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

It was a long time coming. Though I had already played the piano for six years before entering the Curtis Institute of Music, it was the colleagues and friends I made there that really inspired me to see music as a way of life.

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

My teachers at Curtis and the Hannover Musikhochschule have shaped the way I see music. My family and friends give the life experiences I need to tell interesting stories. In an ever-changing environment, I’m grateful to have a stable network of people I can trust and count on for advice.

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

There are many difficult things about being a concert pianist, whether its learning a particularly tricky piece, getting over a defeat at a competition, but these are so minor in the grand scheme of things. It’s an ongoing challenge to give your all every time you step out on stage. Even if you’re tired or fatigued, it’s a musician’s responsibility to inspire and bring memorable moments to audiences. But this is a challenge that I cherish.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Certain concerts stick out in my memory. I had a wonderful experience performing a benefit concert for the Multiple Sclerosis society with Howard Griffiths and the Camerata Schweiz at the Tonhalle Maag. We performed the Beethoven violin concerto in the piano version and as an encore, Hallelujah, where the audience joined in the chorus. A moment of goosebumps, the good kind.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I can’t answer such a question, but I have lots of music I love to perform. At the moment, I’m particularly interested in the Viennese classics of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

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

It’s a given that I only perform works I feel I have something special to express. I’m very open to learning different repertoire, and I gather a lot of inspirations through regular trips to different opera houses and symphonic concerts, something Germany abounds with. Finding a central work is important in each program, then it’s a question of finding matches and themes.

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

Hamburg Elbphilharmonie kleiner Saal is fantastic, not least because of its prestige. The pianos there, the acoustic and an enthusiastic audience are unique.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Cecilia Bartoli, Kristian Zimerman and Sviatoslav Richter.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I performed in Beijing NCPA last year, and my three grandparents came, all over 90 years old. I was so proud and happy to share with them one of my favorite pieces, Chopin concerto No. 2.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Staying true to yourself and never wavering in your faith in music.

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

Live a full life, embrace multiple interests, because the more you know about the world, the more you can share.


Claire Huangci, the young American pianist of Chinese descent and 2018 Geza Anda Competition first prize and Mozart prize winner, has succeeded in establishing herself as a highly respected artist, captivating audiences with her “radiant virtuosity, artistic sensitivity, keen interactive sense and subtle auditory dramaturgy” (Salzburger Nachrichten). Her unusually diverse repertoire, in which she also takes up rarely performed works, is illustrative of her remarkable versatility.

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

I began conducting seriously at University before embarking on postgraduate conducting studies in London and beginning a freelance life. I had been surrounded my music growing up, singing and playing in choirs and orchestras, and doing lots of accompanying. Conducting and composing became natural extensions of this, and I haven’t looked back since.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

The musicians around me making the music, and those who have gone before to create it.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

Conducting requires hard work, determination, patience, planning, none of which are particularly easy – but this pays off when making great music with others, whether untrained amateurs or seasoned professionals, and sharing this with audiences, however large or small. Nothing beats that.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the choir/orchestra?

Being a performing musician is all about listening and respect: listening to yourself and others, and respecting everyone around you and the score in front of you. Communicating your ideas as a conductor is about listening to the music around you and suggesting ways to craft the sound organically in a collaborative process that includes gesture, body language, and eyes. Most of the work takes place in rehearsal, but there always needs to be an element of spontaneity in the performance itself.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

Fully respecting the score in front of you and bringing it to life with the best possible performance is the single most important role for any conductor. Especially so when the composer is present!

Is there one work that you would love to conduct?

There are so many works I’d love to conduct. I had been hugely looking forward to conducting my first St Matthew Passion in April 2020 in the Netherlands, but alas it was not to be because of the Coronavirus outbreak. But, as with all musical events that have had to be postponed, I suspect that it will make any rescheduled performance in the coming seasons even more special.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I count myself fortunate to have seen so much of the world and performed in some extraordinary venues already, and every occasion has provided me with its own cherished memory. Performing in Barcelona’s Palau, Washington’s Library of Congress, Shanghai Symphony Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sydney Opera House, Wigmore Hall – they have been and always will be significant memories for me. But equally special have been an outdoor concert perched on top of Penang Hill in Malaysia, a surround-sound recital scattered around Los Angeles’ Bradbury Building, and a bare-footed antiphonal performance standing in the River Jordan either side of the Baptismal Site. I love travelling, making new friends, and sharing my music making around the world – so I look forward to exploring more in the years to come.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I admire so many. But if I had to name a few it would have to include Bach, Shostakovich, John Eliot Gardiner, Bernard Haitink, Janáček, and René Jacobs.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Music making at the highest possible level, whatever the circumstances.

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

Respect each other, respect the music, be kind, be encouraging, be prepared to work hard, don’t waste time, and listen.

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

Still making great music with colleagues old and new.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Great company, music, food, and wine.

What is your most treasured possession?

My husband!

What is your present state of mind?

Calm and grateful: the current lockdown because of the Coronavirus crisis has given the world a rare moment to pause, think, and reflect – and to be grateful for the extraordinary work of our medical professionals who are battling to save lives.

Graham Ross conducts the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge and the Dmitri Ensemble in a new recording of music Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks and James Macmillan. Further details


Graham Ross has established an exceptional reputation as a sought-after conductor and composer of a very broad range of repertoire.  His performances around the world and his extensive discography have earned consistently high international praise, including a Diapason d’Or, Le Choix de France Musique and a Gramophone Award nomination.  As a guest conductor he has worked with Australian Chamber Orchestra, Aalborg Symfoniorkester, Aurora Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra, and Salomon Orchestra, making his debuts in recent seasons with the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Singers, DR VokalEnsemblet (Danish National Vocal Ensemble), London Mozart Players, European Union Baroque Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as acting as Assistant Conductor to Vladimir Jurowski.  He is co-founder and Principal Conductor of The Dmitri Ensemble and, since 2010, Fellow and Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he conducts the internationally-renowned Choir.

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(Artisti photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

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

I come from a very musical family of parents who are professional musicians, two sisters who are professional musicians, and one brother who used to play the violin. As you can imagine, growing up surrounded by music was incredibly inspiring and stimulating! I started playing violin at age 3 and piano at 5, and I remember making the decision around 11 years of age to become a professional pianist. At that time, I had attended an international summer institute for young pianists, and something just “clicked” with being surrounded by so many wonderful musicians. I thought something to the effect of “I have to do this!” and I’ve been devoted to the profession ever since.

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

I have been blessed with fantastic teachers throughout my life, teachers who not only gave me a foundation of musicianship and technique at the piano, but who also supported me as a person (and continue to do so). In this business, I think it is so important to have teachers who care about students in their development as musicians AND human beings. One person in particular who has had an extraordinary influence in my life is a Brazilian pianist named Luiz de Moura Castro. He also taught my eldest sister, and from the time I was ten, he has had a great impact on my approach to music. In addition, I come from a lineage of Russian teachers including a wonderful woman by the name of Zena Ilyashov (whom I studied with as a young pianist) and the well-known pianist and pedagogue Boris Berman (while at Yale School of Music). Both teachers gave me imperative tools for approaching the keyboard, perhaps most specifically in how I create “sound.”

As for performers who influenced me, I remember being spellbound at a young age by violinist Jascha Heifetz. There was something about the electricity of his playing which enamored me, and he’s one of the performers who still gives me goosebumps every time I hear one of his recordings. Likewise, Vladimir Horowitz has always been close to my musical heart; there’s a similar electricity and emotional impact when listening to him. I always try to tap into this kind of excitement/fire when performing.

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

I’ve done quite a lot of competitions, and that can be a brutal part of the learning process for any young pianist. As so many people know, there are variables quite often out of one’s control (politics, personal preferences, etc.), which can be disheartening. I did very well in some and less well in others, but at the end of the day, I learned about myself in the process: not just about playing at a consistent, high level, but what it means to believe in one’s self as a musician.

As with any profession, people can be dismissive, and especially when something is as personal as art. Therefore, it is imperative one believes in one’s worth and what one has have to offer as a musician. As clichéd as it may sound, I do what I do because I believe music needs to be shared with people; to me, being a performer is not about my ego or another person’s ego, but rather being a conduit for great music. This gives me the confidence to believe in what I am doing.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I absolutely love performing with orchestras, and my first performance of Brahms’ D minor concerto will always stand out in my memory. There’s something about that piece that requires extreme vulnerability and strength, and performing it was powerful beyond what I expected. The way Brahms conceived of the orchestral writing is stunning, and it truly feels chamber music when performing it.

It seems my most memorable performances are with orchestra, but another one was performing Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto a few years back. Of course it is a powerhouse of a piece, but there was a particular performance which felt like the highest energy I’ve ever had onstage, both in how I felt with the piano part as well as the interaction with orchestra. Both the Brahms and Prokofiev are extraordinarily powerful pieces, but the Prokofiev is powerful in a way that’s primal.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That’s a great question, as I think I’ve “evolved” over the years in both my tastes and what I’ve excelled at. I used to gravitate primarily toward Russian repertoire, but in the past few years, I’ve come to adore J.S. Bach (even more than I used to) and much of the Spanish repertoire. Perhaps that’s an odd combination, but I would like to explore more of Bach in performance (although it can feel scary/exposed!) as well as the Spanish repertoire (would like to finally perform Granados’ Goyescas in its entirety).

I would be remiss not to mention the works of Australian composer Carl Vine, as I have recently released an album of his solo piano music including the world premiere recording of his Piano Sonata No. 4, a work written for me this past year. I adore his music, and much of the last year has been devoted to performing and recording Vine. In particular, the sound-world he creates is fascinating to explore, and there’s also an aspect of virtuosity that makes performing his music incredibly exciting (his writing is challenging yet idiomatic to the instrument).

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

Well as I mentioned, the past year has been greatly focused on Carl Vine, in particular because I commissioned a piece from him and knew I would be giving several premieres internationally. Usually, I make repertoire choices based on particular pieces I would like to play or composers I would like to explore more of. There are also times where presenters will request a particular piece(s), so it can be a combination of reasons.

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

I recently gave a solo recital at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, and it was a pure delight. The acoustics are fantastic, and there’s an intimacy to the hall that I much prefer in a solo piano recital rather than a hall which seats 4,000. I had a similar impression performing at the Salzburg Mozarteum, having a beautiful intimacy to the hall. That said, I performed with the Montreal Orchestre de Metropolitain in Montreal’s Place des Arts, and that was a fantastic hall and huge space. So, it also depends on the context of what and with whom I’m performing!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a superficial level, one could say success is defined by how many prestigious halls one plays in, how many recordings one sells, how many successful musicians one performs with. While those are all wonderful and important things to use as professional goals, I think they are also things which can be distracting to leading a fulfilled life as a musician. There are so many times when a musician will come to a crossroads in their career, asking themselves why they do what they do. I’ve come to realize that success as a musician can only truly be measured by how much one is enjoying what one does and how genuinely one is connecting with the audience, no matter the size or prestige. If I give a performance where even just one person has found inspiration or comfort through the music, or I’ve managed to inspire a young musician to get excited about classical music, that to me is true success as a musician.

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

Follow this career path because you love it and will do it no matter what difficulties come your way! It’s a very difficult career to choose, but one that can bring incredible good and beauty to the world.

What is your most treasured possession?

If I can count my cats as possessions, then I’ll say my cats!

What is your present state of mind?

Honestly, I’m grateful to be a musician. Without it, life would make a lot less sense!

Aphorisms: The Piano Music of Carl Vine is available now


Pianist Lindsay Garritson has performed throughout the United States and abroad since the age of four. She has appeared on stages such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and Place des Arts (Montreal), and has been featured as soloist with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra (Texas), Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), Atlantic Classical Orchestra, Orquestra Sinfônica Barra Mansa (Brazil), the Yale Philharmonic Orchestra, and the European Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.

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

My family loves music, although none of them are professional musicians. But they enjoy having friends over, having fun playing accordion and singing songs together, so I grew up in a music loving atmosphere. When I was four, my mother bought me a piano as she thought musical training would be beneficial for me. I was a quiet girl and could easily sit in front of the piano for a long period of time, definitely longer than the other kids could I suppose! I guess I was quite attracted to the sound of piano without knowing what it would mean to my life. Later, I won first prize at a number of piano competitions held in my home city Chongqing when I was between the ages of six to nine. My parents were encouraged by the professors from the best conservatory in China, and decided to send me for professional music study. So, I moved to Beijing at the age of ten, and “officially” started to pursue a professional career at the Central Conservatory of Music. Once I started to understand music and gradually build up a genuine connection with it along the path, I became more certain about choosing a career in music.

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

My piano teachers. I wouldn’t have gone this far without them. I’ve always been lucky to work with teachers who have helped me tremendously in different stages of my career. Professor Huiqiao Bao was my teacher for twelve years in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She laid a solid foundation for my career, as a respectable female musician, she is most certainly my role model. Her lessons have extended beyond the scope of music and spilled over into my life, learning better how to navigate through difficult periods. I studied with Professor Alexander Korsantia during my time in New England Conservatory in Boston; his passionate attitude to music and bold approach to life constantly encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and break my limits. My current teacher at the Royal College of Music in London, Professor Norma Fisher, is bringing my understanding of music to another level. These teachers have always been by my side and have guided me to be a better pianist. Their attitude towards music has inspired me to pursue the ultimate goal to become a better artist.

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

The greatest challenge I have faced was to hold on to the passion and belief in the music I perform, regardless of any dilemma and obstacles that came my way. I believe all the greatest artists have experienced the same challenges and overcame them.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

All of the performances I have given were meaningful for me; I keep learning from every performance, also getting to understand the pieces and myself better. Thus, I would say I am proud of every step I have taken.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It depends on the time being. However, it would definitely be the pieces that I feel connected to the most at that time. Lately, I feel a deep connection with the music of Scriabin and Rachmaninov.

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

I think it’s important for young artists, including me, to try to add variety into their repertoire. I would not want to limit myself to a certain style, or certain composers. Instead, I love challenging myself by selecting pieces that cover a wide range of styles, and pushing myself to play pieces that I don’t feel most comfortable with.

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

It’s really hard for me to pinpoint a favourite because I’ve enjoyed playing in different ones. Some are grand concert halls, some are intimate salon venues. I think each venue has a unique character and my adjusting to it can certainly be a fun part of the performance.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many extraordinary musicians I’d like to mention, but Radu Lupu and Martha Argerich are the two living musicians I admire the most. Radu Lupu’s playing always flowed with the genuineness and the simplicity which held deep thoughts behind the musical language; his interpretation of the works by Schubert simply blows me away. Martha Argerich is a female musician who has a strong character; her boldness and fearlessness makes her music so unique and effective.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I was attending a music festival in Kiev Ukraine in February 2014, and was scheduled to play Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 in a concert. At this time the Ukrainian Revolution broke out, there was violence involving riot police, shooters, and protesters in Independence Square. I was very frightened being in the city. However, the concert went on as planned, and I was deeply touched when I saw so many people in the audience At that moment, there was no doubt that music can heal great divisions. It was the most unique concert experience in my career so far, and it reminds me the meaning that music can bring to everyone.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Despite all the obstacles, keep playing, pursuing and sharing music for a lifetime!

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

Always be genuine to the music and the composers, learn the background and history of the music and composer, try to understand the true meaning that the composers wanted to convey and interpret their works with your own voice. To build up a career as a musician, our persistence and love for music are always the backbone to support our dreams.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Doing the things I love to do for life and could have others benefit from it.


Born in 1992, Chinese pianist Siqian Li started her musical education at the age of four. She studied with Madame Huiqiao Bao, received her Bachelor of Music Degree at the Central Conservatory of Music (Beijing) and became the first pianist to be awarded the “Best of the Best – Top and Innovative Talent” diploma and scholarship from China’s Ministry of Culture. As a student of Professor Alexander Korsantia, she obtained a Master of Music Degree with Academic Honors and a Graduate Diploma at the New England Conservatory (Boston). She continues to pursue an Artist Diploma at the Royal College of Music (London) under the tutelage of Professor Norma Fisher.

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

When I was 14 my violin teacher gave me the chance to conduct a string orchestra I was playing in. I remember vividly the experience standing there with the music flowing around and through me as I tried to communicate with the players. I didn’t have any technique at all and it was probably terrible! But in that moment I had a very strong sense that this was an extraordinary feeling and something I wanted to explore deeply.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

I’m not sure I can judge this myself fully. However, without a doubt conductor Sian Edwards who is the most wonderful human being and has taught me a huge amount about the relation between music and conducting technique. Michael Dussek, my piano teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, was also a strong influence in helping me develop my own artistic ethos in service of the music. Working as an assistant to several conductors provided opportunities to see at first hand what works, what doesn’t and what kind of musical leader I would like to be.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

Mastering a huge range of repertoire in the depth required is a never-ending challenge, particularly as a young conductor starting out. There is almost no amount of preparation that will enable you to feel fully confident with a symphony when standing in front of a great orchestra that has played it hundreds of times before. How to deal with this is an important milestone. The most fulfilling thing is when everything clicks within the orchestra, and the music seems to unfold naturally. When I feel as if I have to do very little on the podium this is wonderfully satisfying.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

I try to show everything with my baton, and occasionally where appropriate use a mental image or piece of historical context to frame a particular sound world or effect. It’s important to realise quickly what works best with a certain orchestra: some players prefer to avoid verbal communication, others are drawn in by a bit more context or personal imagery.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

The position of the conductor is often anachronistic – it is only from the time of Beethoven onwards that musicians would have expected someone to direct the performance this way. In Mozart you need to get out of the way; in Mahler it almost seems as if the music was written for a single music interpreter to shape; in much contemporary repertoire you are akin to a sophisticated metronome. So the role varies, but the conductor must always bring his/her personal energy to the ensemble and a love for the letter and spirit of the music.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Elgar Symphony no. 2. I find Elgar’s English character combined with his Austro-Germanic style of composition irresistible.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I’ve only performed there once but the Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre has the most exceptional acoustic: crystal clear yet warm enough to create any sound world you could possibly want.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My all-time No. 1 conductor would be Claudio Abbado, whose flair, intellectual rigour and versatility across all repertoire seem unparalleled to me. If I had to choose one composer it would be Beethoven. At the moment I’m realising what a limited picture we get of him as orchestral musicians if we don’t explore the piano sonatas and chamber music. His symphonies and concerti alone give a misleading sense of his musical personality.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Very, very rarely we feel we have done justice to the music. It is gratifying when this feeling is shared by respected colleagues and listeners, and of course sometimes this can lead to career progression which plays a part in ‘success’ too.

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

An ethos of constant self-sacrificing exploration. And a passion to learn why and in what situation a piece was composed as this can really help recapture its spirit in the present moment.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To maintain a fulfilling balance between desire and satisfaction over a lifetime.


Mark Austin’s performances of orchestral and operatic repertoire have been praised for their “eloquent intensity” (Guardian).

Recent highlights include Mark’s debut at Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, and the final of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Solti Conducting Competition. He has been shortlisted for the ENO Mackerras Conducting Fellowship 2020-22. In 2019 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music and worked in masterclass with Riccardo Muti. He collaborated with soloists including Guy Johnston, Kristine Balanas, Julien van Mellaerts and Siobhan Stagg. As assistant conductor he worked at Garsington Opera and with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. 2020 includes work at Folkoperan in Sweden, a return to Garsington and concerts at Oundle International Music Festival and Cambridge Summer Music Festival.

Other projects have included ‘Le nozze di Figaro’ (Dartington International Festival), ‘Goyescas’ (The Grange Festival), ‘Tosca’ (Musique Cordiale International Festival) and a two-concert Brahms residency with Guy Johnston and Faust Chamber Orchestra at Hatfield House. Mark was assistant conductor for the world première production of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Coraline’ (Royal Opera). He has worked with figures including Vasily Petrenko, Sian Edwards, Marin Alsop, David Parry, David Hill, Steuart Bedford, and the late Sir Colin Davis, and conducted orchestras including Aurora, Britten Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Orchestra of St John’s and the Hangzhou Philharmonic, China. Mark was awarded a Bayreuth Festival Young Artist Bursary in 2018 and recorded the world première of Alex Woolf’s ‘NHS Symphony’ for BBC Radio 3, which won a Prix Europa. He studies with Sian Edwards and was awarded an International Opera Awards Bursary in 2017. 

An accomplished pianist, Mark has performed at venues including Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, St John’s Smith Square, Holywell Music Room, Opera Bastille (Paris) and the Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre. He is musical assistant to The Bach Choir and regularly conducts the choir in concert and the recording studio, including live on BBC1 for the Andrew Marr Show.

Born in London, Mark had lessons in violin and piano from an early age. He played in the National Youth Orchestra, and studied at Cambridge University and Royal Academy of Music, where he received numerous prizes and was appointed a Junior Fellow. Mark contributed a chapter on Wagner, Beethoven and Faust to the recently published ‘Music in Goethe’s Faust’. You can read more about Mark on http://www.mark-austin.net and follow him on Twitter @mark_aus_tin.

mark-austin.net

 

 

 

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

I started my musical journey by having group trombone lessons at school ran by my local music service in Wolverhampton and then soon took up the clarinet, too. Unusually, I did not grow up in a home filled with music, as my parents and wider family have no musical training and there was certainly no music playing in my house at all. Therefore, my formative musical experiences rely mostly on my involvement with my city youth orchestra. My parents have always been extraordinarily supportive of my ideas so at age 14 they bought me a piano and then I began improvising on it and then notating it down. This became something I did rather frequently, although my motivation for doing so was purely just for the enjoyment of it; I didn’t really consider it the act of ‘composing’ as such. A few years later I attended a BBC Proms Inspire workshop in Birmingham and there, due to a chance encounter, I found out that conservatoires existed. I then applied to and attended the Junior Royal Northern College of Music and won the BBC Proms Young Composer’s competition in the following year, which had a large influence on my decision to take composing seriously. Since then, my career has expanded in directions that I could never have imagined or dreamed of. I, therefore, can’t recall the exact moment that I decided to become a composer and pursue a career in music, as I just simply followed the path of what I loved doing. I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities and experiences that it has afforded me so far.

Which composers have most influenced the development of your music?

When I first started listening to classical music it was mostly Russian composers from the classical canon! Since then, however, the composers that I’m interested in do change frequently and vary widely. I think that the people that have had the most influence on my development would probably be those immediately around me, such as those that I meet, the musicians I write for, and the composers I interact with.

You compose for diverse ensembles, orchestral arrangements, choirs, solo voices, even operatic forms. What drives your experimentation?

I think mostly wanting to develop a musical language that is able to transverse a variety of instrumental ensembles or combinations drives my composition. My method is often the same regardless of what the ensemble is. It’s really important to me, however, to know what the instrumentation is going to be for a long period of time before I begin composing, as I like to imagine a sound-world that utilities that particular instrumental grouping effectively.

How would you characterize your compositional/musical language?

I think my musical language is mostly characterized first and foremost by the use of texture to create atmospheric sound-worlds, which are formed out of linear melodic fragments often inspired by art, poetry or literature to take a listener on a narrative journey… or something along those lines!

How do you work?

I often use extra-musical sources such as contemporary artwork or poetry as my starting point to inspire my music. I will then ruminate over my ideas before taking them to the piano where I improvise musical fragments, and develop the overall structure of the work, before I begin to notate the music down on paper. My compositional process is highly intuitive, almost always in response to my own thoughts and feelings and, therefore, I don’t have a specific writing technique that I can replicate for each piece. I suppose the most fixed aspect of my working process is instead the environment that I choose to compose in, which is often past the midnight hour in that form of silence that you can only achieve whilst everyone else is asleep.

We first heard ‘beneath the silken silence’ at LSO St Lukes as part of the Panufnik Composers Scheme. The work is beautiful and striking, and contains rich tonal harmonies set against more atonal underpinnings. Can you explain how you achieve this unity?

‘Beneath the silken silence’, like a lot of my works, was written in response to a poem, which in this case was Sara Teasdale’s ‘The Faery Forest’. The piece is inspired by both the imagery and phrase structure within the prose and therefore, acts as an unspoken vocalization of the poem. The work seeks to create an atmospheric sound-world to reflect the dream-like movements of nature portrayed in the poem. The harmonic content of the work is also based on this poetic setting, as it is created as a linear line and then loosely reoriented to achieve a tonally centred foundation.

The sophistication of your music seems to belie your age. ‘Fireworks’ is another striking work. How was the piece conceived? Can you tell us something of the process you use in composition?

To compose ‘Fireworks’, a piece for solo soprano voice and orchestra that I wrote in 2018, I began with the text, which is a poem of the same name by the American poet, Amy Lowell. After altering the text by changing and adding a few lines, as I often do, I set it to music as a fragmentary melodic vocal line, which becomes the basis of the work. I then also used this to inform the harmonic and structural shape of the piece. This, as I explained previously, is all a very intuitive process.

Each of your works seems to be associated with or inspired by a specific story, idea, image or illusion. How important is this in your work?

The concept behind each work is extremely important to me. The first step of composing any piece begins with my interaction with an extra-musical source inspiration, and from that I form the idea and the all-important title, which becomes the identity of the work. The story, idea or image that is associated with the work is what enables me to become energized to write and envelop myself in the world of the piece that I’m creating.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? Which compositions are you most proud of?

The greatest challenges are probably trying to avoid being over-critical during the composition process and also creating a good balance between composing and life. The compositions that I’m most proud of are always hopefully the next ones!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think definitions of success are highly subjective and will be different for every musician but, for me, it is being able to continually strive to impart the music of my own particular ‘musical voice’ with genuine clarity. Something I love about the arts is that each person can have their own differing experience from the same piece of music or artwork, whether that’s emotionally or something else, through their own perception of that specific work and the lens of their own influence, and so I’d also like to write pieces that allow space for people to explore themselves through the work whilst simultaneously remaining faithful to my own self-expression.

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

Be true to yourself, explore the music you are passionate about, and don’t be afraid to experiment!

What’s next for you? Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? For the future, do you have a dream project or collaboration in mind?

I feel very fortunate to have worked with brilliant organizations, musicians and ensembles and my interactions with them have certainly shaped my work, how I think about music, and its relation to the wider community. I am always coming up with dream ventures and thinking far into the future about musical, and non-musical, passion projects. I think two of my dream pieces that I would really love to write (and ones that I often daydream about in any spare time!) are to write both the music and the libretto for a full- length opera, and a concerto, possibly for viola or something….. I would really love that.


Grace-Evangeline Mason is an award-winning composer based in the UK. She has worked with ensembles and artists including members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, BBC singers, Trio Atem, Royal Northern Sinfonia, London Early Opera, Aurora Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s new music group, Ensemble 10:10, in venues across the UK and internationally. Her music has been performed at festivals including the New Music North West Festival, the Open Circuit Festival, London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, Cheltenham Music Festival, Southbank SoundState Festival, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Connecticut, and the 2017 BBC Proms. 

Mason is the recipient of awards including the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composer of the Year (2013), the Rosamond Prize (2016), the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s Christopher Brooks Prize (2017) and the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize (2018).

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