To coincide with the release of her new recording of Mozart Piano Sonatas Vols 2 and 3, I caught up with pianist Orli Shaham to find out more about her influences and inspirations and why one of her most treasured possessions features Snoopy the dog…..

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?

It was my parents and my older brothers who inspired me to start music more than anybody else. My parents listened to a lot of music, and my older brothers were just enough older that they were beginning to be accomplished at instruments when I was coming into consciousness. I just really wanted to be part of that and be able to play with them and do the same sort of things that they were doing. That was very much the source of the initial inspiration. I also went to an untold number of conservatory concerts to listen to my brothers perform, and then also heard the 49 other pianists or violinists who were on the same program. That was hugely inspirational too.

A big part of my influences are the people in my life who also love music and who also play music. For me, that’s changed over time from being my elders to being my children and my students. I find them all incredibly inspiring.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Ultimately, it’s always the last project you just finished that you’re most proud of, because on some level you feel like it’s better than everything you’ve done before. I have certain highlights throughout my career that I think back on quite fondly. At the moment, I’m riding high on recording the complete Mozart sonatas. That was a monumental mountain to climb. I loved every minute of it, and I learned so much from doing it.

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

I would say whatever I’m doing at the moment, which this year has included a lot of Mozart, and a lot of Clara Schumann and her compatriots. With any luck, we keep getting better at all of them – that’s the hope.

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

That’s a really tough one because you have to choose repertoire quite far in advance. I have to project what I think I will feel like playing 18 months from today. Eighteen months is a long way to plan for your emotional state. These days, 18 minutes is a pretty long way.

I’m so lucky to be a pianist; I have so much repertoire to choose from. I have a list that I haven’t even begun to skim the surface of, of pieces that I would like to play. So I just go down that list based on what I think would work best next.

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

I have a favorite concert venue to record in, but I’ve never actually performed there. It’s Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. I love recording there because there’s something about the atmosphere of the building that makes me feel like it’s all about whatever I’m creating on stage (and also there’s an enormous painting of George Washington and the rear end of his horse looking down on me from high above the stage). The hall has an incredible sound. For pianists, performing or recording at a venue is intricately tied up with the venue’s piano. I really love the instrument at Mechanics Hall, as well as the technician who takes care of it. Any time I sit down at that keyboard, I’m inspired to experiment.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

That’s a very long list. One that I happen to be thinking about recently was with David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony. I played John Adams’ Century Rolls in Carnegie Hall. The way schedules worked out, the composer couldn’t come to hear any of our performances before that; the first time he could come and hear it was at the Carnegie concert. I was only the second pianist to play that concerto at the time, and there was a great deal of nervous energy.

The orchestra did a magnificent job, and David was incredible. Everything worked, and it was fabulous. When John came on stage for his composer’s bow, he leaned in to me and said, “You got it, you really got it.” There’s really no better feeling as a performer, than for the composer to say, “You got it.” That’s what it’s all about.

I should add that I’m very much looking forward to playing John Adams’ second piano concerto, Why Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? in Finland next season, with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the self-same David Robertson conducting.

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

Being a mother of infant twins was a big challenge. We’ve made it through to the other side – those twins are about to turn 15. Things are a lot a lot less intense than they were 15 years ago around this time. I think it’s true for many parents, certainly for a lot of mothers, that it’s tricky figuring out how to keep your commitment to music while also juggling a commitment to family, both of which are all-consuming.

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

I do things that have to do with music, like teaching and listening to repertoire other than what I’m working on, which is very inspiring. I also specifically do things that don’t have to do with music. I’m inspired by books I am reading, or TV shows I am watching, or meditation or cooking, that really allow me to get inside my own head in a different way than when I’m getting inside a composer’s head.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The not so trite answer is that we musicians don’t have such a definition, because we never think that what we’re doing is good enough, so it can’t possibly be considered a success. Knowing that there will never be a feeling of complete and total success, I set very specific goals for myself, and if I can make those work for an entire performance, then I feel it’s been a success.

Those are often really small things. I had a shoulder injury a few years ago and one of the things that I’ve been working on is maintaining a certain level of muscle relaxation in my upper back, even in performance, from the beginning to the end. That’s no small feat. It has nothing to do with the actual music making, and it has everything to do with the actual music making. When I achieve that, I feel a huge sense of pride, because I know that’s something I wasn’t able to do before.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

My biggest piece of advice is that whether other people give you the opportunities you’re hoping for is completely out of your control. But whether you feel that you are constantly improving is entirely in your control, and that way of approaching things will sustain you through the lulls and heartbreaks of a career.

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

There are really two sides to that question. One, how do we get the next generation to understand that classical music is for them? That’s in part why I started Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard, to get to children at the ripe old age of three or four years old. The other side of it is making sure that what you’re presenting to the audience is relevant to their lives in some way. That may have to do with repertoire choices, it might have to do with venue choices, perhaps programme lengths, and the way that you introduce a programme to an audience and explain to them how it connects to them. It’s all about humanizing the musicians and the composers and making people feel that this is something that is actually designed for them and that they can partake of whether they’re three or 30 or 99 years old.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

It’s the question of what’s in it for them: What’s in it for your audience? What’s in it for the students? What are they going to get out of that and through their lives? What’s in it for a subscriber or a single ticket buyer? Why are we actually doing this? Because we in the industry get so caught up in the fact that we love it so much, we see what it’s doing for us that we forget to think about the perspective of the people we’re trying to offer it to.

What is your most treasured possession?

I have two favourite possessions. One of them is the Steinway B that’s been with me since 1997, 25 years. I don’t know how I would get it out of the apartment if there’s a fire.

My other favourite possession is the cartoon that Charles Schulz made for me in 1997 – also 25 years ago. It’s a one-panel strip where Schroeder is playing the Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata and the final bar line is missing, so the notes are all falling on the ground with their stems up. Poor Snoopy is trying to walk across the floor and the note stems are pricking his little feet, and he’s saying, “Ouch!”

 

Volumes 2 and 3 of Orli Shaham’s recording of the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas are available now on the Canary Classics label.


A consummate musician recognized for her grace, subtlety, and brilliance, the pianist Orli Shaham is hailed by critics on four continents. The New York Times called her a “brilliant pianist,” The Chicago Tribune referred to her as “a first-rate Mozartean,” and London’s Guardian said Ms. Shaham’s playing at the Proms was “perfection.”

Orli Shaham has performed with many of the major orchestras around the world, and has appeared in recital internationally, from Carnegie Hall to the Sydney Opera House. She is Artistic Director of Pacific Symphony’s chamber series Café Ludwig in California since 2007, and Artistic Director of the interactive children’s concert series, Orli Shaham’s Bach Yard, which she founded in 2010.

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Image credit: Karjaka Studios

 

Frances Wilson in conversation with Maxim Vengerov

I’ve admired world-renowned violinist Maxim Vengerov ever since I first heard him at the Proms in 1999, when he played a fabulous, varied programme which included Brahms’ Violin Sonata No 3, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Ravel’s Tzigane, and a selection of glittering concert showpieces, including a spellbinding performance of Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie. It was just him and pianist Vag Papian, on a special stage set up in the arena (promenading) area of the Royal Albert Hall, playing to a packed house.

In September this year he returns to the Albert Hall, for a special concert celebrating 40 years on stage – or rather 42 years on stage as this concert, originally scheduled for June 2020, was postponed because of the pandemic. In addition to a celebration of his remarkable performing career, it is, for him, also a celebration of his connection with British audiences. “I’ve been here from right at the start of my career. This is like my second home.” As well as giving many concerts in the UK, since 2016 Maxim Vengerov has been a visiting professor at London’s Royal College of Music.

London was also where he studied with Mstislav ‘Slava’ Rostropovich, an adored mentor and friend, whose name comes up frequently during our conversation.

I have great memories with Slava, of visiting his home in Maida Vale. Without him I would be a different musician today. He opened my vision for music and he inspired me also to continue and to share music. Not just to be a performer, but to share it. That’s why I became a teacher at the age of 26. I always wanted to make space for teaching, in spite of my busy schedule.”

The two years of the pandemic and lockdowns, and the shutdown of live music, have had a profound impact on the lives of musicians, and for Vengerov, like many others, it was a time to reflect on the demands of the profession. With an empty concert diary, confined to his home with his family and parents-in-law, the first month of lockdown was an “amazing time with family. I’ve never stayed so long with my family…. But after a month, my elder daughter Lisa says, ‘Daddy, aren’t you going away?’. It was the biggest shock of my life! I realised that for my family, I was the father who was always travelling and sometimes coming back. Today it is different; despite my heavy schedule….in my family’s mind and my own, I am the father who is at home and sometimes on tour.

During lockdown, Vengerov was keen to do something for other people. “It was horrific that we weren’t able to make music, and people weren’t able to listen.” So, as Artist in Residence at ClassicFM, he gathered together a trio and organised a livestreamed concert, an hour of live music, broadcast to some quarter of a million listeners worldwide. This inspired him to continue, to communicate to the world and to share his experience, this time via the medium of interactive online lessons. With the help of a brilliant tech team, he built a platform, created a website and held in excess of 150 free live online lessons with optimal sound and high-quality visuals. These remain in the archive of his website, available to all, while new material is regularly added.

Of this particular lockdown project he says “It was so traumatic to see so many people leaving the profession, but so understandable, because nobody cancelled paying mortgages or bills! But we needed to continue what we feel passionately about and we needed to give some hope. And I did that in my own little modest way.

Now live music is back and audiences are thrilled to have concerts again “Every venue was full – Elbphilharmonie, Salzburg festival, Carnegie Hall, all amazing experiences! People were crying.”

With such a long performing career, how does he maintain the interest, the excitement and the inspiration? “I am never bored!” Vengerov replies immediately, and then goes on to illustrate this point further:

“How many things are involved in the process of making a concert? It requires great preparation, great delivery on stage, great spirit, great instrument [he plays a 1727 ‘Kreutzer’ Stradivari], great hall, acoustically – a wonderful acoustic together with my instrument is always a different experience because my instrument reacts differently to every concert hall and I always play differently in every hall. Then of course partners that I work with, chamber music…. And audiences…they don’t necessarily have to be educated, but they have to be open, and they have to be there for the right reasons, to discover music. And if you’re not in love with the composition you’re performing you should better not do it! There is not a moment when you can be bored….it’s pure enjoyment and pure challenge.”

Away from the concert stage, he draws inspiration from his family and friends, good food and socialising, playing tennis, and walks with his Shiba Inu dog, Toto. And of course the music.

Returning to his forthcoming London concert, we talk about the Shostakovich Violin Concerto, the centrepiece of this concert, and a work which he has played many, many times. The challenge here is keeping the music, and the performance, fresh, and once again the conversation turns back to Slava, and his advice to always play the work as if performing it for the very first time – or “perhaps the last time”. Deep knowledge of the music is important too, and this is where training to become a conductor has helped Vengerov gain crucial insights into the score which inform his performances and lend greater enjoyment and fulfilment. “Once you know the full score, it adds a new dimension to your performance. It’s no longer a violin piece with orchestral accompaniment… you can refer to one or another line in the orchestra and that’s where you draw your inspiration….The impact that the orchestra has on the soloist is vast. And if you’re not part of it, then it’s a different piece.”

The other major work in this concert is Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, for which Vengerov will be joined by cellist Mischa Maisky and pianist Simon Trpčeski. Too often regarded as a “party piece”, Vengerov asserts that the Triple Concerto is “a most profound work” that requires a very particular relationship between each member of the orchestra and the soloists. The orchestra in this instance is the Oxford Philharmonic, conducted by Marios Papadopoulos, with whom Vengerov has a long-standing association, having shared “so many wonderful things” during his residencies with them. “They are like family members.” Orchestra and soloists will also be joined by students from the RCM for a special arrangement of Sarasate’s Navarra, to celebrate the joy of music-making and music education.

How does it feel to play in such a large venue as the Royal Albert Hall, I ask him, and he replies that it’s important to make the venue “feel cosy”, regardless of its size. He tells me that he encourages students to “play to the last row” when performing at a hall like RAH, to encourage them to think less about volume of sound and more about projection and vibration.

It’s evident from our conversation that for Maxim Vengerov the ongoing pleasure comes from performing and sharing his music to impact people emotionally.

At the age of 5 I didn’t understand why, but when I played in front of an audience, I understood. It gave it [the music] purpose. I’m the lucky one that can bring it alive – and this is the greatest joy.”


Maxim Vengerov celebrates 40 years on stage in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on 19th September, with Mischa Maisky, Simon Trpčeski, the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra and Marios Papadopoulos, and students from the Royal College of Music.

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

I didn’t begin to compose until I was sixteen. At that time I had given up piano lessons (I learned the piano between seven and thirteen) and attended a school where there was no music teacher, so composing was something I had to teach myself, or rather with the collaboration of my younger brother Colin, who also began to compose shortly after me. What made me start to compose was hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the first time, and thinking that this was the most wonderful music I’d ever heard and that I must write a symphony of my own – so I did, and spent the next two years writing one, and when I’d finished, writing another. Beethoven is still my favourite composer, the ideal of everything I believe in. Meanwhile Mahler, all of whose works I’d got to know, became a huge influence, not just the music itself, but also what he stood for as a composer in Beethoven’s succession. Many other composers too were influential, Sibelius and Stravinsky pre-eminently, as I spent all my spare time listening to music and studying scores.

When I left university – where I read Classics as Music wasn’t possible as I hadn’t got music A level), I had the great good fortune to have got to know Deryck Cooke, who had made the performing version of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony and whom Colin and I later helped with a comprehensive revision. Deryck introduced me to a number of significant people in the musical world, among them Donald Mitchell, who had just founded Faber Music, mainly to publish Britten’s music. I began working freelance for Faber Music and quite soon Britten needed someone to help him with editorial work. Donald suggested me, and I then worked part time for Britten for four years. As the greatest living composer in this country, he was probably the most important influence in my life. He didn’t give composition lessons but I learned from him how to be a composer – see your later question, how do you work?

Other important influences were Michael Tippett, whom I also got to know and on whose music I wrote a short book – I liked his music even more than I liked Britten’s; Nicholas Maw, who became a friend and an unofficial teacher – I thought him the best of the younger composers; and the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe, whom I met in England in 1974 and who became a close friend until his death in 2014. I visited many him many times in Australia and we collaborated on three film scores. Peter said that the music of the whole world was tonal, so why we should we pay attention to a few central European composers who said tonality was no longer possible? From Australia I saw music in a new light.

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

The greatest challenge was getting my music played when I was young. As I hadn’t been to a music college I knew virtually no musicians. But I did send the score of a string quartet to the BBC when I was about 23 – they then had a reading panel – and it was played and broadcast; and when I was 26 I sent two orchestral songs to the Society for the Promotion of New Music (which sadly no longer exists) and they were performed at the Royal Festival Hall by Jane Manning with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Norman Del Mar (who became a friend and who commissioned my Symphony No.1 – I’d withdrawn my three earlier ones). That was a big step forward. However, I didn’t get a full publishing contract from Faber until 1982.

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

It’s easier, I find, to write a piece if you are given some limitations – i.e. how long it should be, the instrumentation, etc. I wouldn’t want too precise instructions, but that rarely happens. I’ve just written a flute piece for Emma Halnan for the Hertfordshire Festival of Music and what was ideally wanted was a solo piece rather than flute and piano, and a duration of about two and a half minutes. I’ve been able to compose a piece of exactly that length.

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

Well, to carry on with Emma Halnan, I know her and know how she plays, and she’s performed two of my pieces before. So I could imagine her playing it as I was writing. I much prefer writing for musicians I know (as Britten almost always did). I’ve recently written an Oboe Sonata for Nicholas Daniel, someone I know well and for whom I wrote a Concerto. He has a very individual sound, a wonderful ability to play long sustained passages without taking breath, and extraordinary virtuosity. It was a real pleasure writing for him and hearing his special sound in my head.

The same with singers, of course, and with string players. I’ve written two CDs worth of solo violin music for my violinist friend Peter Sheppard Skaerved, and his Kreutzer Quartet are recording all fifteen (so far) of my string quartets, of which five were written especially for them. They know exactly what to do with my music as they’ve played so much of it. I’m not a string player but Peter has taught me so much about string technique. And with orchestras, I have a special relationship with the BBC Philharmonic, for whom I’ve written three of the last four of my ten symphonies. I can write for them knowing just how they will sound, and I’m also careful not to write anything that they won’t enjoy playing.

Of which works are you most proud?

I enjoy listening to my own music – well, if the composer doesn’t like his own music he shouldn’t expect anyone else to! There are quite a few pieces I’m proud of; for instance among my symphonies, No.8, several of my string quartets; also my Cello Concerto, Concerto in Azzurro, written for Steven Isserlis and recorded on CD by Guy Johnston. The piece I’m most proud of is my choral and orchestral piece Vespers, of which there is a splendid recording by the Bach Choir and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hill. And in the last two years I’ve composed my first opera, which hasn’t yet had a stage performance, only a run-through with piano, but I hope I’ll be proud of it if and when I hear it with orchestra.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

It’s tonal, though usually not in a traditional way. I use very wide-ranging harmony. I use counterpoint modelled on the way the great masters of the past used it, and above all I try to write memorable melodies. I think the loss of memorable melody in most contemporary music is very sad.

How do you work?

When I’m composing, I like to work every day from after breakfast until lunch. I may go back for a while in the late afternoon. I learned regular hours from Britten. But I’m always thinking about the piece I’m writing, and I quite often wake up at night with ideas.

I try to start a piece well in advance of the deadline (another thing I learned from Britten: always meet deadlines). I think a lot about what character the piece will have, and its shape, and then I have the first musical idea, generally a melodic idea, and after that I may leave the piece to grow inside my head for some while before I start it properly. Once I’ve started, I don’t often get stuck – just for a day or two perhaps. I revise a lot while I’m writing, and don’t usually write more than ten to twenty bars a day, though sometimes more when I’ve almost reached the end.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

My music is concerned with my feelings about life, expressed to the best of my ability in melody, harmony and counterpoint, and in a form that I hope conveys what I intended. I’m happy if I think I’ve done my best with these aims. I also hope that the musicians, who work so hard to bring my pieces to life, will enjoy playing what I have written.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring composers?

Don’t write pieces that present impossible difficulties to players. Also, be patient, it may take a long time before you can get your pieces played regularly. And find your own voice, don’t get led astray by fashion.

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

Of course it worries me that a lot of people who are brought up on a constant diet of pop music find classical music difficult, and especially modern classical music. Because of this, audiences for contemporary music are almost always small. It’s this that worries me most: I feel that a lot of new music today supplies very little to move audiences, if it’s written in a virtually incomprehensible language, and often a very aggressive, off-putting one. And then, except (rightly) for the Kanneh-Mason family, none of the brilliant young musicians around now are being praised by the mass media, which now largely ignores classical music. Their extraordinary talent should be widely celebrated.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about but you really think we should be?

I’m worried that decisions about what new music to programme, by the BBC for instance, are no longer based purely on quality, which I think they should, but on other criteria. I’m very happy to hear music by women composers, but it must be good music. To play it just because it’s by a woman is in fact insulting.

What next – where would you like to be in 10 years?

Still alive – as long as I can keep my current good health, and still composing reasonably well, if I’m still able to.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sharing a meal at home with my wife.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from composing: reading, drinking good wine, walking in the countryside, and watching and listening to birds.

British composer David Matthews is this year’s Featured Living Composer at Hertfordshire Festival of Music (2-11 June). David’s music will be performed throughout the festival, by flautist Emma Halnan and guitarist Jack Hancher, the Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra, and the Maggini Quartet. David will also be in conversation with fellow composer and HFoM Artistic Director James Francis Brown. Full details on the HFoM website.


With a singular body of work spanning almost 60 years, David Matthews has established an international reputation as one of the leading symphonists of our time. Born in London in 1943, he began composing at the age of sixteen. He read Classics at the University of Nottingham – where he has more recently been made an Honorary Doctor of Music – and afterwards studied composition privately with Anthony Milner. He was also helped by the advice and encouragement of Nicholas Maw and spent three years as an assistant to Benjamin Britten in the late 1960s. In the 1970s a friendship with the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe (leading to collaboration and numerous trips to Sydney) helped Matthews find his own distinctive voice.

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David Matthews’ website

One Sunday afternoon I was idly leafing through a copy of Vanity Fair, which I found lying around at the country home of my parents-in-law. On the back page was a revealing interview with A Famous Person, based on the Proust Questionnaire, a set of questions which the French author Marcel Proust answered at different times in his life. Later that day, I thought this might make an interesting addition to my blog – a weekly interview where each respondent answers the same questions. And thus, in April 2012 the Meet the Artist interview series was born.

At this time, I’d been writing this blog for nearly two years. Originally intended as a place where I could record my thoughts about returning to the piano after an absence of some 20-odd years, it had quickly become a kind of online classical music ‘magazine’ with varied content: concert reviews interspersed with articles on piano technique, teaching, and repertoire, and more esoteric ‘think pieces’ on music. More importantly, it now had the beginnings of an established, regular readership, albeit still quite small (today it enjoys c30,000 visitors per month). A series of interviews with musicians seemed a good addition. Classical musicians have an aura of mystique (usually created by audiences and others, rather than the musicians themselves) and there is, I find, a great curiosity about what classical musicians do; not just the exigencies of life on the concert platform – the visible, public aspect of the profession – but, in effect, ‘what musicians do all day’. The Meet the Artist interviews offer a snapshot of other facets of the profession, giving readers a chance to get “beyond the notes”, as it were, and in doing so reveal some fascinating insights.

The willingness and openness with which people respond is refreshing, often unexpected, and largely free of ego. In addition, the interviewees give advice and inspiration for those considering a career in music, and attempt to define “success” in a profession where one’s ability to communicate with and move an audience is placed considerably higher than monetary returns.

Tamara Stefanovich

I never sought out the “big name” international performers like Angela Hewitt, Ivo Pogorelich, Tamara Stefanovich or Marc-André Hamelin (or indeed prog rock legend Rick Wakeman!), but as the series grew in reputation, so I found these people were happy to be interviewed, either directly (usually by email, occasionally in person) or via their publicists and agents. The series has become not only a valuable compendium of surprising, insightful, honest, humorous and inspiring thoughts from a wide range of artists, but also a platform for young and lesser-known artists in particular to gain exposure in an industry which is highly competitive. Others use the series as a means to promote upcoming concerts, recordings or other events, while also leaving an enduring contribution to audience’s and others’ understanding of how the music industry “works” and what makes musicians tick. It has received praise from the likes of pianists Stephen Hough and Peter Donohoe, both of whom are featured in the series.

James MacMillan, composer & conductor

From strictly classical artists such as harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani or composer and conductor James MacMillan, two of the earliest interviewees, the series has broadened in its scope over the years and now includes musicians from the world of crossover classical music, folk and jazz. Yet regardless of genre, what these interviews often reveal is how one’s chosen instrument and its literature exert a strong attraction, seducing would-be professionals from a young age and continuing to bewitch and delight, frustrate and excite.

To date, the series features over 1600 interviews from some of our greatest living musicians to young artists poised on the cusp of a professional career. Every single interview has value, and I am immensely grateful to the many musicians who have freely offered their insights, reflections and advice in their interviews.

To all of you who have taken part in the Meet the Artist series to date, THANK YOU.

Frances Wilson, The Cross-Eyed Pianist, April 2022


The Meet the Artist series is ongoing – if you would like to take part, please click here for more information

Critically acclaimed British pianist Brenda Lucas Ogdon returns with her new album ‘Ravel que J’Aime’ (released 1 October 2021).

The album marks only the most recent chapter of Brenda’s rich musical history. Having been awarded the Gold Medal from the Associated Board for the highest marks in any Practical Subject throughout the British Isles, Northern Ireland, and Eire, Brenda has since gone on to perform amongst the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Scottish Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and across the US, Australia, the Soviet Union, Hong Kong, and more.

Brenda Ogdon has announced that her royalties from the album will be donated to Shelter – the UK homeless charity. This act follows in the spirit of the artist’s previous charity work. In 1993, Brenda established the John Ogdon Foundation – a foundation which completely funded three scholarships for gifted young musicians allowing them to pursue romantic and contemporary piano to a post graduate standing. The initiative was founded in honour of Brenda’s late husband concert pianist John Ogdon who died in 1989.

[source: press release]

In this Meet the Artist interview, Brenda Lucas Ogdon talks about her influences and inspirations and the experience of travelling and performing with her husband when he was still alive.

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

I was inspired by the lovely, glamorous pianist Eileen Joyce. Not only by her amazing pianism but by her elegant changes of beautiful dresses during her recitals. I was also inspired by the recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas/Concerti by the great pianist Artur Schnabel.

What has been the greatest challenge of your career?

The sudden, unexpected death of my husband, John Ogdon. I was a widow at the age of 53 and my life was turned around. After performing the duo piano works with John for at least 12 years, I had to revive my solo career. It took some time but eventually it happened.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I am very proud of the send recording we made of the two Rachmaninov Suites for 2 pianos. EMI amalgamated these with other recordings we made for them of Debussy, Bizet, Arensky, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, in a two-CD set, still available on the Warner label. I am also proud of my solo discs of The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 by J. S. Bach, released in 2018 on Sterling Records.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I really do not have a view on that question. At the moment I am releasing a double album of Ravel “Ravel Que J’Aime”, so I am hoping that it is Ravel.

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

I am always listening to other musicians which gives me a lot of inspiration. My daughter Annabel and I listen frequently to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra via their website.

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

I do not tour or give live concert performances anymore as I am 85 years old and those glory days are not possible for me physically. I have always loved recording so that is what I am happy to do now. The Ravel is for the charity Shelter – I am donating all my royalties to this charity, which I feel passionate about.

What is you favourite concert venue and why?

The Wigmore Hall in London. It is just such a perfect recital hall.

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

More funding for primary education in instrumental tuition in state schools. The rest will follow.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Difficult to pin down one experience against another: several memorable Promenade [Proms] concerts with John; a travel nightmare to give a concert in Spain when the French air traffic controllers were on strike so we missed the date. We eventually travelled and arrived in Malaga in the middle of the night. We played the concert a day late and when we walked on stage the audience erupted in the loudest applause I have ever heard! It was quite memorable and great fun.

As musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is when everything that you have worked and prepared for clicks into place at the right moment.

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

For performing musicians it is a tough world at the moment. Competition is strong and standards are very high – for example, the recent Leeds International Piano Competition where really amazing pianism was evident. Young musicians should listen to performances by major artists. They should try to accept the fact that there will be disappointments as well as triumphs in the life ahead of them and deal with that in a calm manner.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Yamaha Model C6 Piano

Brenda Lucas Ogdon’s latest album ‘Ravel que J’Aime’ is released on 1 October 2021, preceded by two singles of Miroirs: II. Oiseaux Tristes and À la manière de Borodine. All royalties from the album will donated to the homeless charity Shelter. 


Brenda Lucas Ogdon graduated with honours from the Royal Northern College of Music, where she met her future husband, John Ogdon.  She embarked on a world-wide solo career and a piano duo partnership with John.  This took them to almost anywhere in the world where grand pianos existed.  Brenda has appeared at the Cheltenham, Aldeburgh and Edinburgh Festivals, and also Sintra in Portugal and Maine in the U.S.A.  She has recorded for several major labels including EMI & Decca and her work has frequently been broadcast.  She has appeared with major orchestras throughout the UK, Australia and the U.S.A.

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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