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

My biggest influences have been my piano teachers:

• My first piano teacher in Toulouse’s conservatoire, Claudine Willoth, who understood I was different than the other kids and cultivated my curiosity for music in general, not only for the piano. At that time I wasn’t thinking of being a professional and was reluctant to practise scales or exercices. She didn’t insist and helped me to realise what I really wanted at that time : to compose music, to sightread some masterpieces ( too difficult for me at that time ), to improvise, to listen to all kinds of music.

• My second teacher in Paris’s conservatoire, Jean-François Heisser, who I met in Toulouse when I was only 13 and who convinced me I was could become a professional musician. From that point I started to practice seriously.

• My third teacher, in London, Maria Curcio, who convinced me I could go much further and become an international soloist. I was sometimes having 5 or 6 full days of lessons in a row. It was like that every month and she really prepared me to perform on stage, to open up and find my identity as a musician.

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

They have all been ultimately very positive challenges. For example, when I first played a solo recital at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, after which I realised I could probably consider myself as a soloist; when I played Bartok 2nd Concerto with Pierre Boulez, one of my biggest idols; all my big debuts in major venues and with major orchestras; and, more recently, creating my own festival (Festival et Académie Ravel) and Academy for young musicians, and, hopefully one day, a new concert hall, in one of my most beloved places, the French Basque Country.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Difficult to say, though I’m very proud of the last one, ‘Good Night!’,  I should say! Also the Saint-Saëns album which won the Gramophone 2019 Album of the Year Award. I could also mention an older recording, Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage. But I’m quite happy with everything, even if I know I could do everything better.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

It’s difficult for me to answer that. Probably music by Liszt, and generally-speaking music from the 20th and 21st centuries. I’m also quite at ease with the classical style and Beethoven’s music, though that’s one side my audience knows a little less, I think.

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

Meditation. Just before going on stage.

Elsewhere in my life, I enjoy being with friends, good food (I love to cook myself), travelling, and my relationship with all forms of art and all kinds of music, including pop. I also read a lot of books, articles, magazines, all kind of things, depending on my state of mind. This all probably goes someway in inspiring my interpretations but it is totally subconscious.

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

I built a very big repertoire and musical knowledge when I was a teenager. I continue to discover new things all the time but I mainly extract ideas from this big body of work. The question is more what’s next? To try to find a logical order. But I have ideas for the next 60 years at least! Regarding new repertoire, I’m mainly interested in contemporary compositions and discovering new composers. So I try to confirm some new commissions each year so that I can regularly give premieres. This stimulates me a lot.

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

There are so many. I could mention Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for example, which gives me such an intense emotion each time I enter on stage and face the audience. Such an impressive and magnificent place.

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

I think that artists and promoters should work much more to promote contemporary music and to help the audience discover it gradually so they get used to it – like visual art, for example. The younger generation needs to feel that there are living artists and composers behind it. The most contemporary music should be absolutely central in my opinion. It’s fundamental to get out of this museum experience feeling. Or if not, it should at least be in the style of a modern art museum…!

We also need to destroy the existing frameworks. The look and format of a concert should not just depend on old habits.

Why should a recital consist of two halves of 45 minutes each? Why should a concerto be played at the same part of the concert each time? Why always this same ritual of encores? Why does the orchestra have more or less the same layout? Why are the (bright) lights always more or less the same in every concert hall across the world? We should innovate much more to make the whole experience more alive. It’s also essential we maintain – now more than ever – a standard of very high quality. The worst thing for me is levelling down.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are too many.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being happy. And proud to achieve what we can achieve. To continue to have dreams and to try to make them become reality.

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

To remember that success is not about having your name written in gold letters at the top of a poster.

It’s a long quest and a process of building. You need to build your repertoire, your personality… to try to learn who you are as an artist. That all takes time. Search inside yourself, as most of what you have to say is already inside you from very early on.

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

I don’t know exactly but certainly not where I am right now!

I like movement. I’d like to continue to travel, to develop my repertoire, to commission and premiere a lot of new works. To develop my Festival and Academy project and to create a real musical centre to experiment with new ideas. Maybe to teach again a bit. I’d like to be more linked to the younger generation and to today’s composers, as well as to other kinds of artists.

Bertrand Chamayou’s new album Good Night! is released on 9 October on the Warner Classics label.


Bertrand Chamayou is one of today’s most strikingly brilliant pianists, recognised for his revelatory performances at once powerfully virtuosic, imaginative and breathtakingly beautiful.

Heralded for his masterful conviction and insightful musicianship across a vast repertoire, the French pianist performs at the highest level on the international music scene. He is recognised as a leading interpreter of French repertoire, shining a new light on familiar as well as lesser known works, while possessing an equally driving curiosity and deep passion for new music. He has worked with composers including Pierre Boulez, Henri Dutilleux, György Kurtág, Thomas Adès and Michael Jarrell.

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Artist photo: Warner Classics

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?

Music was part of the house in which I grew up as both my parents were  wonderful musicians: my father was the Cathedral organist in Ottawa, Canada for 50 years, and my mother a piano (and English) teacher. She started  me off when I was three years old, though I was already playing some toy  instruments before that. So they were the biggest influences of course.  I always had excellent teachers: Earle Moss and Myrtle Guerrero at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto (I never lived in Toronto, only  went there for lessons); and especially the French pianist Jean-Paul Sevilla at the University of Ottawa. He was a huge influence, being a marvellous player himself, especially of the Romantic and French repertoire. But he was also the first person I heard perform Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which he did magnificently. I also studied classical ballet for 20 years from the age of 3 to 23, and that was a huge influence on me in every way, and very beneficial for playing the piano.  I also sang in my father’s choir, played violin for 10 years, and also the recorder. All of those things made me the musician I am today.

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

The whole thing has been a challenge. From beginning to end. Even if you have the talent, it’s nothing without the work. I’ve sacrificed a lot to be where I am today, but that’s OK. I struggled to get known as a young  pianist. I did many competitions. I won some, got thrown out in others.  When I did win a big prize (the 1985 Toronto Bach Competition), at least that meant I didn’t have to do any more. But then it was up to me  to keep the momentum going. I’ve had good and bad experiences with agents. I’ve always done a lot for my own career. An enormous amount, actually. It was a challenge to come to London in 1985 when I was totally unknown and make a name for myself here. I worked hard at that.  It took me 15 years of renting Wigmore Hall myself before I started selling it out and being promoted by the hall instead. The recording contract with Hyperion I got myself. That was one of the best things ever, also thanks to the great integrity that label has. Artists of my  generation have also had to adapt to the social media world and work with that in a good way. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to stay sane and healthy when you are doing a job that demands the utmost of you, both physically and emotionally.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve been happy with every recording I’ve done for Hyperion in the past 26  years. I never leave the studio unless I feel we have the best possible  versions. Of course things change over the years—that’s only natural.  But each CD is a document of how I best played the works at that time.  Apart from my Bach cycle, I am happy that I’ve recorded so much French music (Ravel, Chabrier, Fauré , Debussy, Messiaen, Rameau, Couperin) and  also the more recent Scarlatti CDs. Great stuff! I’m almost finished my Beethoven Sonata cycle which has taken me 15 years, and that gives me enormous satisfaction.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’ve always done a very wide repertoire. People think I only play Bach, but no. In my teenage years I was more known for the big romantic works like the Liszt Sonata and the Schumann Sonatas, though of course everybody knew that I played Bach. I think it’s important for a good musician to play in many different styles. On the whole I like to take complicated works and make them sound easy (like Bach’s Art of Fugue).

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

Everything you experience in life goes into your music and your interpretations. Talking with friends, reading books, going to the theatre, travelling,  seeing a movie, reading the news, experiencing the tragedy of this awful  pandemic….all of that ends up in what you produce later on at the  piano.

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

Often it follows recording projects because I like to perform what I am going  to record, of course. But also it depends on what people ask you to do.  It’s a very difficult thing, choosing programmes for a whole year, and I’ve never been one to play the same programme all season. I can change  several times a month.

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

Oh, just one where people don’t cough!

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

Just go out and perform each time in a way that makes people want to hear you again. Then you build an audience. If a concert is boring, nobody is  going to return. You have to make people really want to go to hear you.  Of course there’s all the stuff about developing a younger audience, and that’s extremely important. I support a project in my home town of Ottawa, Canada called ORKIDSTRA which gives free music lessons to children in under-served areas of the city. It’s wonderful to see how  much learning an instrument adds to their lives and to their general  development and sense of community.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I don’t know about most memorable, but certainly playing the Turangalila  Symphony at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in July 2018 was a night to remember. Fantastic performance, conducted by Sakari Oramo.  Very moving. Great audience. That’s the right hall for that piece. If I never play it again it doesn’t matter—I had that experience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success?  Well, playing a piece you have worked very hard on, and finally  memorising it and performing it well in public. That gives great satisfaction. Material success, as we have seen with this pandemic, can vanish in an instant. I suppose success is when concert promoters think of you when they are putting together their season. You have to have something they want to sell. When you have that something and have totally kept your integrity and got there because you’re good and worked  hard, then I think that’s success. But I don’t really like to think of  “success”. It’s very fragile.

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

To play their instrument with joy and not to be stiff and tense when they play. They must easily communicate with their audience and show that every part of their body is feeling the music.

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

Alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Playing for a friend and having a meal afterwards.

What is your most treasured possession?

My new Fazioli F278 concert grand piano.


One of the world’s leading pianists, Angela Hewitt appears in recital and as soloist with major orchestras throughout Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Asia. Her interpretations of the music of J.S. Bach have established her as one of the composer’s foremost interpreters of our  time.

Born in 1958 into a musical family (the daughter of the Cathedral organist and choirmaster in Ottawa, Canada), Angela began her piano  studies age three, performed in public at four and a year later won her  first scholarship. In her formative years, she also studied classical ballet, violin, and recorder. From 1963-73 she studied at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music with Earle Moss and Myrtle Guerrero, after which she completed her Bachelor of Music in Performance at the  University of Ottawa in the class of French pianist Jean-Paul Sévilla, graduating at the age of 18. She was a prizewinner in numerous piano  competitions in Europe, Canada, and the USA, but it was her triumph in the 1985 Toronto International Bach Piano Competition, held in memory of Glenn Gould, that truly launched her international career.

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

They always say that you don’t choose music as a way of life, it chooses you. From when I was about six years old I remember endlessly doodling  at the family piano, generally making up my own pieces rather than  learning how to play what was put before me by my piano teacher. I  couldn’t write down what I was making up until a few years later, but the impulse to compose something of my own was always there. I was fortunate to go to a school where music was an important part of the curriculum, I sang in the school choir, and by the time I was in my  teens I was showing up my little compositional efforts to our director of music Edward Chapman, who was always encouraging and never tried to  steer me into any particular style or genre. I was immensely enriched by  a friendship that developed between me and John Tavener, who was a year  ahead of me in school and streets ahead of me in compositional  technique and sophistication. It wasn’t until he left to go on to the Royal Academy of Music and I went to Cambridge that I came out from  under his shadow, but I owe him a great debt for the encouragement he gave and the example he offered. There was never any doubt that he would  become a professional composer, but I had no thought of that happening  to me, and in fact I was advised by my headmaster to go for an academic career (not in music), advice I’m very glad I didn’t take. 

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

This really follows on from my previous answer, and I’ll confine myself to  those I have known personally; I could give you a long list of composers  and other musicians from the past who have inspired me. My kindly college at Cambridge allowed me to do a music degree, even though I had applied to study modern languages, and I was fortunate again: I was assigned Patrick Gowers as a composition teacher, who was a considerably  gifted composer now remembered mainly for his atmospheric and finely-crafted music for a TV serialisation of Sherlock Holmes which ran  for many years, but who was open to all sorts of music (he was a very  good jazz pianist) and who let me go my own way. Also at Cambridge I met  and got to know Sir David Willcocks, the renowned director of King’s  College Choir who believed in my compositional talent and took me under  his wing. It was thanks to him that my first little compositions (a  group of Christmas carols!) were published, and this led to my  association with Oxford University Press which has lasted for a very  long time. David continued to champion my work, and he remained a mentor  and friend to me for the rest of his life. I could list many other key  figures who have offered me opportunities, encouragement and support, I  have been so fortunate: no one I respect has ever told me ‘look, you’re  no good, retrain for another profession’. 

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

The greatest challenge is to keep yourself fresh, not repeat yourself too  much, and find a balance between exercising the skills you know you’ve  already got and learning new ones. Finding the will power and stamina to write when you’re tired and busy with other work is hard. Every day of my life I’m shamed by the quantity and quality of music that so many composers have succeeded in writing when there are only twenty-four hours in a day. I’m not prolific, but then I divide my energies: composition is the compulsion, I guess, but conducting is the pleasure, and being among musicians, sometimes in the role of recording producer,  is a great joy and privilege. My only frustration is that I don’t get  more done. 

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

It’s many years since I’ve undertaken commissioned work. In the 1980s I contracted a debilitating illness, ME (also known as post-viral fatigue syndrome), and, like malaria, it cycles on and off so you have good weeks and bad weeks. When you accept a commission there is a binding obligation to deliver on time, and I had to accept that I might not always be able to do that, so I stopped. After about seven years I made a  full recovery, but did not by then want to go back to what had become a  treadmill, so I continued in a pattern that I have stuck with ever since: from time to time I respond to invitations and suggestions from  the outside world, but then I also work on my own projects. I’m less  productive than in the years I was doing commissions, but I’m less  stressed. The challenge with a commission is to come up with something  that fits the required specification, the pleasure is to be told that it  does fit and that you have actually surpassed expectations. 

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

It always helps if you have the sound of a particular artist or ensemble in your head as you write: you’re writing specially for them. I always try to find out as much as I can in advance about who I’m writing for.  If it’s a group I’m thoroughly familiar with – King’s College Choir in the radiant acoustic of its chapel – I’m half way there before I start.  It’s a poor composer who can’t craft a piece well for its intended  performers. The problems can start when other groups, perhaps not as skilled as those you have written for, have difficulty and think your  music is unreasonably hard, or maybe they just don’t get it. 

Of which works are you most proud? 

That would be like admiring yourself in the mirror. I don’t think about my past work except when I find myself conducting it. I just want the next  piece I write to be the best yet. 

How would you characterise your compositional language? 

Eclectic. Conservative. Accessible. But I hope recognisable as my own. 

How do you work? 

Hard, but not as hard as I used to. 

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

Too many to list. There’s no reputable musician/composer from whom you can’t learn something. If I dislike what I’m hearing, I tend to blame myself.  

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

To have achieved at least part of what you set out to do. 

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

Be very, very good at what you do if you possibly can. Work harder and more perseveringly than anyone round you. Prepare thoroughly. If you are a performer, try to be true to the composer’s vision; if you are a composer, be true to yourself. If you have a spark of something, it will communicate, regardless of style. 

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

Still on this earth and working. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being too busy to think about it. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

I don’t rate possessions. 

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Enjoying a meal with family and friends after a concert or recording has gone well. 

What is your present state of mind? 

Immersed in my current projects.


John Rutter was born in London in 1945 and studied music at Clare  College, Cambridge. His compositions embrace choral, orchestral, and  instrumental music, and he has co-edited various choral anthologies  including four Carols for Choirs volumes with Sir David Willcocks and the Oxford Choral Classics  series. From 1975-9 he was Director of Music at Clare College, and in  1981 formed his own choir, the Cambridge Singers, as a professional  chamber choir primarily dedicated to recording. 

Rutter’s choral works, including his Requiem and Gloria, are frequently performed around the world. In 2003 Mass of the Children, a major work for adult and children’s choir, soloists, and orchestra,  was premiered in New York’s Carnegie Hall conducted by the composer.

johnrutter.com

 

 

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

I played at an international guitar festival when I was 10 years old, any many experts there said I could be a guitarist. This was the first time I had heard about playing guitar as a job. I enjoyed playing the guitar, so being a guitarist sounded like a good idea, but I didn’t really have any idea of what a career as a musician meant.  However this was what triggered the idea in my mind.

An early influence was John Williams – my dad made a recording of his playing from the radio in China. I heard this music at a young age and loved it. Along the way, many artists have inspired me.

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

I was the first guitar student in China to enter a music school. I had to enter as an unofficial student as there was no formal guitar department at that time, no formal qualification to aim for, and no obvious career path.  I didn’t really think about it at the time, but looking back, the biggest challenge was taking a path that no one else had taken in my country. 

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all my recordings. I put a lot of thought into each of them in terms of choosing repertoire, making arrangements, balancing old and new.  For example for the Bach Concertos. I spent a long time researching, studying, arranging & practising Bach’s violin concertos, and also his harpsichord concertos to understand how I could best adapt his music for guitar.  The latest Decca recordings probably present more of my current artistic state as a musician (ie Heartstrings, Colours of Brazil & Sketches of China).

You have a new recording coming our soon, tell us more about that….

‘Sketches of China’ is the first album completely dedicated to music from my homeland. Over the last twenty years, I have toured the world performing music and experienced many different cultures. I have felt an increasing desire to present a little more of my own musical heritage to these audiences.  The guitar is not a Chinese instrument, so when I started there was effectively zero original repertoire from my country to play. However, the guitar is very versatile, and well suited to playing Chinese music, as China has a long heritage of plucked instruments.  I have put a lot of work into arranging Chinese pieces for guitar, commissioning new words, and creating new musical collaborations with other Chinese musicians so that we can make music together.  This album is the first harvest of this project.  I wanted to demonstrate the depth and breadth of Chinese music – from a culture that goes back almost 5,000 years. I also wanted to cover all of the important genres of the music: traditional music, folk-inspired pieces, and of course the music being written by Chinese composers of today, using musically significant repertoire where appropriate.  It was all rather too much to fit onto a single CD, so this is a double CD.    Much of the current dialogue relating to China focuses on politics and economics, both of which can tend to divide people.  I would like to broaden the discussion by introducing a cultural thread to the dialogue, to help unite people.  This album is my personal contribution to this discussion, by offering a fresh perspective on Chinese music.  For guitarists out there, it also opens a door to new repertoire for guitar.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I feel most attracted to works with a lyrical line, and freedom of expression.  I have a strong innate sense of voice.  I often wish that I had a bow, to extend and shape a note. On the guitar, once the note is plucked it immediately begins its inevitable journey to decay, and silence.  That has a beauty of it’s own too because it makes each note all the more precious whilst it lasts, but it makes it particularly hard to make a line really sing.  A big focus in a lot of my playing is to really make the line sing.  I also feel I have a natural sense of rubato, so having some freedom to use this appropriately is very satisfying for me.

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

I often get inspiration as a result of travel – places and people.  Seeing historic sites, architecture, and learning about their history and how it relates to the culture of the location.  Talking with people who’ve lived a different life to my own – their life experiences all helps shape my own outlook on life. I get inspired by adding more layers to my thinking and understanding.

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

It varies.  It’s a mix of satisfying my own curiosity and the pragmatism of providing programs that are attractive to promoters and their audiences. Some years there may be a composer anniversary coming up, so you know that promoters may be interested in programming their music, so I would include such a piece or build a program around that.   As a general principle, unless I am asked to play a particular program (for example Spanish, or Latin American, or Baroque, etc), I like to give a mixed program – a mix of countries, styles, composers, old favourites, new pieces.  That way everyone has something to take home.  I very often try to include a Chinese piece too.
 
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My absolute favourite is London’s Wigmore Hall – it has the perfect acoustic for listening to guitar.  My favourite venues are generally those with great acoustics. The guitar is such an intimate instrument. Each note dies very soon after it is plucked, but there is great beauty in each note whilst it lasts – there is a richness and roundness to each note, packed full of different subtle overtones.  As a player, sitting right next to the instrument, that’s the sound I hear, and the sound that inspires my playing, and it’s the sound I want the audience to hear.  The audience, however, aren’t sitting right next to the guitar – they are often many rows away in a large hall.  The acoustics of a venue can have a big effect on what the audience actually hears.  In good acoustics, that richness and roundness gets transmitted to the audience too, along with the fundamental note – they hear what I’m hearing.  However we live in the real world and sometimes have to play in less than ideal venues.  For example theatres with carpet lined walls and floors may be great for theatre shows, but are difficult for unamplified guitar – they can just soak up the life of the notes before the notes can reach the audience.  However, discreet and tasteful modern amplification can help overcome such problems.

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

I think people will come to classical music if they get something from it that enriches their life experience for a few moments.  People discover it, but it can’t be forced on people.  Education to help people understand what it’s all about, to make them curious and help them understand their own human state as part of wider historic and cultural evolution.  Also encouraging people to make music themselves – to give them the experience of the satisfaction that comes from playing an instrument.  Perhaps some more accessible modern works that relate to people’s lives. Perhaps trying other performance formats other than a formal concert setting – making the audience feeling more involved.  
   
What is your most memorable concert experience?
 
One was from an early stage in my career. When I was 14 I played my debut concert in Madrid.  I didn’t expect he would be in my concert, but I overheard my teacher’s conversations with an interpreter, and knew that the great Spanish composer Rodrigo was coming to my recital! I was playing his greatest solo work, Invocation Y Danza in the concert.  We met during intermission, and I learned that he was impressed with my playing. He was blind most of his life and I was told that he thought I was an adult player.  That was such an honour to meet him, he was in his early 90’s. 

More recently was last year’s unforgettable experience to play under the Eiffel Tower on the Bastille Day with the Orchestra National de Paris. It was a televised concert that was seen across Europe, and by the thousands out celebrating on the Champs de Mars.  By good fate, we also played the Rodrigo concerto in that concert!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?
 
I think about that a lot. I hope I can reach to a level that fulfils my voice and ability, and which will be recognised by peers and audiences.  Ultimately I think it will be about being remembered for my legacy.

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

Be true to yourself, and remind yourself why you want to be a musician.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having good relationships with family and friends, having true love, doing something fulfilling.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m in quarantine in Shanghai ahead of a tour, after six months of concert cancellations due to coronavirus hitting the globe. So my state of mind is mixture of boredom from staying inside a room to quarantine, excitement about returning to the stage, slight nervousness about travelling around post-quarantine, and some anxiety about the near future.

Xuefei Yang’s new doulbe album, ‘Sketches of China’, is now available from Decca. It’s the result of a long-cherished desire to showcase the breadth and depth of Chinese music on her chosen instrument. More information


Xuefei Yang is acclaimed as one of the world’s finest classical guitarists. Hailed as a musical pioneer – her fascinating journey began after the Cultural Revolution, a period where Western musical instruments & music were banned. Xuefei was the first-ever guitarist in China to enter a music school, & became the first internationally recognised Chinese guitarist on the world stage. Her first public appearance was at the age of ten and received such acclaim that the Spanish Ambassador in China presented her with a concert guitar. Her debut in Madrid at the age of 14 was attended by the composer Joaquín Rodrigo and, when John Williams heard her play, he gave two of his own instruments to Beijing’s Central Conservatoire especially for her and other advanced students.

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

I grew up surrounded by music.  We always had the radio playing at home and my older sister played the violin and piano. I wanted to be just like her so was more than happy to start playing those instruments at a young age, but I pestered my parents for years to start learning the harp!

I remember getting my first CD of harp music when I was young and it was all played by the incredible Marisa Robles; the ‘Impromptu-Caprice’ completely mesmerised me. I have been so fortunate to have lessons with Marisa and consider her a friend, thanks to my amazing teacher Daphne Boden.

There are so many wonderful harpists and nowadays it is so much easier to discover new (and old!) music through social media and online platforms. One of the most inspiring harpists I discovered in recent years has to be Dorothy Ashby.  She broke stereotypes in all walks of life, especially in harp playing, and her music is very special.

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

When I was younger I struggled with stage fright, so although I was busy performing on a regular basis, it was a challenge for me once I was on stage. I can still remember the day I was fortunate enough to turn this around and it made me very aware that I was pursuing the right career path. I now enjoy nothing more than sharing my music with others.

The last few months have been tough to say the least, not just for me but for all those who work in the arts. When the country pretty much closed overnight due to COVID-19, freelance musicians lost everything and it is still very uncertain when we will be able to return in full force. I was very fortunate to have some teaching I could do online, however the loss of income and opportunities to make music with others has been a real challenge.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I am so pleased with the singles I recently recorded as part of my new contract with Sony Music Masterworks.  With the wonderful team at Sony and my incredible producer Anna Barry,  we recorded some of my favourite harp pieces and also some exciting new material.  Ronan Phelan at Masterchord Studios is a brilliant sound engineer and I hope everyone will enjoy the tracks as much as I did recording them!

Baroque Flamenco (opens in Spotify)

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I have always enjoyed playing uplifting and rousing music! That’s why ‘Baroque Flamenco’ was a piece I really wanted to record for my first single. It has so many exciting and unusual elements to it. That being said, I’ve also always enjoyed the French-Romantic genre.  Harp music is spoilt for choice when it comes to French composers and there is some incredible music for us to play.

I am always open to new musical suggestions, genres and styles. I have often been asked by audience members to play some Metallica or Led Zeppelin, usually as a joke, because the majority of people would presume you can only play classical music on the harp.  I took on the challenge and it really diversified my play list so that I could show that the harp is incredibly versatile and the possibilities are endless!

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

I love being surrounded by nature.  My favourite places in the world are the Lake District and Malta and I have been so fortunate to enjoy both, being of Maltese heritage and growing up in the UK. I could not be happier than when I am swimming in the Mediterranean or when I turn off my phone and go for a hike with my husband in the Lake District.  I think cutting yourself off from technology and enjoying the simple things around you is so important and grounding.

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

I try to listen to as large a range of music as possible. I don’t tend to stick to traditional harp repertoire all the time and I have started exploring a lot more piano music recently as that was how I originally started my musical journey. There is so much that can be arranged for the harp and I enjoy  challenging myself technically as well as musically.

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

There are so many wonderful venues but in terms of acoustics, I think Wigmore Hall is very special.  It provides an intimate and unique setting for recitals.

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

I really do feel that a love of and interest in music has to be developed at a young age whilst still at school. Music is a vital part of every child’s education and it is so important overall development. It can increase self-confidence and there are many studies which suggest that music helps brain development which can help in the learning of many other subjects.

I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up listening to classical music and having the chance to have music lessons from a young age. I think it is important to remember that classical music is a huge part of all our lives whether we realise it or not. Many film scores are based on classical music and many current pop singers use classical music for samples.

To this end, I think that the Senbla Concert Orchestra’s performances of popular movies with live orchestra is a brilliant idea.  Although people are going to watch the film, speaking to audience members after the concerts showed up how many people do not quite realise what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in terms of the music and were blown away by the sound a live orchestra could make.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut concerto at the Barbican when I was eighteen really stands out for me.  It was such an honour to be given this massive opportunity and I worked so hard to make it as brilliant a performance as possible. I was so nervous before going on stage but can still remember the joy I felt once I finished.

In an orchestral setting, playing under Sir Roger Norrington’s baton when I was leading six harps in ‘Symphonie Fantastique’  was so inspiring and a really enjoyable experience. His humour and musical expertise are unrivalled in my opinion and it’s an experience I will never forget!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I don’t think there is one way to define success as a musician. We are always striving for better, hence why you can never stop practising as there is always room for improvement. I am so very fortunate to have been given a platform to share my music and I think success for me is being able to continue making music and sharing it with others.

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

Keep an open mind. Explore all avenues of music, even the ones you might think you do not like. Do not compare yourselves to other people, just keep working hard and have confidence in yourself and your choices. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by others on social media but if you are making yourself or another person feel something through your playing, then you are doing something right.  Also, keep up the practise!  Watching other musicians performing, whether at a live gig or on a recording or online can also be very inspiring. There is so much that can be learnt from musicians all over the world, playing in all kinds of genres and styles.

What is your most treasured possession?

My harp really is my most treasured possession. I try not to get too attached to material objects in general but my beautiful harp is something I have had for twenty years now.  It has travelled the world with me and been there for all my auditions, exams, high and low points.

What is your present state of mind?

I am excited to see what the future holds. This has been an interesting year to say the least but I am determined that musicians will be back, stronger than ever and with even more to share than before.

Cecilia Da Maria’s second single is released on 4th September on the Sony label


Born in the UK to Maltese parents, Cecilia recently completed her Masters degree with distinction at the Royal College of Music where she was an ABRSM scholar, studying with Daphne Boden. Prior to this she graduated from the same institution with a First Class (Honours) undergraduate degree.

Cecilia originally started her musical life as a pianist before starting the harp at the age of eleven. A year later she was accepted into The Purcell School of Music and later joined The Royal College of Music, Junior Department.

Cecilia has been fortunate enough to travel extensively with her harp to countries including; Italy, Spain, Portugal, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia and The Baltic States.

Read more

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

As a child my aunt was a pop singer, and released music; she also recorded my first song. My music teachers at school were supportive, and luckily Northamptonshire had a great music service when I was a child.

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

As a composer I have been lucky to have great female role models – Rhian Samuel, and Diedre Gribben briefly taught me at post-graduate and undergraduate levels.Sadie Harrison is a great mentor and teacher, an inspiring woman. I am also incredibly lucky to have worked with Kuljit Bhamra on his Tabla notation project. I was commissioned by Sound and Music to learn a new notation system for Tabla and compose new work for Kuljit, Anne Denholm and Joe Richards, mentored by Colin Riley. Most recently, the amazing soprano Gweneth Anne Rand is advising and mentoring me on composing for voice for my new work for Téte å Téte Festival in September 2020.

The music industry is tough and it is so important to have guidance and support. I have been lucky to be surrounded by strong female spirits throughout my life; even now my own grandmother has been teaching my son piano over Skype through lockdown. Her mother was a pianist (whom I never met), born in Greater Manchester, and studied in Vienna as a young girl. She married a lovely man from Lancashire who worked in the cotton mills and she ended up teaching and playing in the pubs of Oldham. My Grandma was keen to buy us a piano when I was little, so we got one from a pub in Wellingborough, where I grew up, and I began lessons as a child. Later I learnt cello, through the Northants Music Service at Junior School. I probably resonated with the cello after listening to the Bach Cello Suite’s, by Jaqueline Du Pré, on a tape cassette of my Mum’s that I think she was introduced to through contemporary dance. I grew up listening to a mixture of Bach, Dave Brubeck, Nina Simone, Carol King, The Specials, Madonna and Soul to Soul. Lisa Stansfield was my first proper concert at Sheffield City Hall with my Aunties, Mum and sister. As a young person I went to concerts at The Stables, a 40mins drive from where we lived, and performed in Youth Orchestra Concerts at The Derngate, Northampton. There was also a local Jazz night at a local pub which had some good players that my sister’s saxophone teacher let us know about, my Dad has always been really into Jazz and Blues and has been a huge influence on my listening. Latterly I became introduced to all kinds of music, North Indian Classical, Bartok, Shostakovich, Mahler, Saariaho, Cage, Oliveros, and all kinds of dance music, from electronica, drum and bass and Techno.

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

On leaving Newcastle University, I initially found it really difficult to find work, and was on The New Deal for Musicians. It was amazing as I got business advice and support from various professionals. I also got a Prince’s Trust grant to buy a computer as I had never owned one and then when I began working professionally as a cellist I had some guidance and awareness of the industry. A year later I was performing on The Mercury Music Prize (2000); perhaps without the chance to learn the ropes of being a self- employed musician I would not have had that opportunity. An RSI injury in my late 20s and early 30s was a real low point. My inspiring cello teacher at the time, Sue Lowe, built me back up again, emotionally and physically, which took several years. Luckily my composing career has been building slowly since then. My most recent career high was hearing my work for Tabla and String Quartet performed at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter just before lockdown in March. The work was for amateur performers from the Devon Philharmonic with professional Tabla player Jon Sterx. The musicians were amazing – with very little rehearsal time they performed with such vitality and commitment.

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

The pleasures often outweigh the challenges; however since the Covid-19 lockdown I feel many musicians and artists in general are facing huge barriers to their livelihoods. Currently I am composing new work for Fenella Humphreys, and have contributed to her Caprice’s project, funded mostly by Kickstarter (see her website). It is thrilling when performers like Fenella agree to perform and record your music. Fenella has a Youtube channel which is enabling new work to be premiered to wider audiences, so moving on from the devastating lockdown challenges, people are really trying to overcome them through digital platforms, and I just hope people can continue to contribute to artists’ projects financially right now, as so many freelance artists have lost so much work and income.

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

So much of my work, commissions and premieres have either been postponed or cancelled, and as an emerging composer, it is especially tough and heartbreaking. I only began composing again seriously after my son was born, so I am a bit of a late starter, and I just hope my energy and determination carries me though this unstable period. Some amazing opportunities have still managed to happen. I am currently working on a new Imaginary Opera project Song of Isis, Goddess of Love, for the Tête-à-Tête Festival 2020, which is a truly inspiring, inclusive and exciting festival to be part of. This wonderful opportunity is a lifeline as it is still going ahead in September, regardless of Covid restrictions. See the wonderful blog from Bill Bankes-Jones for more information. The practicalities of working on this are huge – devising and rehearsing new work with actor/singer Sèverine Howell-Meris over Zoom will be particularly unique to these times. I will be documenting this process online on the blog but really also hope to share our work in a real live format somehow.

Our performance date is, hopefully, 9 September 2020 (please follow us on @imaginaryopera or @laurareidmusic to find out when/if the performance will be going ahead live at The Cockpit Theatre, London). Again finances are tight, and Tête-à-Tête are fundraising for the festival on their website.

I am working with writer Chris Aziz, and animator Martha King to provide online content. I am hoping to include a virtual chorus, using singers and friends around the UK to participate in some capacity from their homes. Working with an all-female team is exciting, but as it is our first opera it is incredibly daunting at the same time. Networks such as Engender, run by producers at the Royal Opera House, are proving to be so important right now to get things to happen. Hearing leading figures like Gweneth Ann Rand and director Adele Thomas talk at the last meeting was inspiring and really encouraging.

Of which works are you most proud?

My commission for the Dorset Moon ‘Celestial Bodies’, performed to over 1,000 members of the public via headphones underneath Luc Jerram’s amazing Museum of the Moon.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Eclectic, diverse, contemporary folktronica.

How do you work?

Sporadically. In the old days pre-covid, I had routines and time to think. But now it’s in odd moments when I am not doing childcare or home-schooling, mostly in the evenings since lockdown, although I am usually a morning person. I am really looking forward to, and feel incredibly lucky to be going to Made at The Red House, Aldeburgh, hosted by Wild Plum Arts, which will be an amazing opportunity to compose and think away from domestic responsibilities.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My tastes are always evolving and changing. I currently love listening to Jill Scott, Tallis, and Bach. I really enjoyed listening to After Rain by Hildegard Westerkamp recently at the UK and Ireland soundscape conference in Sussex.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Happiness balanced with enjoying the process of composing and playing, and working on projects that inspire change and amplify narratives from the margins.

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

Keep a sense of your self and what feels right to you. Learn the rules, and then how to break them. Nothing matters very much, except staying sane and positive. We all face challenges so try and focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cello J

 

Song of Isis. Goddess of Love, with music by Laura Reid, will be premiered by Tête-à-Tête on 9 September. Further information here


www.laurareid.co.uk

@laurareidmusic

@imaginaryopera

https://imaginaryopera.wordpress.com/