Ahead of the world premiere of his new piano work Sudden Memorials, written in response to the aftermath of 9/11, composer Kevin Malone shares insights into his creative life, his influences and inspirations and why he thinks we need to take more “time to think”….


Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Roger Mroz, my first serious saxophone teacher in Buffalo, New York, has left a positive, indelible influence on my teenage psyche regarding high levels of performance and serious repertoire. Ken Radnofsky at New England Conservatory offered wisdom by telling me to attend cello and voice masterclasses so that I wouldn’t be just a saxophonist, but instead like a musician who considers the context of interpretation.

When I stumbled upon the music of Rouse, Stravinsky, Weir, Reich, Beethoven, Crumb and Laurie Anderson, I realised that there are approaches to composition outside “the system,” yet their works contained logic, rigour and a strong sense of internally-established identity which made sense to me. Discovering the music of Ives at age 14 changed my life completely. His meticulous irrationality (an oxymoron, but an accurate description!) gets to the heart of what it’s like to be human: the visceral and philosophical self being one.

All of the above meld into how I think of what a composition is for me: a script for musicians to act upon, to interpret.

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

Without any doubt, it is time to think. Teaching at a university is about productivity, making it challenging to create anything truly unique to add important works to the repertoire or broaden musical expressivity. If we had time to think, then we could properly assess where we’ve come from and where we are in musical composition. For the past 60 years, the focus in the arts has been on manner, not substance, and manner (style) is highly marketable so it’s taken precedence. These mannerisms pretend to address the above questions, but instead they create a veneer to evade truly addressing and reevaluating compositional substance.

There’s also time wasted because, as a citizen, we have responsibilities to challenge oppression, injustice and maltreatment. When a government sets out to privilege its financial support base and offer promises specific to its voting base, then every musician and composer must join others to take action. That takes up much mental space and time. I’ve been shocked when some composer associates have told me that such activism is up to others, even though my associates will benefit, because they claim they are here to be composers.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I usually come up with ideas which I’m burning to compose into audience experiences; some of these become proper commissions, such as Sudden Memorials for Adam Swayne. When approached with a commission idea, then I like lots of discussion to ensure I honour the commissioner. For example, A Day in the Life is a violin concerto commissioned in 2018 by Andy Long, Associate Leader of the Orchestra of Opera North. He had a very specific brief that it should relate to Robert Blincoe, an indentured child forced to work in Northern textile mills in the late 18thC. I undertook massive amounts of research into Blincoe, indentured children and historic and current Northern mills. We discussed the proposed scenario at length, considered the audience, and after many coffees together, the music just flowed, since we had devised the vessel inside which the music would sail with many adventures along the way.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

Oh my, that’s everything! With some close artistic associates, I actually want to completely let go of the piece when I give it to them, so that it’s entirely theirs. I want to wait until they perform it before I hear it! That level of trust and synchronised thinking is rare, but so very precious.

With others, I like to get into lots of conversations about what the piece should be doing for the listener, and how they may wish to change things here and there to achieve that. I want to hear and learn about their sound, timing, phrasing and articulation so that they and the music are speaking the same language, dialect and accent as to what I intended.

Of which works are you most proud?

Eighteen Minutes (concerto for double basses) and Requiem77 (cello and voices) for their simplicity and directness (both are on iTunes and Spotify)

Sudden Memorials (piano) and Opus opera (string quartet) for their scale which goes beyond structures, and variety of emotional unfolding.

A Day in the Life (violin concerto) and The Water Protectors for their thorough grounding in people’s experiences, tribulations and activism

And HerStories Unsung Vol.1 and The People Protesting Drum Out Bigly Covfefe for the reaction they evoke from audiences: real audience participation! Check out the premiere by Diana Lopszyc of HerStories: Lilith:

and The People Protesting premiere by Adam Swayne:

How would you characterise your compositional language?

It is polystylistic in that each work is a heady brew of multiple styles and dialects, aimed at thwarting predictability as to what comes next, yet often imbued with familiar sounds in unusual gestures. For example, a series of triadic chords may appear – what I call “tonal artefacts” – and sometimes they might suggest a sort of archaeological dig revealing a tonal centre, but one which is seriously disjointed (not apologetically muddied or blurred). So it sounds familiar, but the syntax is wildly new.

I like what Beethoven said: good music should always have beauty and surprise. That’s a powerful combination when it’s understood and balanced. I would say my music is 20% music for music’s sake, and 80% music for listener’s emotional and psychological enlivenment. I like to experiment with new approaches in compositions for ensembles, and not to experiment with the musicians themselves. As a performer for many years, it was disheartening to have a composer ignore the many thousands of hours I put into a wide palette of solid technique, only to find that I had to develop an equally convincing technical range for just this one composer for just one piece (which most likely would be performed once). We are social beings, and it is important to respect what your musicians bring to the table. A medium-size orchestra offers 600,000 hours of high-level musicality to a composer, so to ignore that is quite arrogant!

How do you work?

I think of what the audience experience would be, then I make a structural diagram of that experience, as specific as 2” phrases in some places. The structure is drawn linearly, often stretching four meters left to right. While I create the structure, I hear musical ideas in my head to make that experience, writing them in notation and English and taping the bits of paper to where they will be most effective. Eventually, the structure suggests where new ideas and developed ideas should go to best create that experience. This is wildly different from what I was taught, which was to take an idea(s) and develop it to see where it goes. I don’t think an audience cares to hear what decisions a composer took (that’s composerly-orientated music). To my ears, that approach sounds like the minutes of a staff meeting or a logical proof being justified. I’d rather focus on giving the audience an experience instead of asking them to experience my music as a composition.

This may sound quite opinionated, but I think of it as my music having an opinion – and strong ones at that – so that its narrative is spicy, flavourful, sometimes contradictory, always provocative.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To attain a sustained high level of craft which produced provocative, original works that communicate to audiences. I am suspicious of celebrity artists; surely hearing their artistry without knowing who they are should have the same value as knowing their identity. But sadly, there’s so much emphasis on marketing the person and putting artists into gladiator-type situations like X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, where artists are spontaneously judged with the goal of choosing one winner and many dozens of losers. I’d love to see a TV show called Comp Idol: composers writhing in ecstatic spasms of inspiration, trying to impress instead of express. (Channel 4: I have the treatment already drawn up.)

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

To work your ass off. To not underestimate the incalculable hours and years of work it takes to really say something artistically. To seek criticism from every quarter. To take risks. To not be defensive. To not try to be original, but instead to be genuinely the best of what’s inside you, which takes a lifetime. When these are achieved, you’ll be making a unique contribution to that life-force we call music.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

To teach the art-music of our diverse cultures from pre-school onward as compulsory in every school. To insist on accurate representations of art-music (it is for all people, not just certain social classes) and a vocabulary to talk about it (a perfect fifth is a perfect fifth in classical, hip-hop, reggae, ska, house, techno, jazz, folk, pop, etc.). To have a funded community orchestra/ensemble in every borough, and to make it accessible to everyone. Look at all the sports facilities in boroughs (wonderful!) but where is the funding for expressive arts? This mirrors the contempt that governments have for the power of the expressive arts: the mechanism which activates people to raise their voices and have their say.

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

I have no idea. I live mostly in the present, evaluating where I’ve come from.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t believe people should try to achieve happiness (a goal, a thing); rather, people should be happy (action, doing). This means making happy feelings for ourselves: they are our responsibility and under our control, and can change as circumstances change. For me, that is to write music which is rich with emotions and psychological states (wit, humour, sadness, surprise) and rigorously structured.

Is music the most important thing to me? No, but it is the only portal through which I achieve clarity to find out.

What is your most treasured possession?

It’s my Soviet-issued ceramic bust of Lenin which was given to me by the Composers Union of Ukraine. In 1994, they were no longer required to keep it on display in their office. I keep Lenin’s head warm with a pink pussy hat I knitted 5 years ago.

What do you enjoy doing most?

For leisure, watching films, which is such a widely diverse art form. What I enjoy doing most is composing when I’m not relaxing.

What is your present state of mind?

Great anxiety for society and humanity due to the immense greed of politicians and wealth-extraction industries (i.e. most capitalist businesses). But day to day, I am enriched by my partner and our long-haired German Shepherd dog; they buoy my hope for the future.

Sudden Memorials by Kevin Malone receives its world premiere in a concert by pianist Adam Swayne at London’s Wigmore Hall on Saturday 11th September at 1pm, the exact hour in Britain twenty years on the from the beginning of 9/11. More information

The score of Sudden Memorials is available from Composers Edition


The work of Kevin Malone spans genres and media beyond conventional labelling. He is equally at home with electronics, multimedia and harpsichords to choirs and orchestras, embracing postmodernist and hybrid approaches across his work.

Abandoning high Modernism, Malone speaks with an open, personal expression, freeing his music from the baggage of serious high art music without actually throwing away the bags.

Read more www.opusmalone.com

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Coming from a moderately musical family as I do, there was no shortage of inspiration at home during my childhood. My father’s solo career was in full flight, and I loved attending his concerts and listening to the work process behind the scenes. It seemed to me that this was an elevated and endlessly interesting way to live one’s life. Later on, my lessons with William Pleeth were invaluable, as were my encounters with the extraordinary composer and pedagogue Gyorgy Kurtag. The cellist I listened to most was Pablo Casals, a great and pioneering artist whose unique way has always fascinated me. 

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

Without a doubt, bearing the surname of my father [Alfred Brendel], with whom I have always got on very well. It brought with it an expectation in others’ eyes that I wasn’t well equipped enough to deal with for quite some time. This has waned over the years, but not without leaving a clear psychological mark. Yet I wouldn’t change the past if I could! The flip side of this very private struggle was a rich immersion in culture in the widest sense. My father and I still meet regularly to discuss and listen to music, watch films and look at art together.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I was possibly a bit too young and green to record the Beethoven sonatas with my father in my late 20s. It was the one opportunity we had to do it, and I’m still pleased with it almost 20 years later. Many performances come to mind – perhaps the 20 years of directing the Plush festival in Dorset give me most satisfaction as a body of programmes that always tried to push boundaries and present music in a spirit of inspiration. 

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

I’m not sure…perhaps the audience should decide that! I feel a particular bond with Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, and with much contemporary repertoire. Combining old and new elements in a programme is so often mutually enhancing. 

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I listen to quite a lot of improvised music, something I like to do in private (and occasionally in public) as well. I teach a lot too and am becoming more and more aware of its importance in my own development. One can learn so much from one’s students. I play football, tennis and other sports with childish enthusiasm and this keeps me sane at times. Most of all, I spend time with my partner and two boys, who give everything so much more meaning.

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

There’s an element of chance here – you never know what you will encounter along the way. As a collaborative cellist, I have to be ready for anything! When planning my own recital programmes, I try to combine some new or unknown music with works from the canon. There is a huge amount of great repertoire to find that only increases the more you look..

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

As a member of the Nash ensemble, Wigmore Hall always feels like home as we are resident there every year. Other wonderful venues include Vienna Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and Berlin Philharmonie, amongst many.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I think there is a case for completely rethinking the way we do our events, not to preclude the time-honoured format that we are all used to and enjoy, but to actively encourage new formats and ideas alongside the conventional model. These could include making our events more filmic in presentation or collaborative with other art forms such as dance (particularly with modern music); doing away with 2 x 40 minutes in most events; allowing other elements in such as improvisation and different genres, and using more unusual venues as concert spaces. All these things are starting to happen, but need to become more normal for young people to sit up and take notice. 

The awful situation performing artists find themselves in due to COVID-19 and, mainly, Brexit also provides an opportunity for young musicians to reinvent the wheel in the UK. With so little funding for the arts and such difficulties with touring in EU countries, we are just going to have to find new ways to connect with audiences here.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Too many to mention. Perhaps out of leftfield, being summoned on stage out of the blue while presenting a world music festival in Senegal for BBC Radio 4 to play with Baaba Maal in front of 10,000 people. That was an experience…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To find fulfilment in what you do, and to approach your work with a fresh, unbiased mind. And to be generous to your colleagues.

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

Learning how to listen, and how to take distance to one’s own ideas to allow others in. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I’d like to live in a UK that is less divided, and has more respect for its artists and artistic institutions. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Time spent in nature with my family, decoding a complex new score of exciting contemporary music, watching Fulham at Craven Cottage (although not recently), attending a riveting concert, play or film, seeing progress in my students, curating unusual musical events: to name a few!

What is your present state of mind?

Stupefaction at the direction this country is taking. Excitement at the gradual opening up of things and the creative optimism that follows. And the fervent hope that we might leave the world in some kind of fit state for our children despite our current freefall. 

Adrian Brendel performs with pianist Alisdair Beatson at this year’s Petworth Festival which runs from Wednesday 14 July – Saturday 31 July. Further information here


One of the most versatile and original cellists of his generation, Adrian Brendel has travelled the world as soloist, collaborator and teacher. His early immersion in the core classical repertoire inspired an enduring fascination that has led to encounters with many fine musicians at the world’s most prestigious festivals and concert halls. His discovery of contemporary music through the works of Kurtag, Kagel and Ligeti in his teenage years opened a new and vital avenue that he continues to explore with huge enthusiasm alongside his passion for jazz and world music. In 2014 he became a member of the Nash Ensemble of London.

Projects with contemporary composers and conductors such as Kurtag, Thomas Adès and Peter Eötvös among others inspired him to cultivate new music in his concert programmes wherever possible. A three-year project with Sir Harrison Birtwistle led to premieres of his song cycle Bogenstrich and a piano trio released on the ECM label. He also premiered York Hoeller’s cello concerto Mouvements with NDR Hamburg alongside Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Canto di Speranza.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

My parents foremost – there was music around the house at all times, and my mother had a beautiful voice and sang often with my father accompanying. Then my first teacher, from age 5, Barbara Boissard. Then Kathleen Long, a natural pianist and musician with a beautiful sound. I stayed with her until I was 12 when I went to study at the Paris Conservatoire for 6 years. By then my mind was firmly made up – but these people were good early influences who would have helped my resolve to be a musician grow. 

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

In my younger years, there was an injury or two which involved some important last minute cancellations, which I hated being obliged to do. You have to keep faith that you will heal completely, which of course I did. However emerging from the pandemic is really challenging – planning impossible and great flexibility needed, as well as zen-like qualities. 

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud? 

It depends on which period of my life. The Philips recordings of Lieder with Wolfgang Holzmair were very special for me. As were the Schubert Live recordings from South Bank Centre a little over a decade ago. They were tough days, the rehearsal was recorded, as was the concert, with a patch session until late into the night. Each was a real marathon. 

But my set of recordings for Chandos have been, still are, a wonderful journey – all done at the amazing Snape Maltings with an excellent team. I have a particular fondness for the Liszt/Wagner recording, as well as for the Beethoven Diabelli Variations and “Iberia y Francia” , a lovely mix of French and Spanish masterpieces, large and small. 

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best? 

It’s not really for me to say. I don’t take up any work if I am not 150% convinced by it, and feel that I have something really personal to express through a piece. I guess that Schubert and Schumann are particularly close to me. 

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage? 

Get away from music! Read, be in the great outdoors, preferably walking..

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

Dominated either by practicalities (recordings, requests from promoters, festival themes) or, simply by a movement of the heart that impels me to such and such a composer..

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

There are so many. The Wigmore Hall is particularly dear to me as to so many of us – but also Spivey Hall near Atlanta GA in the US, Severance Hall in Cleveland, the Recital Hall in Melbourne, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam…I hate to leave any out, but am obliged to!

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I would like to think that the amount of filming of concerts on the web during the pandemic, and their easy availability, might entice new audience members when venues open up more. If only newly interested viewers could realise what an even richer experience it is sitting in a hall sharing an amazing musical experience with others – the synergy between platform and audience…There is honestly nothing like it.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One was certainly the first time I played the last three Schubert Sonatas together in one concert, a marathon if ever there was one. It was in the hall at Westminster School, on a freezing cold night – a packed audience sat huddled up in their coats and listening so attentively. It was a two hours-and-ten concert, and I was like a rag doll at the end, but proud to have stayed the course..

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

When I see that the music for which I have been a vessel has really reached the depths of people’s hearts and souls and that they are the better, or the wiser, for it. It is like speaking a message that has been clearly heard. If music-making is not about that, then for me it is not about anything. This has nothing to do with commercial success which is another story. 

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

Be humble about your ambition, whilst keeping your vision and goals clear. Be patient. And work work work – it is never enough. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years? 

Alive!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Walking in the Italian countryside in spring, with the prospect of a simple meal with friends at the end of the day. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

My house and garden.

What is your present state of mind? 

Sane, mostly. 

Imogen Cooper performs at this year’s Petworth Festival on 24 July, playing music by Schubert, Liszt and Brahms. More information/tickets


Regarded as one of the finest interpreters of Classical and Romantic repertoire, Imogen Cooper is internationally renowned for her virtuosity and lyricism. Recent and future concerto performances include the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle, Sydney Symphony with Simone Young and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with Ryan Wigglesworth.

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(Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke/Askonas Holt)

Violinist Chloë Hanslip is Principal Artist at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music. Here she shares her musical insights and inspirations, and reminds us that being a musician is not just about practicing……


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I grew up in a very musical household – my mother had been a ballet teacher, my sister was a pianist studying at RAM when I was born, and my Grandmother, who lived with us, was a piano teacher so music was everywhere! As I grew older my teachers obviously had a huge influence on my playing, as did having the opportunity to play for, and work with, incredible musicians such as Mariss Jansons and Ida Haendel.

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

Although there have been some challenges and the change from being perceived as a prodigy to being accepted as a whole musician is notoriously complicated, I think that I have been quite lucky. I have also always tried to focus on the positives and to grow, use and learn from any of the less pleasant aspects!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

Well, I am my own harshest critic (I think most musicians are!) and I’m always finding things that I would like to do differently…. that being said, the Beethoven cycle that Danny Driver and I performed and recorded a few years ago is something that I am so happy to have been able to do.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

When I was younger my heart was with Romantic music and I loved playing hugely virtuosic works. I still really enjoy performing those works but have been glad to expand my horizons over the years to include everything from Baroque to Contemporary! I love having the opportunity to bounce from one genre to the next in quick succession and think each one helps to inform the others, so hopefully it is a never ending circle of all works getting better each time I perform them.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I go hiking and walking in nature and the mountains as much as possible! Also, now that I have a one year old, the reminder to look at things with fresh eyes definitely also inspires.

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

For works with orchestras it’s largely based on what I’m invited to perform! For recitals Danny and I will discuss what works we haven’t done that we would like to add to our repertoire and then we choose contrasting pieces to land on programmes that have interest and flow to them.

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

My favourite concert venue is whichever one I’m performing in at that moment! Seriously though, there is something very special about Wigmore Hall.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

There are so many wonderful initiatives out there that I’m not sure I can add to them, but I think exposure to and demystifying the classical music world is key. 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’ve been so lucky to have many wonderful experiences, but performing at the Proms for the first time is definitely up there at the top!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Oh gosh, without wanting to sound self-aggrandising, if I can give just one person joy with my playing then that’s success to me.

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

Stay true to yourself! And don’t just practice – go for walks, to museums, to shops….and listen to everything. There has to be balance, and life informs the way we approach music as much as music informs the way we approach life.

Chloë Hanslip performs at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival Music, with Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra and conductor Tom Hammond, and in recital with pianist Danny Driver. She will also be giving masterclasses at Queenswood School, Hatfield, as part of the Festival. Full details here


Chloë Hanslip (b. 1987) has already established herself as an artist of distinction on the international stage. Prodigiously talented, she made her BBC Proms debut at fourteen and her US concerto debut at fifteen and has performed at major venues in the UK (Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall), Europe (Vienna Musikverein, Hamburg Laeiszhalle, Paris Louvre and Salle Gaveau, St Petersburg Hermitage) as well as Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Arts Space in Tokyo and the Seoul Arts Centre.

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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

For me, my earliest memories of listening to various great works for the first time was the biggest catalyst for me wanting to learn the piano. There was never really an exact point in which I decided this would be my career, but I guess I always pretty much had a one-track mind in wanting music to be my life. Partly a reason for this is that I don’t think I was good at anything else! My first piano teacher Dorothy she, who recently just passed away, was certainly an extremely instrumental figure in my life. She was the one who taught me everything from the beginning. All of my teachers each played a very important role in my development, from my professors in my early teenage years, A. Ramon Rivera and Alexander Korsantia, to the teachers that really molded my development from the age of 15 onwards up until today: Robert McDonald, Dang Thai Son, and Jonathan Biss. Aesthetically, I would say that the pianists whose musical language and careers have inspired me the most are Radu Lupu, Grigory Sokolov, and Mitsuko Uchida.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I listen to a lot of recordings of various works frequently. Whether it be a Bach Cantata, Schubert Lieder, or Mozart Piano Concerto, etc. I always want to have music in my ears, and somewhat subconsciously and consciously get deeper into the musical and emotional worlds of these great composers. Further, when I’m listening to a great piece of music whilst enjoying a beautiful part of nature, this inspires me the most.

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

This process varies all the time, but I would say first and foremost I would choose pieces I really want to play. The burning desire must be there for me to have to play this work at this time. Then, the decisions come where a programme must make sense musically, and also I have to imagine how it would work and sound to an audience. I don’t like programmes that are random, and are more of a showcase of all the different types of pieces a musician can play. I much prefer a programme that has cohesion and relation in its aesthetic, and the musical worlds of certain composers. This would apply mostly to the music within one half of a recital programme. After an intermission it can either be completely different, or continue on a common thread.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There really have been so many very memorable concert experiences, and in a way, all of them have been, because of how unique each experience is, and you never know what will happen on stage. However, one that has stood out very much so far was my BBC Proms debut. This was a concert that I had prepared a lot of time for, and there was nothing quite like that experience of walking out on stage to this ocean of people at the Albert Hall. I really did feel this unique and electric energy, and general warmth coming from the public that day.

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

I would hope that I can continue to have the chance to play music for people in all corners of the globe. I think despite all its unique challenges, and immense stress, our profession as a performing musician is a very lucky one. What an opportunity it is to be able to travel the world, see so many different countries and cultures, whilst doing what you love. Music is a very active and living thing. So much of this music left to us by these transcendent geniuses is so unbelievably great. However, without it being brought to life and played, it’s simply notes on a page. I just feel very lucky to be able to have a part in this wonderful process of bringing these works to more people.


Eric Lu won First Prize at The Leeds International Piano Competition in 2018, the first American to win the prestigious prize since Murray Perahia. He made his BBC Proms debut the following summer, and is currently a member of the BBC New Generation Artist scheme. Eric is a recipient of the 2021 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and is an exclusive Warner Classics recording artist.

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Pianist Peter Jablonski first appeared in the Meet the Artist series on this site back in 2016. In this updated interview, he reflects on his musical influences and inspirations, his new release for Ondine, and what the experience of lockdown has taught him, as a musician. 

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My first musical experiences were with jazz music, and I started learning jazz percussion at a young age. But piano came into my life very soon after, and it became obvious that it should be my main instrument when I started studying at the Malmö Music Academy, where I studied both percussion and piano performance. Everything in life can have an influence on a musician, big or small, and I count among those my performances at the Village Vanguard in New York when I was nine; meeting and playing to Miles Davis, playing with Buddy Rich and Thad Jones; playing to Claudio Abbado; working with Vladimir Ashkenazy; my first teacher in Malmö, Michał Wesołowski, who was so adept at describing music in colours, scents, feelings, and images; travelling the world as much as I have; reading Bertrand Russel, Pessoa, Oscar Wilde, Sabahattin Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Stefan Zweig, Dostoyevsky; learning my first Chopin mazurka; the realisation every time I play a concert that my profession is unique—one creates in a moment in time something that people can never hold in their hands, but something that they hopefully can carry in their memory for days, months, maybe years; my partner’s infuriating knowledge of obscure composers she continues to throw at me, and whose music often serves as a sad reminder of how unfairly many of them are forgotten. There are so many things that an artist can list as having been influential—it is the beauty of not only being an artist, but being a human.

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

Overcoming an injury just before Covid-19 struck and wreaked global havoc. I was diagnosed with a condition called frozen shoulder, which took many months to heal, only to then migrate to the other shoulder. In a way, I can say that I experienced Covid-like restrictions imposed on my work two years before Covid appeared, and with it, a shock of suddenly not being able to practice, play, and even travel, and wondering if it would ever get better.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

It is very difficult to listen to yourself, and many musicians would probably agree that it is often painful to hear one’s old recordings. These are just snapshots of those moments in time, and one has a tendency to always find room for improvement. But if I do look back, I would have to name my performances of the first piano concerto by Shostakovich, with Ashkenazy and the RPO and my recording of the Scriabin piano concerto with Ashkenazy and the DSOB.  Tchaikovsky 2 with Dutoit and the Philharmonia isn’t too bad either, considering I had to learn the piece especially for the recording!  Grieg’s Ballade and lyric pieces on Exton released in 2012 have been very dear to me, as I feel very close to Grieg’s intimate side in a Nordic kind of way.

I am also in a very different stage of my career now, where I am much less dictated to in the choices of my repertoire, and can really explore the long-neglected corners and all sorts of repertoire that I simply didn’t have time for until now. My collaboration with Ondine began last year, with the recording of Scriabin’s complete mazurkas, and continues with the upcoming release of piano works by Stanchinsky. These two composers are connected by their historical period, the city they lived in, and the professors they studied with. They knew each other, and were shaped by many of the same events that unfolded in the political and cultural life of Russia. I am absolutely delighted that in collaboration with Ondine, whose work I hugely admire, I have found a perfect mix of freedom to discover for myself the composers and works I long dreamt of knowing, and an impeccable quality control when it comes to all sorts of details and technicalities that I simply couldn’t think of myself.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

This question can be answered differently depending on when it is asked. When I was a 17-year old pianist with a new Decca contract, I capitalised on my rigorous training in percussion and found particular enjoyment in performances of muscular, rhythmical, acrobatic works such as Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky piano concerti (I recorded all three for Decca), of performing and recording works by Gershwin and Ravel, and spending much of my time with Russian romantics and American 20th-century composers. But I am 50% Polish, so Polish composers always loomed large in my life, from Chopin to living Polish composers, and I am so glad I got to work on Lutosławski’s piano concerto with the composer himself, whose encouragement and guidance meant a lot. It was also an honour to have a concerto written for me by Wocjiech Kilar; to premiere works by Zygmunt Krause, Romuald Twardowski, and of course to always have in my repertoire works by Szymanowski, Maciejewski, and many others.   Now I am very intrigued by the works by Grażyna Bacewicz, which I hope also to record for Ondine. So, I guess, to answer this question in another way: I like to think that I give my heart and soul to make sure every composer whose music I perform will get my best.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Life is my inspiration. To wake up every day and to see outside my window how nature changes its colours and patterns in the most minute yet steady way is to be constantly inspired. No matter what, the spirit of nature continues its march towards each season, serving as a reminder to us humans, that we too should continue our pursuits with the same steadfastness, and always have time to stop and notice something wonderful and wondrous. You might say that being close to nature reminds me to try and bring this wonder to every concert.

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

It varies greatly. A season might be dedicated to celebrating a particular composer, or one might happen to want to explore particular repertoire in a given year. Right now, for me, my choices are, of course, influenced by what recording I might be working on. For example, I can already say that 2022/23 season will be heavily focused on the music by Grażyna Bacewicz, which I am due to record for Ondine and which I will perform.

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

It is almost impossible to pick one, there have been so many. Suntory Hall in Tokyo has been a special place for me for many years—it is a large venue, and yet there is an intimacy one feels on stage during a recital that almost defies explanation.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

An eternal question! There are many elements to this answer: diverse programming, daring choices, fresh ideas that show people that there is a huge amount of interesting, worthy music out there that is still waiting to be heard. Hopefully, I will show this with my forthcoming release of piano works by Alexey Stanchinsky. But audiences do not grow just because we want them to—it starts in early childhood, at home, at school. Every child must have an opportunity to learn an instrument, to be exposed to great musical works just as they have to learn maths or learn how to read and write. Music should be embedded in education from the beginning—so many studies and experiments show the healing power of music, the effect it has on brain development, and on concentration, which is particularly suffering in our post-modern, social-media saturated, digital age.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Again, an almost impossible question but certainly one of the most unusual was my first performance in Seoul, South Korea. It would have been around 1995 and I was due to perform Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody with Myung-Whun Chung conducting the Philharmonia.

There was a public holiday in Korea that day so the orchestra bus was heavily delayed on its way to the concert venue. The concert was relayed live on Korean TV and the orchestra was not there at the time of the start, so I was asked if I could play something while we waited for the orchestra. I was still wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but it came to pass that Mo. Chung (who is a great pianist) and I had to take turns in giving an impromptu recital live on TV while the orchestra made its way through the Seoul traffic! Every time I play in Korea someone always comes up to me and reminds me of that day.

Of course I have to mention also the one when the cannon for the 1812 Overture (which was the next item in the programme) accidentally went off during a particularly peaceful moment in the slow movement of Tchaikovsky 1 in my debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be in a place that allows you to create at the piano, to be in the moment, for every performance to be an artistic experience and experiment, not just another concert. To be happy with the fact that the process of becoming an artist, a musician, a human being is ongoing and that there is no arrival point, only the journey full of ups and downs, possibilities, gains and losses, and most of all, continuous learning.

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

Learn how to know yourself, commit to a life-long process of discovering your artistic personality, be adventurous in life and in work, and most of all, do not to give up when things don’t work out straight away, and to keep a positive outlook even in the darkest of times. Remember the ancient Eastern proverb—‘Even after the darkest winter, spring will always follow’.

What has lockdown taught you as a musician?

To appreciate the space it has created around me, to appreciate the slower pace of life, and to find beauty in the smallest everyday things. To take a walk and to marvel at the beauty of nature, and of its indifference to us, humans, in a good way. It is obvious that without us, nature would do quite well, but we without nature—well, that’s a different story. The space, the quiet, the slowing down all help to restart the creative process, to recharge, and to find new energy for new projects.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Here in Sweden, still discovering new repertoire, as well as playing what I will forever love of Chopin, Beethoven, and so many others, and remaining open to what life brings.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Does it exist? To me, perfect happiness is perfect for a limited time only: if there is no strife, no challenges, no adversity of some kind, life has the danger of becoming boring. But waking up on a sunny morning and having a cup of coffee outside, listening to a spring song of a bird and being in that moment viscerally comes pretty close!

What is your most treasured possession?

My music scores.

What is your present state of mind?

Calm.

Peter Jablonski’s album of piano works by Alexey Stanchinsky (1888–1914), one of the most talented Russian composers of the early 20th Century, is released on 5 March on the Ondine label. Stanchinsky was not only a talent but a genuine innovator who,  despite his early death, had a profound influence on the generation of composers to follow.

The album will be released one year after lockdown began.  During these difficult and uncertain months, many people may have experienced poor mental health at times, just as Stanchinsky did during his lifetime.  In honour of Stanchinsky’s memory, Peter Jablonski has partnered with Samaritans and will make a personal donation to assist their work.   The official message from Samaritans is: When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org.


Peter Jablonski is an internationally acclaimed Swedish pianist.  Discovered by Claudio Abbado and Vladimir Ashkenazy and signed by Decca at the age of 17, he went on to perform, collaborate and record with over 150 of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors, including the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Mariinsky, La Scala Philharmonic, Tonhalle Zurich, Orchestre Nationale de France, NHK Tokyo, DSO Berlin, Warsaw Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras and worked with such acclaimed conductors as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Valery Gergiev, Kurt Sanderling, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Riccardo Chailly, Daniele Gatti, and Myung-Whun Chung, to name a few.  He has performed and recorded the complete piano concertos by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Bartók and all of the piano sonatas by Prokofiev.  During his three-decade-long career, he worked closely with composers Witold Lutosławski and Arvo Pärt.  Jablonski’s extensive discography includes several award-winning recordings.

Peter Jablonski’s website