tasmin-little

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

It was quite by chance – I feel ill with chicken pox and was bored so I began to teach myself the recorder. I really loved playing an instrument and when I was better, I started the piano and the violin

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

Yehudi Menuhin was a huge influence of course…..but I think that all the teachers at school had their own influence and we learned from all of them. Since leaving school and performing professionally, many conductors have influenced me, especially Richard Hickox and Sir Andrew Davis

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

Performing the Ligeti violin concerto – it’s hugely difficult and really challenges the player in every way!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my Elgar concerto with Andrew Davis and Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It won a Classic BRIT Award and I felt very happy as I waited a long time to record it, so I felt I gave my very best.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’d like to think that I am able to bring some insight into every composer that I choose to perform. If I don’t feel an empathy with a composer or piece, I prefer not to play it! I’d rather leave it to people who like it, and play the things that I like most. That said, I have a huge repertoire so I haven’t exactly limited myself!

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

There are various factors to consider – who I’m playing with and the repertoire that they like. Orchestras often have their own ideas regarding repertoire and then I like to learn new pieces every year so I am always programming new things.

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

I adored playing in Carnegie Hall – the floorboards are alive with history, it’s so inspiring!  I was playing with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra so I was in amazing company!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s hard to choose because I have had so many fantastic experiences but probably my concert in the Royal Albert Hall at the Last Night of the Proms – the atmosphere was so amazing and so friendly! I also enjoyed playing for 40,000 people in Hyde Park – very exciting indeed to see all those faces!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

My definition of success is simply to be playing to the very best of my ability.

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

The most important thing is to be yourself. Anything less than that will come across as un-natural and superficial so it’s important to be authentic

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

I’d like to be enjoying a career in broadcasting, as well as some motivational speaking, plus finding some time for hobbies and seeing plenty of my friends and family!

Tasmin Little performs at Music at Paxton with pianist Piers Lane on 23 July in a programme including music by Schubert, Brahms, Ireland, Vaughan Williams and Franck.

Further information


Tasmin Little has firmly established herself as one of today’s leading international violinists. She has performed on every continent in some of the most prestigious venues of the world, including Carnegie Hall, Musikverein, Concertgebouw, Philharmonie Berlin, Vienna Konzerthaus, South Bank Centre, Barbican Centre and Royal Albert Hall, Lincoln Center and Suntory Hall.

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

My parents introduced me to several activities when I was very young; there was ballet and sports (I reached competition level in swimming). Music was already present in the house – my father was a surrealistic painter and always worked while listening to music in his studio. But it wasn’t until we visited a friend who owned a piano that the idea cthat I could start taking lessons came about.

Later on, growing up, I started making a selection, making my own choices. First, I decided to stop ballet in order to learn the violin. I was already leaning more towards music. But soon I realized that the piano was closer to my heart and my abilities, and at age 12 I told my parents I wanted to pursue music seriously.

Since then, and despite the many ‘detours’ and experiences I had – undergoing an academic course and taking a two-and-a-half-year break from music in my mid twenties –  an inner calling has always led me back to the piano and that motivated me to pursue a career in music. Intuitively, I understood that this professional path would satisfy the needs of my body, mind and soul at the same time. It is a balance of intellectual and manual work. Indeed, I perceive “art” in its full meaning, crystallized by the Ancient Greeks in the word τέχνη (technè), which gave our modern word “technique”, but, depending of the context, could signify both craft-like knowledge, skill and “art” – that is to say, the capacity to express emotions. Another ancient concept that I find particularly interesting to describe a musical career comes from Dionysius from Halicarnassus that talks about introducing “diversity into homogeneity”. What we do is every day the same,  it is never the same. The possibility to reinvent oneself daily and the freedom that it implies in music is something that I very soon understood I couldn’t live without.

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

I have always been in search of a mentor, and wasn’t fortunate enough to find one during my studies. Until recently I have been looking for someone to fit the role, and fate made me meet Jorge Luis Prats, who inspired me for years as a musician, and the polished the artist I wanted to be.

On a personal level, my father’s paintings, work ethic and dedication to art and beauty have been a huge influence in my approach to music. My mother’s sensibility and at the same time practicality helps me to look at the bigger picture whenever I tend to get stuck in small things and details, since I am an eternal perfectionist.

On a larger level, I want to stress that the other art forms have always been an influence on my musical life, and they help to nourish it. Amongst them, poetry – I write poetry myself in Italian, French and English – and dance, everything that has to do with the body’s movement, as for me music is movement, flow.

Nature too, as much as it inspired composers, is something I have to feel close to in order to create.

In the end, I was blessed by my father’s surrealistic philosophy and imagination, by the way he taught me to look at everything that surrounds me with a new and personal perspective, as a potential inspiration, to make it my own. And to take time. To be an observer and a listener. This are crucial components for me in order to be a good musician.

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

Having access to a piano. Having access to a good piano. Nothing is more frustrating than when you want to play or have to practice and you can’t.

Evolving in a very conventional and constrained world – especially in today’s music education system – when you are different and your approach is unconventional. So a real challenge was and is to make my path and my vision accepted and not to be judged for not having done or doing things that are “expected”. Being a free spirit in a way is a challenge in the “business”.

Accepting where you are, being patient in achieving your fullest potential and enjoying the process!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I can honestly say that I am never satisfied with a performance or recording. The ones that I am most proud would have to be the ones that involve the highest degree of challenge as this is a factor that helps me push my limits. As an example, a recent and improvised recording of 3 contemporary pieces by French composer Jean-Luc Gillet, during an artistic residency with him, done on an old 1984 Steinway that had a very uneven keyboard and piercing sound in the higher register and that hadn’t been played for 15 years. But at the same time that piano had a wonderful soul and sound signature. When I manage to reach new levels of interpretation on challenging instruments, that’s when I am most satisfied.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It tends to change, as it is deeply connected with one’s maturity and knowledge of certain pieces. But in general, the repertoire that explores the sound possibilities of the piano. I have more a sonic approach to the piano than a technical one. That’s why the virtuoso repertoire doesn’t speak to me as much. I can’t really speak of particular composers or eras, rather a way of writing music. When I see a score, I know instantly if it is music that I will play well. And this goes from Rameau, Scarlatti and Bach, through Brahms, Rachmaninov to contemporary music. Piano is an instrument-orchestra, and I like to play the composers that best keep that in mind.

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

My father always used to tell me that he had more ideas than he would ever have time during his life to paint them all. And he kept lists of all of them so he didn’t forget them and could come back to them later when he has the time or inspiration to accomplish them.

I feel the same about the pieces I want to perform. So I keep a list of composers and pieces that I discover year after year. And by looking at the list, I start creating connections. Sometimes it is between composers and then I would do some meticulous research to find the right pieces to put together. Sometimes, it is precisely while researching on a certain piece that I create connections with others I know or I read about those connections in the literature I am reading.

I particularly like to put unknown or forgotten pieces in my repertoire, and I love to collaborate with contemporary composers and premiere their works.

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

If I had the ideal concert venue, I know I wouldn’t feel the same in it twice. Acoustics are a very subtle matter. They can significantly change between a rehearsal when the hall is empty and the actual performance, where the filling of the hall with members of the audience can sometimes drastically modify your perceptions. For me it is also a matter of having or creating the right energy. Some venues have better “energies” than others, but the audience’s energy is equally important, no matter where you perform. In the end, because these are all factors that you can’t control, I’d like to think that the best concert venue has to be in the musician’s mind, in a process that is close to what Glenn Gould described in the way that you have to recreate a “good piano” conditions in your mind when you have to play on a not so good instrument.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who are passionate and have a “signature sound”. But in order to keep an interpretative authenticity, I don’t listen to classical pianists too much. I am fascinated by some conductors – Kurt Masur, Seiji Ozawa, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel…

Outside the classical world, amongst the ones that I keep going back to and that have emerged as inspirational figures, I would like to mention: Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, jazz pianist, Estrella Morente, flamenco singer, Hayley Marie, lead vocalist of Australian indie rock band “The Jezabels”, the rock band “Dream Theater”, Lisa Gerrard, Rodrigo Costa Felix, fado singer, and many others…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One where I came out of my body and was able to watch myself perform from the outside, as if I was a spectator.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not just as a musician, but as an artist, the greatest success is when you make the audience feel something, when you surprise them, touch them, and maybe, through your art, make them discover something about themselves; when they walk out of the concert hall and they are a new person; when your art has an impact on someone’s life and is able to bring hope.

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

Humbleness. To be aware that everything has already been created, and the only approach possible to art is by being true to yourself and authentic.

And to not be afraid to question yourself and not always find the answers. And to take time. Even time off, if needed. Sometimes taking a break will make you evolve much faster afterwards.

Of course, as in all classical disciplines, an almost sacred devotion to music is necessary in order to do it justice (from work ethic and rigour, to the life sacrifices that a musical career involves, to achieving a mind, body and spirit balance…)

And to be smart. You are who you are without all the expectation and pressure or the perspective of what people think of you. Taking all that aside and really homing in on who you are and embellishing it with your craft is the way to go.

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

I live in the moment, and try to be as “present” as possible. I live from day to day and can’t see myself a week from now, let alone 10 years in the future!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be at peace with oneself. Live life to its fullest without having any regrets.

What is your most treasured possession?

My parents’ handwritten notes.

What is your present state of mind?

I am constantly in a meditative state of mind, with a flow of different thoughts in it.

 

 

Ida Pellicioli’s website

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

Whilst on a German school exchange to Munich when I was fifteen I was taken to a performance of Berg’s Lulu in the Nationaltheater. I had never seen or heard anything like it before in my life and decided on the spot that I wanted to be a composer, especially of dramatic music (i.e. theatre, opera, ballet, film)

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

Meeting Olivier Messiaen while I was a student at the Royal College of Music confirmed my lifelong passion for his music. At that time I studied and loved Britten’s operas, and learned much about dramatic timing and word setting. I’ve also had a lifelong love of the music of Leoš Janácek, who still remains a strong influence. The concision of his writing, his limitless imagination in the development of motifs and his sophisticated melodic curves of speech continue to fascinate me.

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

I had the good fortune to be offered a lot of film commissions in my thirties and forties. One of the challenges was to put aside enough time each year to compose at least one major concert piece. It sometimes became frustrating not to have enough time in the year to develop compositional ideas. It was for this reason that, when I retired from film music four years ago, I decided to take a PhD at Bristol University in order to really get to grips with composition technique and to become more familiar with what is being written today.

Of which works are you most proud?

One of the works I wrote for the PhD was called Kalon, for string quartet and string orchestra. What is unusual about it is that the two string groups perform almost throughout in different simultaneous tempi. I nearly abandoned it twice, so difficult was it to write clearly in polytempo without it sounding a mess. When I heard the Czech Philharmonic play it for the Signum Classics recording I felt so glad that I had stuck with it and that the piece really works.

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

I’ve always needed to work to a deadline, even if the deadline is three years off. I have a fear of the piece either not being ready or not being the best I can write, so I tend to finish a commission months before it is due for delivery. This means I can sit with it, re-visit and change or improve large or small things before it is published and the parts are sent to the performers. With my second violin concerto Niobe I persuaded the Czech Philharmonic, who commissioned it, to let me have a playthrough with the wonderful soloist Tamsin Waley-Cohen four months before the first rehearsal. I learned so much from the experience and, as a result, revised several passages to give it even more punch and dramatic impact. In such circumstances my publisher Nimbus Publishing were endlessly patient in allowing me to re-print the score and parts for what turned out to be the definitive version that we premiered and recorded.

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

Knowing the choir, orchestra or soloists is always a pleasure.

Pietà is my third commission for the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and as well as knowing the choir very well I am always thrilled to work with their conductor Gavin Carr. Gavin heard the piece at different stages of the composition and made a number of incisive observations about voicing and the overall impact of the work’s structure and climaxes. I feel very lucky to have worked with collaborators like him, and Pietà is dedicated to Gavin in thanks for all his support and encouragement over many years.

How would you characterise your compositional/musical language?

Hard to answer this one meaningfully. I’ve always felt a need to communicate with my music and consequently have tried, without limiting the freshness or originality of the work, to make it accessible and direct. Having experimented with atonal and serial music in my twenties I am now more interested in using different forms of modal music, or even triadic harmony in new ways. During the PhD I chose my thesis topic as polyrhythm, polymetre and polytempo, and I think my music is characterised by a rhythmic dynamism and freshness. People have also told me that my music is very melodic, and creating well-crafted melodic material remains one of my preoccupations.

How do you work?

I mostly work in my studio in the village in Oxfordshire where I live. The studio has inspiring views on a small lake and I work on a lovely Yamaha grand piano that is also aligned to a computer on which I write with Sibelius. I often sketch on manuscript paper, then go into short score or full orchestral. Occasionally I have ideas in the middle of the night and come downstairs to work for an hour or so. Mostly, I put in about eight hours a day and never work during the evenings, as my brain would be too stimulated to be able to sleep.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Having people want to perform and hear my music is entirely my definition of success. Creating music that is good to play, sing or listen to is all I can hope for. If at a concert someone comes up after a performance and says they sincerely enjoyed the piece, or were visibly moved by it, makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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

If asked, I always tell composers to follow their hearts and their instinct, to write what they want to write rather than what is considered fashionable or in vogue. I hope they will write or perform out of love for what they do, rather than for the critics or the approval of a small elite. But this is just my own experience, and every musician has to follow their own path and create their own truth.

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

At this stage of my life I have decades of experience behind me of writing music in every genre, from commercial to art music. I hope that, energy and good health permitting, I still have my best work to come. I am a great admirer of the Japanese artist Hokusai, who said that nothing he created before his seventieth year amounted to very much, but by the age of seventy he was just getting the hang of painting. I like to think that, aged 65, I am beginning to get the hang of writing music.

The world première of Pietà, a new work by Richard Blackford, which will take place at the Lighthouse, Poole on Saturday 22 June 2019. Pietà is a setting of the Stabat Mater, with additional poems by the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. The work will be recorded for Nimbus shortly after the first performance. The London première will be on Saturday 19 October 2019 at the Cadogan Hall. 

Further information


Richard Blackford studied composition with John Lambert at the Royal College of Music, then with Hans Werner Henze in Rome. Early awards include the Tagore Gold Medal, the Ricordi Prize and the Mendelssohn Scholarship. He was first Composer-in-Residence at Balliol College Oxford, and later Composer-in-Residence to the Brno Philharmonic in the Czech Republic. His works were performed in the major music festivals of the world, including Adelaide, Berlin, Brighton, Montepulciano, Cheltenham, Long Island. He has composed in virtually every medium, including opera, choral, orchestral, theatre, film and ballet, with his most recent ballet Biophony (2015) in collaboration with Bernie Krause and Alonzo King, winning “Best Contemporary Performance 2016” in the Italian dance magazine Danza&Danza. As a media composer Richard was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music for his 4-hour score for the CNN/BBC series Millennium, and in 2015 was awarded Die Goldene Deutschland for services to music in Germany. His literary collaborators include; Ted Hughes, Maya Angelou and Tony Harrison. He is a Director of the charity Music For Youth, President of the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, a Trustee of the Aberystwyth MusicFest and Trustee of The Bach Choir.

Richard Blackford’s music is published by Novello and Nimbus Publishing.

 

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

I actually started university with plans to do a double degree in maths and music. At a certain point though I realized that to not do music would be a much bigger decision than to continue on in the field – I’d been playing violin for basically my whole life and couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t something I did!

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

I’d been very lucky to work with some great musicians, both as mentors and colleagues. I had the privilege of working with Yehudi Menuhin as a teenager, and more recently have had the chance to learn from and work with some of the world’s greatest conductors. I started my career quite young, as I won a position in the Montreal Symphony when I was 19. The first conductor I worked with there was Zubin Mehta, and continuously had great artists performing on stage five feet away from me. I quickly realized that there was a lot I could learn from getting to perform with the world’s best!

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

Like many fields, work-life balance in the classical music world is not easy and takes a lot of care. I travel a lot for performances, and finding the mix between touring life and family can be difficult. I’m lucky in my career to have had the chance to do many different things, including teaching, orchestra, chamber music and solo touring. Keeping on top of everything can be tough- I’m lucky to live in the days of cell phones and emails though!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Too many to mention! I really love recording, and I’m really happy to have had the chance to record Scheherazade with Peter Oundjian and the TSO when I first joined the orchestra. I’m also really proud of a recent New Orford String Quartet disc of Brahms Quartets, for which we won a JUNO!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Ha – whatever I haven’t played recently and I’m excited to revisit? I think this changes throughout one’s life – I feel great about coming back to certain pieces a learned as a kid – many of the standard concerti. I think living with a piece for a long time is a great way to feel comfortable with it.

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

Generally, this is a bit of a joint decision; with concerti it depends what the orchestra that I’m playing with has or hasn’t done recently, and with chamber music it’s a discussion with my colleagues. I find it interesting to tie in programs that might have a connection that people don’t realize, and I really love variety in programming within a single concert. It’s fascinating to hear how certain pieces are influenced by what came before them or what might have been going on around them in the world at the time of their creation.

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

I love touring and getting to experience different halls around the world. I always love to play in Carnegie Hall because of the history there, and I think that Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is just about the most beautiful looking and sounding building that I’ve ever seen!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’d have to say performing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with Sir Yehudi Menuhin as conductor while I was still in university. The audience wouldn’t stop clapping after the first movement (it perhaps wasn’t a standard symphony-going public, but a lot of the general public wanted the chance to see such a legend live in concert…) and he thought the whole thing was hilarious. He was on stage laughing while I had no idea what to do!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think this varies from person to person. It’s so hard to make a living in classical music, and I think anyone who can actually perform great music for a living should be thrilled!

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

That’s a hard question to answer—so much of what we learn is through the process of doing, and needs to be experienced rather than taught. I personally find it hard to find a balance between striving for perfection, but accepting human frailty; I think to be successful in music one has to be a real perfectionist, but also to understand that perfection isn’t necessarily attainable and that audiences aren’t actually looking for a “perfect’ performance, but rather for something special to be communicated between performer and listener.

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

Specifically, where? Perhaps on a beach somewhere—it’s cold in Toronto right now! Seriously, I’d be happy to be exactly where I am right now…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Finding the perfect balance between life, family, career and everything else! Of course this balance is almost impossible to find, but I think the search is important.

What is your most treasured possession?

I guess everyone would expect me to say my violin? I’m not really sure honestly—things don’t last forever. I really like the recent studies that show that experiences make people much happier than things. Memories don’t wear out.

What is your present state of mind?

Somewhere between extremely relaxed and very stressed about all the things I need to do in the next two hours. Ask me again tomorrow and it will probably be exactly the same.

Jonathan Crow will be featured as a soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on 28, 29 and 30 June, performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, under the direction of TSO incoming Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. Further information


Jonathan Crow has been Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since 2011. A native of Prince George, British Columbia, Jonathan earned his Bachelor of Music in Honours Performance from McGill University in 1998, at which time he joined the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) as Associate Principal Second Violin. Between 2002 and 2006, Jonathan was the Concertmaster of the OSM; during this time, he was the youngest concertmaster of any major North American orchestra. Jonathan continues to perform as guest concertmaster with orchestras around the world. He has also performed as a soloist with most major Canadian orchestras, under the baton of such conductors as Charles Dutoit, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Andrew Davis, Peter Oundjian, Kent Nagano, Mario Bernardi, and João Carlos Martins.

Jonathan joined the Schulich School of Music at McGill University as an Assistant Professor of Violin and was appointed Associate Professor of Violin in 2010. Current and former students of Mr. Crow have received prizes at competitions around the world, and work regularly with major orchestras in North America and Europe. Jonathan is currently Associate Professor of Violin at the University of Toronto.

In 2016, Jonathan was named Artistic Director of Toronto Summer Music, which recently announced record attendance in his first full season. An avid chamber musician, he has performed at chamber music festivals throughout North America, South America, and Europe. He is a founding member of the JUNO Award–winning New Orford String Quartet, a project-based ensemble dedicated to the promotion of standard and Canadian string quartet repertoire throughout North America. As an advocate of contemporary music, he has premièred works by Canadian composers Michael Conway Baker, Eldon Rathburn, Barrie Cabena, Gary Kulesha, Tim Brady, Francois Dompierre, Ana Sokolovic, Marjan Mozetich, Christos Hatzis, Ernest MacMillan, and Healey Willan. He also includes in his repertoire major concerti by such modern composers as Ligeti, Schnittke, Bernstein, Brian Cherney, Rodney Sharman, Vivian Fung, and Cameron Wilson.

Jonathan has recorded for ATMA, Bridge, CBC, Oxingale, Skylark, and XXI-21 labels and is heard frequently on Chaîne Culturelle of Radio-Canada, CBC Radio Two, and National Public Radio, along with Radio France, Deutsche Welle, Hessischer Rundfunk, and the RAI in Europe.

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

My chosen instrument is the voice, but I actually began my musical journey playing the flute. I was 14 years old when I was sitting in a corridor playing, then humming the passages back and fourth. The choir tutor heard me humming and asked me enthusiastically “why aren’t you in choir? you have a great voice!”. (At my school, you could only choose either band or choir because they clashed.) Soon after, the choir teacher created an after-school choir, and I joined. Inevitably, the choir fell apart but I continued to sing and she began to teach me privately. It was in our private lessons that she would teach me about Italian art song, folk song, lieder and eventually, opera. A few years later, I went to Cleveland Heights High School and received great guidance from my choral director. By the time I was 18, I was apart of every singing ensemble at the school, except Men’s Chorus! It was at this point that my choir director said “you were born for this” and I knew I had to become a professional singer.

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

There have been many, many influences and wonderful people in my life who’ve helped to cultivate my musical career. Early on, my high school choral director Craig Macgaughy influenced me the most. He opened my eyes to all different types of music and always encouraged me to audition for solos, to stand tall and to be proud my performance. “You must bow!” he would yell from the wings, as I leaned forward, feeling like I was going to crumble – but I never did. He didn’t allow it. Later in life, I went to the Manhattan School of Music and began to study voice with Joan Patenaude-Yarnell, whom I still study with. This is where I truly began to find my voice and my confidence as an opera singer. It was here that I learned about the bel canto technique, specifics about how the voice and breath are always connected, and how to truly breathe life into whatever I’m singing. I learned how to be a professional opera singer and I recognized I am an artist in my own right, which redirected my approach to music in its entirety.

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

One of the things I find challenging is the lack of time I have to spend time with family and friends. I think in any competitive career, striking a work-life balance can be difficult. With opera, the travelling makes dates and deadlines fairly inflexible. I’ve missed a couple of weddings and baby-showers because I have a rehearsal or a performance far away. As I get older and more experienced, I am finding ways to make time for both work and my personal life, but I believe that being an artist in the professional realm requires a lot of focus and dedication. This is a small sacrifice, as the pros heavily outweigh the cons in this business. As a result, my friends have started giving me dates more than a year in advance, to ensure my attendance!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve had the privilege of performing at Buckingham Palace singing Strauss’ Morgen with orchestra for a gala sponsored by HRH Prince Charles of Wales and The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (RWCMD). That performance sticks out to me because I met a lot of wonderful people, including Shirley Bassey, who enjoyed my performance and later gave me a scholarship to help with tuition while at RWCMD. I’ve also had the pleasure of singing for HRH Prince Charles of Wales at private events, singing Strauss’ Four Last Songs in St. David’s Hall in Cardiff and singing Verdi’s 4 Sacred pieces under Sir Mark Elder with the Hallé Orchestra. Favourite opera to date: definitely Falstaff as Alice Ford under Maestro Carlo Rizzi at RWCMD. She is such a fun, witty character to play!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Generally, I enjoy to singing Opera and lieder from the romantic period. I find that the texture and colour of my voice fit the characters, and naturally pick up on the nuances of the repertoire. Composers like Puccini, Verdi, Strauss, and Donizetti really speak to me. All clearly different and distinct in their own right, but it’s something about the words. The way these composers set them to music, develop a story within a story, paint the music with the words and the vocal lines – it’s like magic to me. I recently did a performance of Strauss’ Opus. 27 and I believe this music is all encompassing. It shows, musicality, difficulty in keeping the legato line always shimmering, and all the while thoroughly expressing the meaning of the text. I get to take the audience on a journey, rather than give them a performance of songs. There are, however, many composers that I adore outside of this period, including Beethoven and my beloved Mozart, who wrote some of the most beautiful and timeless melodies I’ve ever encountered. I am also passionate about American Negro Spirituals and I enjoy singing works and arrangements by Moses Hogan, Margaret Bonds and most recently, Ricky Ian Gordan.

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

Each year, I have a point where I sit down and evaluate where I am in my career and my singing. I am very aware of my constant development and of what is required to sustain and longevity in my career. I work with my teacher and my coaches to create 3 categories: Repertoire that shows what I can do now, rep that I am working on/will do in the next few years, and rep for the further future. After I’ve got my three categories, I then decide whether to accept or decline offers based on the criteria above and I do not waiver. I feel strongly that once I’ve decided a role isn’t appropriate, it is not a good idea to go for it anyway. I believe you do yourself more harm by singing a role or piece of work prematurely, rather than waiting until the time is right. I understand that sometimes exceptions must be made, and that’s OK. However, there is a difference between doing something well and doing something so well that it exceeds expectation. “Can I do this?” “Can I do this well?” “Can I knock this out of the park?” The answers to all of these questions should always be “yes” before you take the work.

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

I’m not sure that I have a favourite venue to perform in because I get excited anywhere I get to sing. That being said, I love singing at St. Martin-in-the-Fields because the church is beautiful and the audience is very diverse, being right in central London. I also love singing in intimate recital venues, where I can see and interact with people in the audience. For opera, I love the big stages/opera houses like the London Coliseum at ENO and the beautiful grounds and theatre at Glyndebourne. Quite excited for The Met next season!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Whitney Houston, Leontyne Price, Renee Fleming, Luciano Pavarotti, Vladmir Horowitz, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Enya, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gellespie – to name a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I did performance a long while ago at Oberlin in Italy from a scene in I Capuleti e i Montecchi and I remember finishing the performance and one of my friends who played in the orchestra was sobbing uncontrollably. When I asked him what was wrong, he said it was “the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen”. He’d never really heard opera or been a fan of the type of singing we do, but he was forever changed after that seeing that one scene. From then onward I learned just how powerful music is and how important it is for the betterment of our society.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Performing all over the world, making connections with all walks of life, moving something within someone’s soul, empowering women and men alike, inspiring those who’ll follow in my footsteps, creating a life that is filled with love, laughter, good food and beautiful music – this is what success looks like to me.

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

I like to keep things simple. So:

Be prepared. Be on time. Be a good colleague. Love what you do. Even if you don’t actually love it, find something in it that excites you. Practice until you can’t get it wrong. Trust the process, but also know that it’s perfectly acceptable to go the road less travelled. Trust yourself and trust your instincts. No one knows you better than yourself. Every once in a while, Stop. Relax. Smell the flowers and experience all that life has to offer. Seems cliché but most musicians need to be reminded from time to time that we are human, and that’s OK.

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

In ten years time, I hope to be doing exactly what I’m doing now: Singing at amazing opera houses and venues all over the world! I also hope to expand my efforts to help introduce classical music to children and adolescents, particularly from rough backgrounds. I want to start a foundation that serves as a gateway to the art form, and provides lessons and coaching to kids, regardless of their parents’ financial ability. Second to singing, this is a passion of mine and I am quite excited to see this through over time.

What is your most treasured possession?

It’s not particularly treasured, but one thing I travel with is place mat that I bought from Paris when I was 20 years old. It was my first time going overseas and I’ve had it with me on every trip since. Also quite handy, since I usually have an herbal tea at my bedside. I’m never ruin the antique tables, dressers etc. that I come in contact with at some of my amazing house and hotel stays. Simple but it gives me a sense of comfort, which is nice when you’re away for months on end.

What is your present state of mind?

I have this feeling of eagerness, or readiness bubbling in me. I’m excited to get my hands dirty and to delve into new projects. I am ready to take my artistic skills to the next level and I wake up every day thinking of new ways to challenge myself. I carve through my rep, paying close attention to the small details. I feel a sense of jubilation, like every day is a new adventure. I feel grateful, humble and blessed to be able to do what I love for a living. I live in a state of blessed assuredness.


Praised for her attractive singing by the New York Times, American soprano is the newest sensation on the international opera scene. Engagements this season include her debut with Welsh National Opera as Anna Gomez in The Consul, and her upcoming debut at The Metropolitan Opera as Annie in Porgy and Bess. She returns to St. David’s Church for a performance of the Mozart Requiem with Cardiff Philharmonic Choir, under Maestro Alun Guy. This season also marks the premier of Chanae’s original composition “My Words in People’s Ears” commissioned by contemporary artist, Anna Falcini in her latest exhibition, In Between the Folds are Particles.

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(Artist photo: Harlequin Agency)

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

One of my earliest memories is going to our neighbour’s house to play on their piano. Irene had been a professional singer and I remember spending a lot of time making up music – I must have been 4 or 5 – and she was really encouraging.

I got hold of a recording of Debussy’s La Mer when I was 11 or 12. I grew up a few minutes walk from the beach and I remember being absolutely blown away by Debussy’s ability to paint pictures with sound. The piece is still one of my favourites.

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

I went to the Royal Academy of Music junior department when I was 14. I was at a very sporty comprehensive boys school and those Saturdays opened up a whole new world of opportunity. My lessons were supported by a county council scholarship and it saddens me that these specialist opportunities for ‘normal kids’ from ‘normal schools’ are now so scarce. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that experience.

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

I had a real crisis of confidence about my composition at university. There’s a real pressure nowadays to have everything sorted early on I definitely feel that it took me until my 30s to write music which I was happy with and which I felt was honest and representative of me. Some composers do get themselves sorted very early on and the composing and publishing world perpetuates that, but through my teaching work, I’m aware how off-putting this can be for those who need to develop their creativity more slowly.

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

I always feel that the rough guideline of a commission helps to put a few marks on the terrifying blank piece of paper. Some ideas of timing, instrumentation and occasion do help to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve been lucky enough to be asked to write some pieces for special occasions [wedding anniversaries/birthdays/weddings] and it’s lovely to be reminded in this context that music is a gift: we are as composers giving music to an audiences and performers and its important to be mindful of that when we’re composing.

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

It’s a real treat to write music for musicians we’ve got to know. I wrote quite a few pieces for the Schubert Ensemble and it was a real pleasure to develop a real working relationship with an ensemble. The concerto I wrote for Simon Blendis [From Crystal Heav’ns Above] grew out of my relationship with the Schubert Ensemble and it feels like a very personal piece because of that.

Of which works are you most proud?

I’ve written a series of concerti over the last while. Aside from the violin concerto for Simon, I was commissioned by the Presteigne Fetival to write a new concerto for pianist Tom Poster [Laments and Lullabies] and wrote an oboe concerto [The Rider from Artemision] for Magdalen College School in Oxford last year. There’s something about the concerto genre which I love – the inherent narrative and drama seems to suit me.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

So this is the question I’ve been dreading. I mentioned the crisis of confidence I had in my late teens and twenties and it was due in part to spending time with composers with a very clear idea about what was ‘good contemporary music’. I’m delighted that many of the composers I teach now have a delightfully broad and eclectic outlook but I really felt a bit suffocated by what I felt was a very narrow band of composers writing music which didn’t speak to me.

People often describe my music as lyrical, a label which I’m happy with. And I always consider audiences and players when I’m writing – that triangle between composer, audience and performer is the holy trinity of composition as far as I’m concerned!

How do you work?

I was the slowest composer I ken for a very long time but I do write more quickly and more instinctively than I used to. I think you get better at trusting your own judgement.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I mentioned Debussy earlier and my interest in his music is a constant. Michael Tippett has always been a big inspiration: his music is so full of energy and colour and he was someone who very much ploughed his own furrow: the music is very distinctive, adventurous and creative. In the same mould, perhaps, is Judith Weir. I know a piece of hers after I’ve heard 2 bars: her musical language is not really like any one else’s and I’m always drawn into her sound world immediately. I’ve shared my life for many years with composer Alasdair Nicolson and he’s a great inspiration personally and compositionally. His music has real clarity and he’s one of the finest orchestrators I know.

I grew up in a music-loving household. Mum and Dad spent their 20’s at concerts of all of the jazz greats [Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong]. I know the great American songbook recordings back to front and Nelson Riddle’s orchestrations are second to none.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I’m delighted when an audience member pops up and says how much they got from a performance of one of my pieces.

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

Be yourself, trust your instincts.


David Knotts first came to public attention as a finalist in the 1994 Young Musician of the Year Competition when the London Sinfonietta premiered his first large scale work, Songs of Parting. The exceptional warmth and lyricism of these Whitman settings brought interest from many quarters and a string of commissions from some of the country’s finest soloists, orchestras and chamber-music ensembles followed.

These have included the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Endymion Ensemble, English National Opera, the Composers Ensemble, the Britten Estate (to celebrate the re-opening of Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall) and a series of pieces for the Schubert Ensemble.

Born in West Sussex in 1972, David Knotts began formal piano tuition at the age of seven. His interest in composition soon followed and he studied for five years as a junior exhibitioner at the Royal Academy of Music. He went on to study with Robin Holloway at Cambridge University, Robert Saxton at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and completed a doctorate in composition with Martin Butler in 2004. In 2007, he was made an honorary associate of the Royal Academy of Music where he has taught since 1994 and is also a member of staff at Trinity College of Music.

The genesis of David Knotts’ intensely lyrical and personal style can be traced back to his early settings of Walt Whitman. Since their première, he has been preoccupied with poetry and prose as a source of inspiration. Many of his titles reflect this interest in writers ranging from Virgil (Secret Gardens) to Viginia Woolf (…and fall and rise, and fall and rise again…/To the Lighthouse) and Tasso (Adorni di Canto) to Zhang Dai (Nightwatching: ways of looking at the moon). There is also a keen interest in folk poetry: Albanian laments in A Sea Green Partridge of April, Cretan love poetry in Bring Down an Angel and Spanish ballads in The Count Arnau.

David has also been drawn to compose for the stage. He has worked extensively with writer, Katharine Craik, a relationship which has produced two chamber operas, Stormlight and Bake for One Hour. His 2006 opera, Mister Purcell – His Ground was premièred at the Royal Opera House and his latest operatic venture, a macabre cabaret opera with writer and singer, Jessica Walker entitled An Eye for an Eye was premièred at the 2013 Bath and St Magnus International Festivals.

Recent highlights have included The Count Arnau for Bassoon and Orchestra, commissioned by the BBC and performed by all of the BBC Orchestras and a new piece for the Schubert Ensemble, On such a night as this is! premièred at the South Bank in a concert to celebrate the birthday of composer, Howard Skempton. This piece was subsequently featured in a tour of the US and was featured in the BBC’s festival of the music of Judith Weir and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Recent commissions have included a collaboration with Barnsley poet, Ian McMillan for Robert Ziegler and the Matrix Ensemble, (Outstruments: A Sound Adventure)The Long Way Home for the Lawson Trio (recorded on the Prima Facie label) Tsirana for Pipers3, Fossegrimmen for cellist Gemma Rosefield and a violin concerto for Simon Blendis, From Crystal Heavn’s Above. Recent commissions have included Laments and Lullabies, a piano concerto for Tom Poster for the 2015 Presteigne Festival,Toads on a Tapestry, a large scale cantata with poet John Gallas commissioned for the nationwide Magna Carta celebrations and Grimm Tales for guitarist, Craig Ogden. Future plans include an opera based on Shakespeare’s late romance, Pericles.

davidknotts.co.uk

 

 

(Photograph by Alasdair Nicolson)