Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

Free instrumental lessons in primary school in the 1970s were pretty important. Someone from the London Borough of Brent music service came into our class and we all did various kinds of ear tests which involved saying if a note was high or lower than another, or louder or quieter. Apparently I did ok which meant I was allowed to learn the violin. From then onwards, I was always making up my own tunes and improvising. Then I struck lucky going to study at Huddersfield Polytechnic in the late 1980s. It was very immersive time, what with the festival, and we were really encouraged to compose and present our own works in performance.

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

Both Dutch and Polish contemporary music has been very influential for me. I spent three years studying composition in Poland which was a very liberating time, and I was attracted to the physicality of sound in a lot of contemporary Polish music. There is also a directness and rawness to a lot of Dutch music, and a sense that everything can be accommodated; that we can draw upon everything that has been a meaningful part of our musical past irrespective of genre. But perhaps the biggest influence in the last decade or so has been spending such a lot of time with my composition colleagues and students at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. I’ve learnt so much from them.

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

I think challenges and frustrations can be positive as well as negative. In recent years, my time for composing has been quite stretched, with a pretty demanding teaching position and also having a young child, but then it’s meant I have to use the time available well, whilst also challenging the way I work. It means I have to be more relaxed and let go of the inner-perfectionist demon, which has perhaps resulted in a different sort of music.

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

Every piece brings both pleasure and pain, although hopefully much more pleasure ultimately. There’s the struggle of the blank page at the beginning, and then the joy of something previously unimagined coming into being little by little. The context of the commission is important to me; who is it being written for? Whose commissioned it? What’s the context for the performance? I want to bring as much if that as I can into the piece and create something intimate.

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

I’ve been lucky to work with a few very special performers quite regularly over a number of years, people like the Fidelio Trio, Orkest de Ereprijs, Sarah Leonard and my own collective Noszferatu. They’re close friends and that sort of relationship leads to a special trust or bond that develops over time. That’s a really great pleasure.  Then there are new projects with people you haven’t worked with before, and there’s often a great excitement and energy to these as you begin to work out what makes each other tick.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’m proud of all the pieces on my latest NMC album, ‘Elsewhereness’, and also the previous albums Bartlebooth (NMC) and Boogie Nights (Birmingham Record Company).

How would you characterise your compositional language?

The language can be quite multi-faceted, drawing upon broad range of influences from post-minimalism and jazz through to the baroque and experimentalism. I aim to absorb these influences, not pastiche them, allowing them to come out as something else through the filter of my own individuality. There is often a broad emotional range from exuberance to introversion, darkness to technicolour.

How do you work?

Generally quite slowly, searching for a way in to the piece, an idea, a concept. Sometimes the material leads the way, showing its own possibilities.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Lots. Beethoven, Stravinsky, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Louis Andriessen, Martijn Padding, Errollyn Wallen, Howard Skempton, Michael Wolters, Ed Bennett, Sean Clancy, Andrew Hamilton, Bach, Trish Clowes, Richard Ayres, Laura Mvula, Schubert, Andrew Toovey, more, more, more….

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To keep going and to help others along the way

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

Try and improve the world a little; be serious about what you do, but don’t take yourself too seriously; don’t be an old composer when you’re a young composer; perfection is dull; “success” isn’t everything; don’t lose sight of the magic of music; be generous, kind and help others.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Spending time with my family, today I walked in the woods with my wife and son and it was the most beautiful autumn day.

What is your present state of mind?

I’d say it’s in a pretty good state, but in need of sleep (my little boy was awake most of last night….)

*The title track on the new CD ‘Elsewhereness’ was commissioned for the launch concert of the new Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. 

Joe Cutler : ‘Elsewhereness’. Released 19th October 2018. NMC Recordings / NMC D246

Launch concert for ‘Elsewhereness’ at Birmingham Royal Conservatoire on 16th November 2018


joecutler.com

Who or what inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music? 

When I was really young my brother, who is older than me, played violin. I thought that looked like a lot of fun so I also started playing too. That is what got me interested in music to start with. In our home we had a very old upright piano, I think it cost £100. It was really terrible, almost untune-able. My brother and I would play around on it, making a terrible noise until my mum got so fed up with it that she found a local piano teacher to help tame us! I found that I enjoyed playing piano and would spend hours practising and trying out new things. My parents are not at all musical so they didn’t really know what to do with me when I began to become more and more interested in playing.

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

 I think that my first piano teacher, Claire Swainsbury, had a huge effect on me. She showed me how much fun I could have playing piano and introduced me to some beautiful pieces of music. Then later on Vladimir Ashkenazy has been a big influence along with the conductor Alexander Sladkovsky.

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

I think that in the UK Classical Music is sometimes difficult for people to understand, whereas in many other countries, Russia especially, it is more a part of everyday life. The education system in the UK doesn’t really help either. So I guess that is a pretty big challenge… for everyone involved in classical music in the UK.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

That would have to be Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 with Alexander Sladkovsky in Kazan.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I enjoy performing a wide range of work but I do have my favourites, like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Liszt. I think that if you enjoy performing a piece of music you will usually play it well. I’ve always been fond of performing the great Russian romantic composers, although I’m never sure if I play these pieces the best. But I do know that I really enjoy this kind of repertoire.

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

I always have a list of pieces that I want to perform, I choose the ones that fit with the way I am feeling at the time when I am ready to begin a new piece.

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

I love performing in Russia and of course the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory has to be my favourite. Mainly because of the acoustics but also because of the long history behind this amazing concert hall and the many legendary artists who have performed there.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I think my all time favourite would have to be Horowitz, who, when he first started performing, was paid in butter and chocolate… sounds good to me!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing with Valery Gergiev and having a ten minute rehearsal for an entire concerto which ended five minutes before going on stage. That was interesting.

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

For me success in music isn’t something that you can ever really achieve or reach. Certainly I try to improve my understanding of a piece of music, but I am not sure if I will ever succeed in doing so completely.

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

Always remember that music is an art form, not a science. It comes from the heart. So be yourself when you perform no matter what the people around you are telling you.


Born in Hackney in the UK, British pianist George Harliono was invited to make his first one hour long, solo recital at the age of nine. Since then he has performed in numerous locations both in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia, appearing at venues such as Wigmore Hall, The Royal Festival Hall, The Royal Albert Hall and Chicago Symphony Centre.

In 2013 he was invited to record Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op.2 No.1 at the Southbank Centre in London. In 2016 his performance of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 at the Great Hall of The Moscow Conservatory was broadcast live on Russian national TV and streamed live on Medici TV.

Since his concerto debut at the age of 12 he has been a regular performer with orchestras including the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, The Mariinsky Orchestra, Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra, New Millennium Orchestra of Chicago and Tyumen Philharmonic Orchestra. George also regularly performs alongside eminent artists such as Lang Lang and Denis Matsuev and has worked with many renowned conductors including Valery Gergiev, Alexander Sladkovsky, Evgeny Shestakov and Francesco Milioto

George has been awarded prizes in numerous competitions throughout the world including The Grand Piano Competition in Moscow, Royal Overseas League Music Competition in London, Gina Bachauer Piano Competition in Utah and Dinu Lipatti Piano Competition in Bucharest

Most recently he performed with The Mariinsky Orchestra in Vladivostok, Russia under the baton of Valery Gergiev and was also invited to perform a recital as part of the Scherzo Young Series in Madrid. Scherzo is the most important piano series in Madrid and has previously featured artists such as Yuja Wang and Mitsuko Uchida.

He studies with Professor Vanessa Latarche (Chair of International Keyboard Studies and Head of Keyboard, Royal College of Music in London) and travels to Switzerland to work with his mentor, renowned pianist professor Vovka Ashkenazy and also his father Vladimir Ashkenazy. He has taken masterclasses with Dmitri Bashkirov, Lang Lang and Vladimir Ovchinikov among others. George also works closely with Alexander Sladkovsky who has taken a personal interest in his development as an artist.

George began studying at The Royal College of Music for a BMUS Degree on a full four year scholarship in September of last year. He is one of the youngest students ever to be accepted onto this course.

Upcoming engagements for this year include performances with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev and Orquesta Sinfónica Provincial de Santa Fe conducted by Walter Hilgers. George will also be giving a concerto performance at the Berliner Philharmonie as well as a recital at the Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama, Japan.

georgeharliono.net

(Photo: Alexander Von Busch and Kir Simakov)

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

My singing career started when I was three years old, when I sang at a church event. My parents realised that I enjoyed it and encouraged me to perform as much as possible; my performing career developed from there. I started playing the piano when I was five and writing songs in my early teens, although I would never sing them to anyone! That confidence to perform my own work took a while to develop and I didn’t publicly air that material until I was in my early twenties. I was playing in church bands and leading worship on my own which helped me to develop my own style and rapport with people. With songwriting, the story is as important as the song and that connection with audience is something that you learn over time.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career as both performer and composer?

Too many to mention! But probably Karen Carpenter, I do think her best work was her solo album which she recorded with Phil Ramone. We can hear the real Karen, an artist who has matured and found her own style. Unfortunately, it wasn’t released until 1997, fourteen years after her death so she never saw the public’s fantastic reaction to it.

A love of music by female singer-songwriters and finding that I had a voice of my own has greatly influenced my work. When I was 18, I fell in love with Alanis Morrisette’s lyric writing and that gave me the impetus and confidence to write my own songs. Her brutal honesty inspired me and her ability to make just about any word rhyme, makes laugh a lot!

Judith Owen is an amazing songwriter and musical interpreter. Some of her arrangements of well-known popular songs are incredible and she loves to take traditionally male genres and add a female spin to them. Julia Fordham is also an incredible performer and songwriter and knows how to take the listener on an emotional and musical journey. The two albums that she collaborated with Larry Klein are amazing and are well worth a listen.

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

Embracing my training and then letting go of my training… There’s great value in good musical training and as a singing and piano teacher, you’d expect me to say that! However, there comes a time when you have to park your training and musical education in order to find your own, personal technique that makes you unique. I had to find my voice and embrace it. From a creative stance, this is liberating but can also be painful. You have to be prepared make mistakes and find the find the value in them in order to progress. It’s not only a musical journey, but a personal one too.

I didn’t realise how much people’s attitudes towards me would change after I reached a certain age and had children. For women in the music industry, doors close and opportunities are sparse once you hit 40 and have a family. We’re often seen as unavailable or unreliable which isn’t the case. It seems so old fashioned and unnecessary, especially when other employment sectors came in line with the law years ago. A few colleagues and I have made it our mission to make our own opportunities and create new paths for others to follow.

Which works are you most proud of?

I released my first album Conversations With The Heart in 2004 on the smallest of budgets (ie. barely none). It was recorded in my friend’s dining room which he had converted into a studio and served with a lot of tea and biscuits. It’s the album I thought I would never make and was achieved under difficult circumstances.

Some works surprise you. I wrote Do You Seek An Answer and then put it in a draw and forgot about it. Eventually it landed up on the At Second Glance EP and went on to be number one in the New Christian Music Chart in the UK and Europe. I didn’t see that coming or the reaction to the song from the general public.

Close That Door was a real departure for me in terms of style and music maturity. After years of writing, I felt that I had composed something near the mark of what I had always hoped to achieve. For a lot of songwriters, composing is the Holy Grail, we have great ambitions of what we would like to produce but it can take decades to start writing material that is near that goal. Have I managed to write anything like that again? No! I guess creative people are never satisfied and that’s what keeps us searching for the ultimate composition.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I saw George Michael in November 2007 at Earls Court as part of the Twenty Five Live tour. His voice was out of this world and far better than any of recordings! A real loss to the musical world. He knew how to connect with the audience and despite his shyness, was a well-seasoned showman. The whole show was well crafted and he obviously picked his musicians carefully as there was a palpable intuition between all of them.

From my own performing career, the most memorable concerts are the ones where I’ve collaborated with other artists. A few years ago, I was a backing vocalist for Darren Hayman (formerly of the band Hefner) for his Chants For Socialists project. I hadn’t performed much folk material, so it was great to work with a band and quite a diverse group of vocalists, recapturing William Morris’ mission to improve life for the poor through these political chants.

Working with the saxophonist and composer, Rachael Forsyth is always amazing. We met at university and over the years, we have performed and written together. Our work has involved over time and these days is more about composition rather than performance, but who knows? This may change in the future.

As a composer, how do you work?

The way I work has changed over the years. I used to sit at the piano for hours fleshing out ideas but I began to feel restless with that way of working. Now I tend to work more “on the go” and add ideas to my phone or notebook which I can then work through later. You have to keep changing the way you do things to keep the creativity flowing and growing.

I’ve also find it helpful to have a set topic for a project. Recently I have been working with the Buckinghamshire County Archive, creating songs based on stories for the county’s World War One collection. It’s been fascinating and inspiring to bring history to life through song. It also led to some opportunities at performance events with a wide range of artists who told the stories of local people through different artistic media.

A few months ago, I decided to break away from songwriting and compose some instrumental pieces. I needed a new challenge and wanted to create music that didn’t rely on my voice. Over the years, I’ve been asked for the backing tracks for my songs as people have wanted to use them instrumentally, this gave me the confidence to start thinking about making non-vocal music and what it could be used for. I’ve also been creating short films to go with the pieces. I haven’t unleashed them on the public, but I think an instrumental project maybe something I produce in the future.

How would you describe your compositional/musical style?

That depends on the day! I never quite know how to answer this question as my style changes for each song but I definitely lean more towards a jazz, soul style of music. I’m always striving to improve and build on the previous work to see how far I can push my technique. In the past, one producer I worked with always wanted my work to have a commercial edge, but for me, I felt that it killed the music and some of my message was lost in the stylistic translation. But that’s the dilemma for all music artists, please the masses or please yourself? There’s no answer to that question…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think success is very hard to define in music, it’s different for everyone. I try to set small levels of success as in music they can be a moveable goal! If the goals and levels are small, they are far more achievable. That’s not to say that attaining success isn’t important, but you need a high amount of realism and flexibility to work in music. Having a varied career helps, when the teaching is going well, the performing might not be as lucrative and vice versa.

I mostly ignore what the industry claims is success as everyone’s path is so different, how could we even compare each other? I found that this has made me much happier as I’m working on a route that suits me. Having supportive colleagues is a great help: we all cheer each other on and listen to each other when it’s needed.

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

A flexible approach to a music career. My career has involved teaching, composing and performing which keeps things fresh but also widens the landscape for opportunities. Be prepared to take on non-music work in order to live, then you can pick and choose the projects you want to work on without the pressure of the mortgage looming over you. Do whatever you have to, to make it work. A few years ago, I went through a family crisis which pretty much brought everything to halt; I didn’t know if I would be able to continue in music, but I decided that I had to find a way that worked for me. I can’t say that I’ve recovered everything, but I made a conscious decision to not give up.

Tenacity and perseverance. You need to be steely-eyed and have a thick skin to be a musician. It’s a rollercoaster ride with many twists and turns. Some seasons you’ll be to support yourself financially through music and other seasons you’ll need to get other work. It’s part of being a troubadour and an artisan.

It also good to be inspired by other musicians, but at the same time you need to develop a musical character of your own as this is what moves an audience. I’ve seen too many acts trying to emulate someone else’s musical style – it never works. Be yourself: there’s a reason you are created as YOU. It’s also better to move the audience than to impress them; if you can take them on an emotional, musical journey they will remember that forever.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Mostly hanging out with friends and catching up. Being with people you love and make you laugh is better than therapy! I also like painting and over the last few years, I’ve been getting back into that after a break of more than 20 years. I enjoy being creative whether it’s music, art or writing a blog: it’s all cathartic.

Being active is also very important to me. I find that I can clear my mind when I’m running, swimming or walking. It’s good way to let my mind wander and begin to solve my problems, probably because I let my thoughts switch off and my mind can be calm. I’ve had some of best ideas while running on the treadmill!

What is your present state of mind?

Rather unusual for me, but I would say looking to the future. Over the last few years, my outlook has been “take one day at a time” but now, I’m starting to think more about what I want out of life and also music!

WWW.HELENSANDERSONWHITE.COM

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I have written music ever since I started playing the piano (around age 6 I think). I used to feel guilty for making up pieces when I felt I should have been practising ‘seriously’! I had a lot of encouragement from various instrumental teachers, and at school, and later at the RCM junior department. However, this encouragement was towards a career as a performer, not a composer. I never studied composition and it would never had occurred to me to do so. I’m not even sure that I knew you could! When I was doing GCSE music composition, my music teacher at school told me I should be concentrating on composition seriously and I should take lessons at junior RCM. I actually had a bit of an argument with her about this as I thought it was a crazy suggestion – I was going to be a viola player and most composers I’d heard of were dead!

Halfway through the undergrad course at the RCM, I injured my left hand quite badly and was told that was it basically, as far as a professional career playing the viola was concerned. I did my final year at a university, mainly by writing a huge dissertation on the Bartok viola concerto (!), but also taking the advanced composition module as I felt it was something I might have a chance of passing. After I graduated I just carried on writing and once I had three pieces I thought were fairly respectable I applied for a masters in composition at Goldsmith’s College. Starting there was a massive shock – I knew nothing about composition really and very little about contemporary music outside of the viola repertoire!

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

There are so many great composers writing now, and I think it’s a very interesting time for women composers in particular. I am very conscious that my work is insignificant compared to many others, but this inspires me to carry on improving my writing. I am grateful to my first composition teacher, Judith Bingham, for helping me when I was first starting out and to Kenneth Hesketh for really challenging me in my writing.

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

I was incredibly lucky with my early compositional career. Up until I was about 30 or so, things really went along pretty nicely and easily. I was doing all the usual young composer stuff and getting some good commissions. Things then went downhill a bit as I was struggling a lot with the conflict between writing how I wanted to write and how I felt I ‘should’ write. There were some challenging things going in in my life as well at that point, and I didn’t write anything for about 3 years. I then had a baby and started writing again! This is probably not a recognised way to rejuvenate your composition, but it worked for me! The frustrations now are that I have very little time to devote to the business side of composition and living out of London makes it extremely hard (both time wise and financially) to travel in for concerts and networking. I also need to be a lot more practical in terms of making money as I have my son to support, so I spend most of my working time teaching.

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

Since the birth of Edward (now 3 years old), I have only written a few pieces and they have all been commissions. Even before then, I pretty much always wrote with a specific performance or performer in mind and I would find it very hard to write any other way. The challenge for me now, with a young son, is the deadline, but without it I would probably never write anything at all!

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

I have found that the stranger the compositional brief, the better the results can be! Sometimes, I find that too much freedom and choice can be a bit overwhelming and haven’t resulted in my best pieces. I have written a couple of pieces for Carla Rees (rarescale) and her quarter tone alto flute. This was a challenge for me, but one that was easily met as she was so generous with her time and advice during the early compositional stages. By the time I was half way through the piece what I was doing felt totally natural to me and the piece was written relatively easily.

Of which works are you most proud?

I am proud of all my pieces in the sense that they all exist in their own time, for a specific purpose. Even the few which I would happily never hear again have played a part in my compositional journey. I know which works I think are ‘better’ in terms of compositional technique or which ones have been more successful, but this doesn’t mean I am any prouder of them.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I’m afraid I can’t answer this one!

How do you work?

I think a lot before starting the piece and usually have it sketched in my head before I start. Once I can hear bits of it reliably then I get to work with manuscript paper planning out the structure and what ideas will come where. If there’s a time limit (which there usually is) then this bit is very important, and I won’t move on from it until I am happy. It saves so much time in the long run. Then I just write the piece from beginning to end! I will sketch each section on manuscript paper until I am happy with it and only when I have a large chunk of ‘finished’ music will I go anywhere near Sibelius [score-writing programme]. Some of my composition pupils write directly onto Sibelius and I would find that extremely hard.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

This is a hard one, but I never tire of listening to Mendelssohn, Schumann or Stravinsky. I love Bach but I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I find Beethoven’s music a bit of a struggle to enjoy – even though I obviously admire his work a great deal.

Among more contemporary composers, long time favourites are Julian Anderson, Thomas Ades, Judith Weir and Oliver Knussen and from the younger generation I like what Ed Nesbit, Helen Grime and Charlotte Bray are doing very much.

I love listening to recordings of ‘old school’ string players such as Fritz Kreisler, Albert Sammons, William Primrose etc. The fact that the performances aren’t ‘perfect’ or anywhere near today’s sound quality somehow adds to the appeal for me.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I am making a living from music (a mixture of composition and teaching). I feel very lucky to be doing something I enjoy, so in that respect I feel successful.

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

Don’t expect to do everything at once and make the most of every opportunity while you can.

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

Alive – and still enjoying my writing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I’m not sure that this exists other than for brief moments. I feel content if my family is healthy and happy and there aren’t too many outstanding bills to pay!

What is your most treasured possession?

My sanity.


Elizabeth Winters has established herself in the UK as one of the leading composers of the younger generation. Her music is regularly performed throughout the UK, by performers as diverse as the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Singers, Ensemble 10/10, Rarescale, The Orlando Consort, Aurora Nova and the Choir of Canterbury Cathedral. Her works have been programmed as part of LSO Discovery, the Presteigne Festival, the Royal Opera House ‘Exposure’ Series, the Leeds International Concert Season, the European Capital of Culture Concert Series, the Aldeburgh Festival and during services at St Paul’s and St Alban’s Cathedrals. Several works have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Elizabeth won a British Composer Award (2009, Making Music Category) for her orchestral piece The Serious Side of Madness. Other competition successes include first prize in the 2015 Orion Orchestra Composer Competition and first prize in the Liverpool Capital of Culture New Composer Competition. Elizabeth recently received funding from The Composers’ Fund to support the creation of a composition studio. The Composers’ Fund is a PRS for Music Foundation initiative in association with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Born in 1979, Elizabeth studied at the Royal College of Music and Goldsmith College, where she gained her MMus in Composition with Distinction. Her principal composition teachers were Judith Bingham and Kenneth Hesketh. She has also worked with Julian Anderson, John Casken (Lake District Summer Music Composer Residency) and Colin Matthews, Michael Gandolfi and Oliver Knussen (Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme). Elizabeth also enjoys working with young musicians and been commissioned by the National Youth Recorder Orchestra and the Farnham Festival.

elizabethwinters.com

 

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

My father was a huge inspiration for me. He was a fine pianist and played piano the Charles Kinz stride piano style. Along with my mother, they had a concert party after the way and with the other members of the “Wakeans”, as they were called, used to re-live the shows in our tiny front room in Northolt on a Sunday evening. Around 1953, when I was four, I can recall climbing out of bed and sneaking down the stairs to listen before getting caught and being sent back to bed.

I just wanted to play the piano so badly, and aged five I was sent off to piano lessons with Dorothy Symes, and indeed stayed with her throughout my grades before going to the Royal College of Music.

My father encouraged me to listen to as many different kind of music as possible and to play as many different styles as possible. I owe him so much.

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

There are so many – Dorothy Symes was such an inspirational teacher; being taken to see Swan Lake aged about nine and the same year seeing Lonnie Donegan (who in later years became a great friend and fellow Water Rat).

I loved Trad Jazz and especially Kenny Ball, who I also got to meet in later life. My father introduced me to Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’, which mesmerised me. Here was a story being told in music – that was really the moment when I knew that’s what I wanted to do: tell stories in music.

What have been the greatest challenges and pleasures of your career? 

The biggest challenge has always been people saying “You can’t do that“, which makes me all the more determined to do it, regardless of the consequences. I was told doing King Arthur on Ice was doomed to failure, and it is still the most talked about show I’ve ever put on!

Likewise, I was told it was ridiculous to take a symphony orchestra and choir on tour in America – red rag to a bull! I did it and it was fantastic! Every day brings new challenges and if you manage to overcome and solve them, that’s where the pleasure comes in.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I would probably give different answers on different days, but these are the ones that come to mind today:

‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ as that was the first solo album and was hated by the record company who kept asking when I was going to put the vocals on!

Also ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘King Arthur’ from the early seventies as well.

With my band, ‘Out There’ (originally released 2003) springs to mind as a very complex album where those around me really understood what I was trying to achieve.

The remakes of both ‘Journey…. ‘ and ‘King Arthur’ are very important to me as it now means there are records of the music to be remembered. Both of there were limited to the amount you could get onto a vinyl recording, so to do the full length versions was very important to me. I did the same with ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and added the three missing pieces to a live recording made at Hampton Court.

In recent years Piano Portraits has meant a lot tome for many reasons, not lease that it was my way of celebrating the genius and friendship of David Bowie. This has led to my brand new album for Sony Classical, Piano Odyssey, which ventures a stage further with piano variations of the music I love, with a string section and choir. A lot of time was spent getting this album absolutely as I wanted it and so has a special place in my “recording heart”.

Tell us more about your ‘Piano Odyssey’ album….. 

When I recorded ‘Piano Portraits’, it was purely solo piano versions of pieces I loved or had a connection to that had great melodies, and I rewrote variations on themes for all. I was really pleased with the outcome and the album did extremely well, making the top 10 for more than eleven weeks. I had decided against a second volume; however, because whilst there were a lot of other wonderful pieces of music that I wanted to do, none of them would work with just piano in the way I envisaged them.

However, it was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that started it all off again. Now working with the team at Sony Classical, I had wanted to do this originally but just couldn’t get it to work on piano alone in the way I could hear it. I kept hearing a string section and choir, and had a Eureka! moment one day when I realised this was indeed the answer – an album of piano variations of great music but with the addition of a small string section and choir.

I prepared a short-list of 40 pieces and eventually whittled it down to the 12 I really knew would work – and that included Bohemian Rhapsody, which I sent to my dear friend Brian May. He not only gave it his seal of approval but added a cameo performance of beautiful acoustic guitar.

‘Piano Odyssey’ is everything I set out to achieve and indeed has even gone a stage further than I thought possible.

What motivated your selection of the music featured on this album? 

Simple answer – melody. There has to be a great melody that allows variations without taking away from the original. There are pieces from The Beatles, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Liszt, Handel, Dvorak, yes and even me! There are also two original tracks that I wrote in memory of two wonderful moon bears which were saved from horrific bear bile farms, and as an Ambassador for Animals Asia, I am proud that we have save so many of these wonderful bears and celebrate them here. Both the bears – Rocky and Cyril Wolverine – sadly passe away. Cyril was my own bear and the loss was devastating for all of us who knew him. I wrote both these pieces surrounded by their photos.

Were there any special challenges in arranging the songs? 

To be honest, no. I have been doing this for many years, although never recording them like this. I also have a good team around me with the Orion Strings and English Chamber Choir, who know where I’m coming from musically.

Do you feel that progressive rock is a way to bring some classical sophistication to the pop world and, if so, are your achievements in some way striving towards leading an innovative, “parallel-classical” career? 

When I started in the late 1960s after leaving the Royal College of Music, there were real divisions within all music types, whether jazz, classical, pop, rock, folk, country, you name it. They all had their own identities and seldom met! I deliberately set out to fuse as much as possible and at first hit a lot of brick walls, but slowly started getting the message across, and today there are no taboos which is great.

With there being a Prog-revival of sorts, does you think there is potential crossover for youth audiences between the two genres? 

There already is and vinyl has a lot to do with it. Younger people are discovering vinyl and album covers and the information contained on them. Music is tactile and vinyl is bringing that back. Music now no longer has a date stamped on it. You either like it or you don’t. There is no specific age thing any more either – that side of things is very healthy.

Would you ever consider making a fully classical album? 

I have been asked to and the answer would have to be no. Although I occasionally turn to Mozart and Beethoven sonatas or plough through the Bach “48” for fun, it’s not what I would want to do, if I’m honest.

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

Success is sadly always thought of in commercial terms, but for me it probably only comes after you have departed this mortal coil. In other words, if in 100 years’ time somebody on radio plays a piece of my music, then I guess I can say I was successful to a degree…

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

Believe in yourself. Don’t be frightened of opinions and criticism from others, as long as they are qualified to give it (which 99% of them aren’t!). Most people who try and tell you what you should be doing do so because they can’t do it themselves (many don’t know a crotchet from a hatchet!), but occasionally the odd word of wisdom does get through: you just have to be able to spot it.

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

Alive please – and still able to play, composing and having music adventures.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To be worry-free – so there’s no perfect happiness for any human being, I’m afraid!

What is your most treasured possession? 

My father’s upright Bechstein piano on which I learned to play and inherited when he died in 1980.

What is your present state of mind?

Jumbled! It always is – too much going on!

Rick Wakeman’s new album ‘Piano Odyssey’ is released on 12 October 2018 on the Sony Classical label. The album feature reworkings of material from his solo career along with Yes songs and covers of tracks by artists including the Beatles, David Bowie and Queen. 

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

At the time, I really didn’t think about it much. My family are scientists and doctors who love music and played LPs in the house most of the time. So I grew up surrounded by music, but never imagining that it could be such a big part of my life. My curiosity led me to find a piano teacher, and eventually my parents saw I was serious and supported me to take lessons in piano and solfege. The curiosity grew and I was improvising soon after I could play. So, the desire to create has been there all along, and I was surrounded by a supportive family.

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

I consider my surroundings very important to what I do. I write music which I’d like to share with my family and people I feel close to. it’s more than a profession, it’s part of my personality, part of my life. The fact that I grew up around non-musicians makes me appreciate the natural, life-long relationship which can develop between people and music, when one might not necessarily be part of a musical family. Having said that, if it were not for the music I listened to as a child, I might not have been inspired to make this my life, so Bach, Schubert, Brahms, are very important, eternal inspirations, as well as all the performers who I’ve worked, particularly those I’ve known since my student days – Maxim Rysanov, Kristina Blaumane, Roman Mints.

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

One of the aspects of this profession, which I’m constantly having to learn about, is the way you pace yourself. I need to find a peaceful state of concentration in order to create, it takes some time to slowly shut the world off and begin to work. Once the music is written, there is the complete opposite – talking to musicians, explaining your work, communicating what you’ve been working on for months in a few minutes during the tight rehearsal time. It’s a complete gear shift, and each time it takes some effort to be in either gear.

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

There’s nothing like a deadline to help the creative process! The possibilities are so endless that having some guidelines, like instrumentation and duration, help some of the decision making. But I also really enjoy the research part of the project, so for example I chose to compile the text for my Immortal Shakespeare cantata. The research into the plays and choosing the right text which would fit the structure of the work took a considerable amount of time, which I enjoyed.

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

For me, the best thing about working with musicians who you know and even more importantly, who have played your music, is that you don’t have to explain as much. There is only so much you can achieve with notation, one composer’s articulations (or lack of) might be interpreted differently to another. For example, much of my string music is played ‘on the string’ and to a musician who hasn’t played it before they might first read it and play off the string and not give it a second thought. Long phrases, nuances of dynamics, trusting the music to do what is there and not asserting too much on it- are all qualities which I value in musicians who I have worked with repeatedly.

Of which works are you most proud?

There is a story to each piece, and like many composers I feel there is a reason for each work and these works can take on almost human characteristics (like Mozart’s ‘Haydn’ quartets, for example, which he famously called his ‘children’). So, I wouldn’t wish to have favourites, but I know which were difficult to create and took longer than I had planned. My double piano concerto ‘Together Remember to Dance’ is one such work. Just when I thought I had finished the first draft, I had a total change of direction for this work and had to start all over again, with just months before the musicians were due to get the parts. Instead of sticking with my first idea, I jumped straight into a new direction and I was extremely happy I did that. I feel it’s a powerful and uplifting work, and that’s what I needed to write and the soloists – Arthur and Lucas Jussen completely inhabited this idea and communicated and performed the work perfectly.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would like for my compositions to communicate, to be accessible, but also make you think. Music with a mind and heart, I hope!

How do you work?

Slowly.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

This is, unsurprisingly, a long list which keeps growing and is often affected by who I’m working with or listening to at that moment. Certainly the composers I grew up listening to-  Bach, Schubert, later Ligeti, Britten and Messiaen… I get real pleasure from playing Rameau’s harpsichord works for myself (on the piano, though I’d love to one day have the space and chance to buy a harpsichord). Phrasing and timbre, nuance are performance aspects that my ear is always drawn to and there are just so many exceptional musicians. Some I have been lucky to work with, as I already mentioned, I’d add Janine Jansen and some very fine choirs too! Currently I’m enjoying (re-)listening to my recordings of Bill Evans, Andras Schiff, Nina Simone, Ibrahim Maalouf, Laura Marling…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success for me is to have the freedom to create what you wish, and be able to make a living.

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

Even if it means having a small circle of devoted friends who you talk to about your music, try to communicate and share your passion. It’s a difficult profession, so we need support from people around us, and finding those ambassadors will absolutely make life easier. Also, be kind- in choosing this life we often develop high levels of self criticism. Try to be kind to yourself and to those around you, as perfection is not art.

What do you enjoy doing most?

There are two moments which I adore: the moment when I know how the piece I’m working on will be shaped and it’s just a matter of writing it down; and sitting on the train/plane before travelling to a premiere/concert. And there’s everything in between…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Every situation can be perceived as complete happiness, I think in order to really savour that happiness you have to feel inner contentment and feel you are where you need to be. Then, even eating an apple on the sofa can be perfect happiness.

What is your present state of mind?

I have two deadlines at the moment, so my state of mind is far from ‘zen’.

Dobrinka Tabakova’s Concerto for 2 pianos, percussion and strings, ‘Together Remember to Dance’,  receives its UK premiere on 10 October with pianists Arthur and Lucas Jussen and the BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Bramwell Tovey at Watford Colosseum. More information and tickets

The intense juxtaposition of the piano arpeggios and string clusters plunge us into the opening of this dramatic concerto. How to consolidate dissonance and harmony, passion and direction? Just like trying to exist alongside each other in society, the first movement presents layers made up of different ideas, which strive to find their place and ultimately reach a resolve. The second movement ‘Remember’ is a spiralling waltz, where we are never quite rooted, but instead float through harmonic modulations. Each time the theme appears it is in a new tonality and seen from another angle, as if trying to remember the past and each time finding something new in our memory. The final movement is a kaleidoscopic perpetuum mobile in constantly changing time signatures. The infectious pulse drives through some unexpected sparks and delivers a breathless finale.

The concerto was commissioned by Amsterdam Sinfonietta / Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ (supported by the AMMODO Foundation) and co-commissioned by the Istanbul Music Festival, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre de Picardie and BBC Concert Orchestra.


Born in the historic town of Plovdiv, Bulgaria to a music-loving family of doctors and scientists, Dobrinka Tabakova moved to London in 1991, where she has lived since. Here she studied at Alleyn’s School and the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department, specialising in composition, piano and conducting. Early on, the composer John Adams praised her music as being “extremely original and rare”. She attended summer courses at the renowned Centre Acanthes in France, as well as the Prague and Milan Conservatoire summer compositions courses, alongside her composition degree studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (GSMD) in London. On graduating with distinction BMus and MMus at the GSMD, Dobrinka was appointed Composition Fellow there, where she continued her activities as President of the Contemporary Music Society. In 2007 she was awarded a doctorate in composition from King’s College London (KCL). Her composition teachers have included Simon Bainbridge, Diana Burrell, Robert Keeley and Andrew Schultz as well as masterclasses with John Adams, Louis Andriessen, Alexander Goehr, Marek Kopelent, Philippe Manoury, Alessandro Solbiati, Olav Anton Thommessen and Iannis Xenakis.

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