profession, then challenges can energise and inspire. Finding a reasonable work-life balance requires constant reappraisal for any freelancer: you’re either too busy, or panicking if the diary looks blank. In terms of performing and preparing for concerts, I tend to find the moments of anticipation the hardest. How will I ever learn this music for this time next week? Will I have the courage to walk out onto the stage (even with the most sympathetic colleague by my side)? Taking the suitcase out from under the bed is never fun. But once I’ve played the first note, or have closed the front door, I tend to be fine.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?  

I’ve never listened to my few recordings beyond the final edit. There will be an interesting psychological reason why I have a horror of doing so, I’m sure. I feel very proud of some of my performances, although I suspect that these concerts take on a kind of retrospective glamour in the memory. Generally speaking, the tougher the preparation (for whatever technical or musical reason), the greater the sense of achievement at the end of the performance. This summer, for example, I played the Korngold Suite for piano left hand and string trio at Wigmore Hall: a remarkable piece, but not one I would have ever chosen to learn (for fear of its difficulties). But I accepted the challenge, the months of work paid off, and even my right hand forgave me in the end…

A handful of times, when I have felt totally connected to the music, the adrenaline has kicked in during performance and I’ve thought, fleetingly: Yes! This is why I do it!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

It tends be easy to understand why the prestigious venues develop the reputation that they do. And it’s always a pleasure to play on a wonderful instrument in a hall with a glorious natural sound; indeed, it’s much, much harder to give of your best on a sub-optimal or anodyne piano in an unforgiving acoustic. But, in my experience, it’s the quality of listening from the audience which determines (strongest of all) whether or not a concert might fly; and the most responsive and open audiences are not necessarily to be found at the ‘ideal’ venues.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

One of the reasons why I would never wish to concentrate exclusively on one area of expertise or repertoire is that I would miss everything that I wasn’t specialising in: the grass would always be greener on the other side. I would never wish to be without the Mozart concertos on the one hand, or the songs of Schubert and Wolf on the other. Having spent ages not missing playing alone one bit, I now hanker after learning vast tracts of the solo repertoire – and the several lives needed in order to achieve that goal. But I don’t believe in reincarnation, so some music – like the 48 – will almost certainly, and regrettably, remain private practice material, if that.

My listening history, viewed chronologically, would come across as being somewhat quirky; I first became obsessed by Wozzeck when I was sixteen or thereabouts, but I only discovered Traviata and Steely Dan about five years ago. These days, it’s hard to find time to listen to music regularly, but I hope that my tastes are more discerning and wide-ranging in spite of (or as a result of) my relative selectiveness.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I’m drawn to artists who risk intimacy even in large concert halls, who draw you in, who challenge any preconceived ideas that you might have about the music (or them), and who command your attention from first note to last.

I don’t listen much to piano music, although I hear recordings by Arrau, Gilels, Lupu, Barenboim (also live) Argerich, Nelson Freire and Geoffrey Parsons, hoping that I might absorb something from their playing as if by osmosis – quite a vain thing to do, come to think of it! I listen avidly to singers in all kinds of repertoire. I’ve become fascinated by the string quartet repertoire, largely through my wife who is a wonderful amateur violist and chamber musician. I’ve heard so many evenings of wonderful music making direct from our living room; these players come directly from the office, hungry to play late Beethoven quartets. That’s inspiring!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

This is an impossible question to answer in brief. Certain experiences from last Autumn, however, will always remain with me: playing Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the King’s Place Festival, and then hearing and seeing (in close succession) Boulez and the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Pli Selon Pli and Abbado and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in Bruckner 5.

On another note, I could write a book about numerous carry-on style exploits at concerts, especially incidents relating to page-turners: memorable experiences for all the wrong reasons…

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

To develop an exceptionally thick skin for the practical side of being a musician, and as thin a skin as you can bear for the creative side. To be open to inspiration from wherever it might come. To find a balance between work and play during the necessary long hours at your instrument. To know your musical values, but to know when and how to be flexible. To go into the profession with aims other than being rich and famous. To develop some long-term objectives, while tearing up the five-year plan. To have integrity.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m co-curating a series for the Britten centenary at King’s Place in February 2013. Over the course of three concerts (and a few talks), we’ll be exploring some of Britten’s lifelong preoccupations (his pacifism, his work as pianist, festival director and conductor at Aldeburgh) through his own music and the composers that he championed, alongside a handful of new works from representatives of the post-Britten generations in the UK.

Otherwise, I have a large pile of music by the piano, ready for learning or revising.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Standing on top of a mountain, having climbed it: that moment when the clouds part and you see the view.

John Reid will be performing at the Music at Malling Festival, which runs from 27th-30th September. Further details here.

 

John Reid’s career to date has shown him to be a pianist of notable versatility and range, with wide experience as an outstanding chamber musician, song accompanist, soloist and exponent of new music. 

Current and recent projects have included a Brahms and Schumann series with The Sixteen in London, Manchester and Bruges; recitals to mark the centenary of Kathleen Ferrier’s birth in Manchester and at The Sage Gateshead with mezzo-soprano Diana Moore, and at Wigmore Hall (in a programme devised by Graham Johnson); and collaborations with Maxim Rysanov (at Kings Place in London) and clarinettist Sarah Williamson (at Wigmore Hall). He is a regular guest with the Northern Sinfonia in the chamber music series at The Sage, and is a principal of the Aurora Orchestra, with whom he has appeared at the major recital venues in London, and at the BBC Proms and BBC Proms Plus series. 

John Reid studied at Clare College, Cambridge and at the Royal Academy of Music with Michael Dussek. As a student, he was the recipient of the Gerald Moore Award and the Kathleen Ferrier and Maggie Teyte prizes. He currently works with Christine Croshaw. 

Richard Bates, composer & conductor (photo credit: Scott Inglis-Kidger)

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

I would say that composing chose me, rather than the other way round. Almost as soon as I started learning to play piano, I started coming up with music of my own when I was bored of the pieces set me by my teacher. I always listened to classical music a lot as a youngster. And as a teenager, I suppose my writing mirrored what I was listening to – Beethoven in my early teens then later, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Poulenc, Morton Feldman…

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing? 

As I say, I always listened to music growing up, and I was lucky enough that my piano teacher in those years was interested in furthering the scope of my musical knowledge, and gave me music and recordings to explore that I otherwise would not have chosen. These expanded my horizons considerably. A great favourite of mine is Francis Poulenc, whose unique and instantly recognizable style really caught my interest. I also owe a great debt of gratitude to Michael Finnissy and Giles Swayne, who taught me my compositional craft, the guts to write what I want to write, the intricate skill of orchestration, and how to express what you hear with the instruments you have.

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

When I graduated from Cambridge, I thought: “nobody makes a living from writing music, and the world doesn’t really need another composer anyhow”, so I followed another passion of mine and went into music direction for theatre – leading pit bands and singers. Over the years since, I have taken every professional composing opportunity that arose for me, but it was only really embarking on Platinum Consort’s recording of my Tenebrae and commission In The Dark, and their subsequent commercial success, which exceeded my hopes, never mind my expectations, and that really convinced me writing music could be a viable life for me.

Which compositions are you most proud of?  

Of the works of mine that have been premiered so far, probably the Tenebrae are my favourite. I took a good deal of trouble to get each response just right, and the weaving of Renaissance-style counterpoint to create 21st-century harmonies was the biggest skill I had to master. I’m very proud of the result, and feel this is one of my most significant works to date.

Favourite pieces to listen to? 

I’m sure it’s a very infuriating answer, but I’m not the sort of person who has a clear favourite. It will depend on my mood and what I’m doing at the time. I also admire music for different reasons: some pieces are guilty pleasures – pieces which are not fantastically put together, but mean a great deal to me either because of their ambience, or a personal significance; other pieces are good for my musical health – pieces I admire because they are so perfectly ingenious in their construction or employ compositional tricks I can’t help but wish I’d thought of.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Again, I’m going to be annoying and fudge that question and say it depends. I suppose my single, favourite group, is the Platinum Consort, for whom I was recently named Composer in Residence. I have worked with them over a long period, which is unusual in the music business, and have developed a very honest and open relationship with them and their director Scott Inglis-Kidger. I have great admiration for the dedication and skill they employ, and they in turn give me whatever feedback they honestly feel, without fear of my taking offence or umbrage. But I also have a great deal of admiration for the singers and musicians I work with in my conducting career, who turn up night after night and deliver consistently great performances.

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

Stephen Sondheim once said that composition without craft is just masturbation. I agree. Without craft, and I would add discipline, you’re just improvising. That’s fun in the sense that you sit at your piano and think: “aren’t I jolly clever to be able to sit here and come up with this”, but the interest of what you come up with soon fades unless there’s a supporting framework. Musical ideas in themselves have little power; it’s their juxtaposition that gives them strength to move listeners. This is the message I would like to convey to my 14 year old self.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Two things: a motet setting of the plainchant Veni Veni Emmanuel for double choir and semi-chorus for the Platinum Consort; and The Vigil, a work for choir, soloists and orchestra – it’s a meditation on the stations of the cross – for Thomas’s Choral Society in London.

What is your present state of mind?

Relaxed. I am on holiday, just doing some writing, and unconstrained by the iPhone ringing or having to go out later and conduct a musical.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My steel tipped conductor’s baton. It’s the perfect weight and length for me, and the polished steel tip catches the light beautifully in darkened theatres and ball-rooms, so the musicians can see my beat. It’s also been around with me quite a few years.

Richard Bates was born and raised in London. He was educated as a music scholar at Winchester College and Cambridge University. He studied composition with Michael Finnissy and Giles Swayne, as well as participating in seminars with John Woolrich, Howard Skempton and John Rutter.

Upon graduation, Richard was appointed organist at the church of St Magnus The Martyr in the City of London, a position he held until 2008 when he moved to be Director of Music at Holy Trinity, Northwood. Richard also pursues a wide range of activities in the British and USA musical theatre and cabaret scenes. He is in demand as a conductor and accompanist and recently made his band‐leading debut in New York City.

Richard was officially appointed Composer in Residence to the Platinum Consort in 2012, after having written for the ensemble on an informal basis for a number of years. His music featured on their album In The Dark was described by BBC Music Magazine as “particularly impressive”, and the Observer said “Bates…knows how to raise hairs on the back of the neck with his smoky eight‐part writing”. 

Keep an eye on www.richardbatesmusic.com and @richbatesmusic on Twitter for details, premieres and performances coming up this Autumn and into 2013.

Platinum Consort will be performing at King’s Place, London, on Saturday 1st September, in a concert which features Richard Bates’ In the Dark. Further information here.

“Pristine tonal balance and pure tuning…intimate music-making…sensitively sung…vigorously projected”  
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE, 2012

A chance to hear Platinum Concert in a promotional film for their debut CD ‘In the Dark (Resonus Classics). Platinum Consort was founded in 2005 by Claire Jaggers and Scott Inglis-Kidger, a recent Meet the Artist interviewee. Their debut recording (on the Resonus Classics label), which juxtaposes early and modern choral music, is available now, and has already received high praise in the music press.

Platinum Consort will be performing at King’s Place on Saturday 1st September. Further information on their website:

Platinum Consort

My interview with Scott Inglis-Kidger