Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I really do not know, perhaps my older sister’s lessons which I liked to listen to from the age of 3. She was not doing very well, in fact she hated practising the piano ( although she always loved the music but not the work involved) ,but I was learning a lot behind closed doors. We had a lovely grand piano and the piano & me were inseparable, very strange for a child of that age. I was also constantly glued to the radio, in those days in Poland, all you heard was either classical music or propaganda programmes. I chose music!!

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

My Russian teacher Professor Tatjana Kestner in Moscow, Professor Wanda Losakiewicz, Professor Zbigniew Drzewiecki in Poland and my last teacher, Professor Ryszard Bakst at The RNCM in the UK.

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

Challanges? In a musician’s life there are always plenty of challenges. You have to challenge yourself all the time otherwise your standards will drop. As I have had a long break from the piano for various reasons, my biggest challenge is to re-establish myself again on the concert platform.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my recital performance I gave few years ago at Chethams School of Music during their annual International Summer School Festival for Pianists in Manchester (where I am a frequent member of the Piano faculty) just few weeks after my beloved sister Eliżbieta lost her long battle with cancer. It was a very difficult recital for me to play, in fact I was not sure if I could get through it. I have dedicated that performance and a CD which was recorded live during that recital to her memory. It was a very memorable and moving experience, and I received a standing ovation…

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love playing Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, most romantic composers – and Chopin of course.

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

It depends what I am asked for. I find that very often I will be asked to give all-Chopin recital. But I like to mix my programmes and deliver a variety of styles: it makes it so much more interesting and demanding, as you can show the different sounds and colours of the piano, especially when playing Debussy and  Ravel.

I still like to add new works to my repertoire, and I enjoy learning new pieces although it is not quite as straightforward as it used to be!!

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

I think the most fantastic venue I ever performed in was La Scala Theatre in Milan. The atmosphere on the stage and backstage was incredible. To think of all those wonderful singers like Caruso, Pavarotti, Callas, Frenni and so many others using the same dressing rooms: unbelievable!! (By the way, dressing rooms were not all that grand!!) Sheer beauty of both, recital room and the main hall, is something I will never forget and will treasure for ever. Wigmore Hall is another wonderful place. And of course very close to my heart is Chopin’s birth place, Żelazowa Wola, and Lazienki Park in Warsaw where you perform in the open air underneath Chopin’s monument. Sometimes you think he is going to say something to you – a bit scary!!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Chopin’s 4th Ballade and 1st Piano concerto, Schubert’s B-flat major Sonata D960 and Franck’s Prelude, Chorale & Fugue all feature very highly as my favourites but….. There are just so many pieces I love playing and fugues are amongst my favourites, in any style. Give me a fugue and I can spend hours poring over it!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Rubinstein, Richte, Gilels, Argerich to name just a few….

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few, but most probably the most intense and memorable because of where it was – Mozart’s Piano Concerto KV 466 in La Scala ,Milan.

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

It is very important to play to others, especially if it involves a new piece never performed before. Play with a second piano if performing a concerto, and make sure that you study the orchestral score well so when it comes to first rehearsal you are not put off by some new tune you have not heard when playing with second piano! Also learn to take criticism and benefit from it. It is not always right, but there is always some truth in it, so do not be put off, and persevere .

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Very happy to be on the beach in Villajoyosa in Spain or walking around Old Town in Warsaw.

What is your most treasured possession?
My piano and my cat Pudding.

What is your present state of mind?

Feeling hopeful that some of my wishes connected with stage comeback will come true.

 

Alicja Fiderkiewicz was born in Warsaw, Poland and began to learn the piano at the age of seven. Her studies continued at the Central School of Music in the Moscow Conservatoire, Warsaw School of Music and finally at The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where she was a student of Professor Ryszard Bakst.

Full biography on Alicja’s website:

 

 

www.alicjafiderkiewicz.com

 

 

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I grew up in a very much culturally, and musically, rich household, although neither of my parents were musicians. I started my piano lessons early, by the age of four (the Soviet-inspired music education system was then held in great and well- deserved esteem, for one to be judged as apt to pursue a serious, as it was, musical training was considered something of an honour); but it was not until relatively later that my relationship with the instrument and music making was definitely shaped: indeed at 12 I was privileged enough to assist Sviatoslav Richter on stage during his unforgettable recital in my hometown Tarnow, Poland (he let me hold down the bass notes in one of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux), while also sharing a conversation and the great man’s private moments. I consider this to be a very major, pivotal event in my life. Schooling over, I realised that the only thing I could do quite decently  was to play the piano, so it stayed that way, eventually evolving into a professional activity. Now it has become a way of life and I can hardly imagine it otherwise.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing?

I have long been fascinated by the “old school” of piano playing and its total mastery of the keyboard in all of its dimensions: technical, poetic, emotional, transcendental…….I do acknowledge the importance (and consider myself subjected to) and significant influence of the so-called Russian school of piano playing, both of Liszt-Siloti and Neuhaus lineage, its research of sound quality, lyrical expression, rhythmic drive, broadly understood articulation, both digital and epic, stylistic and structural intelligence (curiously and surprisingly enough I found many of these elements in Cortot’s Chopin edition that I value highly). There is also a timeless legacy of individuals like Horowitz or Gould which constitutes a continual and enlightened source of inspiration.

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

At the early stages of a career, what inevitably stands out as a challenge is having to deal with “glass ceiling’ and “moving sands” syndromes, on top of not letting one’s ignorance of basic communication skills and socio-technical tricks stand in the way of personal improvement and, ultimately, personal fullfilment. Understanding the secret life of a professional agenda punctuated by phone calls or lack of, understanding the particularities of different life stages and their impact on social/professional interactions, all this while trying to keep an “inner child” alive, constantly expanding, upgrading and keeping up with the repertoire, knowing it inside out and upside down at all times, being at ease with proselytizing and successfully funding oneself and one’s intimate passions; and also the ability to preserve some time on one’s own, not letting personal life to become a wasteland are but a few of the constant challenges to which a professional musician is subjected during his/her life. I think we would also all reasonably agree that what probably is the most difficult in a long run is sticking to however unrealistic goal, once set, and never diverting from the straight path to achieve it, as well as never giving up in the face of ever-increasing competition.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

During the last few years I greatly enjoyed performing both Liszt Concertos in France and in the United Kingdom and giving all-Chopin recitals, including on period instruments. I am very proud of my collaboration with the Rio de Janeiro youth string Orquestra de Cordas da Grota conducted by Ubiratan Rodrigues: during the Policia Pacificadora siege of Rio favelas in November and December 2010 we rehearsed, performed and recorded J.S.Bach’s Concertos BWV 1052 and 1058 (prod. Martin Voll for Otherwise Records). I am equally proud of my latest CD release Jozef Kapustka: Improvisations with Bashir containing my own improvisations in the oriental style, and where I am joined by Iranian virtuosi Bashir Faramarzi and Pedram Khavarzamini (sole distributor: DUX Recording Producers/Naxos, 2013). This recording, produced by Sanaz Khosravi, has been well received on both sides of the current diplomatic and ideological conflict.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

There are so many of them…… Great pianos, great acoustics, great public, great surroundings or any combination of these makes each experience unique and unforgettable. In terms of psychological impact, performing in some of New York venues while still in my twenties (Lincoln Center Alice Tully Hall, NY Public Library, Metropolitan Museum, Carnegie Hall) made a very lasting impression on me as I was striving not to be intimidated by all the great names, historic and current, that “made” these places.

Exceptional pianos, that one may get to play while travelling the world of concert venues, is another thread worth following in this context: I was allowed to “touch” Chopin’s piano on  a display in the Chopin Society in Warsaw, Schubert’s piano in Germanisches Museum in Nuremberg  and even allowed to practice on Rachmaninov’s piano exhibited in Steinway Hall in New York. No words can describe these moments: the feeling of living out a history, of what the French call “plenitude” (roughly “fullness” or “abundance”), continuity and unity. In 2011 I found myself performing Liszt Concerto No.2 (alongside Leamington Sinfonia conducted by Jenny Barrie) in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare’s burial place – and imagined both Shakespeare’s and Liszt spirits wondering freely around, somewhere up in the skies……

On a more anecdotal side, I had also a fair share of surreal moments in my career, once playing in the ancient seaside Roman theatre of Sabratha in Libya (then still under the rule of Qaddafi) to a virtually non-existent or imaginary public and feeling as if I were on a planet Mars, a blast of light and sound……

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

At the moment my favourite, both to listen and perform, are Rachmaninov’s Moments Musicaux op.16; otherwise the spectrum fluctuates freely, ranging from lesser-known, melancholy Baroque tablatures to Mahler Symphonies to Strauss Symphonic Poems to Soviet and American avant-garde (Ustvolskaya, Feldman). Nevertheless my all time favourites to perform are the two-piano versions of Stravinsky The Rite of Spring and Ravel La Valse, of which I made my own transcription, constantly in the process of being refined. Occasionally I also enjoy the “cheesy” side of the repertoire, with Latin sounds and rhythms or Viennese waltz extravaganzas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians are: among pianists Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Richter, Cziffra; conductors Celibidache, Scherchen, Kleiber, violinist David Oistrakh; and singers Callas and Wunderlich . Well, I guess everything has been said about these giants, the subject is probably largely exhausted, and any attempt to comment further would be  vain. As far as the contemporary scene is concerned, I will just limit myself to saying that I do have my “pros” and “cons”, however the issue is always delicate, at least since the phrase “de gustibus non disputandum est” has been pronounced in some distant past…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Besides having the opportunity to listen to Richter and Pogorelich playing live (1991 Lincoln Center recital), which springs to my mind as quite obvious a choice, I would like to surprise you  with the following story:

Whoever lived in Krakow, Poland, back in the 80s will remember the blind Gipsy violinist playing next to the garbage bin on the Florianska street. Stefan Dymiter (1938-2002), for this was his name (although at the time very few knew either his name or his story), used to perform in a way that stands not only against every teaching principle of every possible violin school but also overtly defies quite a few laws of physics, particularly that of gravitation; he was holding his violin with the right hand like a cello, his bow with the left hand and accidentally happened to be the most pure form of a musical genius somewhere in between Mozart and Ervin Nyiregyhazi. Among anecdotes that circulated later, he was rumored to refuse to appear alongside Lord Menuhin, whose playing he disliked; also the late professor Szlezer from the Krakow Higher Academy of Music had been known to be send his students to listen to the man play and try to pick up some of his technical tricks . Well, myself I could just stand there for hours and listen to his inimitable, God-given sound……

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

It is important to bear in mind that one plays the piano not with  fingers but with the  mind, soul and spirit or with what the ancient Egyptians called “the divine breath”, Shou. This notion is to be somehow skillfully conciliated with the profession’s bare realities.

With a growing contempt for classical music as a highly demanding, noble art in favour of perceiving it as a somehow rather unsophisticated leisure, most conservatories are either deliberately out of focus with the “modern times” or simply are not equipped, in terms of human resources, to deal with shifting priorities,  dogmas, “old boy networks” and a die-hard reality of material strains and psychological violence (as a matter of fact they never were). We are expected to “build a career”, move freely between its different stages, develop and implement a “professional strategy” with the emphasis on “getting there”, no errors, trials and tribulations allowed; good old days of plain music making are no more.

While still within an “ivory tower” world of the music school, few understand that there is no such thing as “getting there”: either you are where you want to be or you are not, and if you are not, someone, let’s call him “the game master”, simply has to put you where you aim to belong, it is as simple as it sounds but you will not pull off the stunt all by yourself. While the right networking moves are essential, the real factor of increased mobility and visibility is spending power; it is evident that money  “buys” a “career”, not the other way around, so you’d better know what you are doing and most importantly, who is paying for it. The subject is largely a taboo.

Moreover, occasionally some wise spirits like to remind us, not without a twinkle in the eye, that music making is a passion and should be the source of infinite, nearly ecstatic pleasure. Yes, it is indeed. Therefore I stand by what I have said earlier in an interview for the London Royal Academy of Music online journal, if I may quote myself here:  As an artist be true, be genuine, be sincere, and be passionate. Do not imitate, it does not interest anybody, be yourself. Respect yourself, respect your colleagues. Be faithful and decent. And last but not least: “Work hard, see large, achieve!”

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 3, it has been with me for few decades now and I have finally decided to give it a try.

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

Probably where I am meant to be there and then. Here and now is always what it should be and it is the only valid notion in time/space travels.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A happiness within. Contrary to popular belief, one does not need objects to be happy.

What is your most treasured possession?

Sviatoslav Richter handwritten message: “I wish you much happiness and success”

What do you enjoy doing most?

Walking in the countryside

What is your present state of mind?

Alert

Jozef Kapustka was born in 1969. He began receiving early musical tuition from local instructor Danuta Cieślik at the age of 3. He then briefly studied at the State Higher Academy of Music in Kraków with Ewa Bukojemska. Having graduated from The Juilliard School in New York (Bachelor of Music degree, 1992; piano with Josef Raieff, then Jerome Lowenthal and chamber music with Joseph Fuchs), he moved on to obtain a Postgraduate Advanced Studies Diploma specializing in piano performance from the Royal Academy of Music in London (1997), with Martin Roscoe. He also worked with Dimitri Bashkirov (masterclasses held under auspices of the Queen Sofía College of Music in Spain) and Vera Gornostaeva in Paris and Moscow.[2] Being an alumnus of the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, 1991, he holds a Diplome superieur de la langue et civilization francaise from Paris Sorbonne University (1994). In 1994 he received a Grand Prix of the Conservatoire International de Musique de Paris. He was nominated for the Molière award in 2010 (Best musical play: Diva à Sarcelles, written and directed by Virginie Lemoine).

www.jozefkapustka.net

This weekend sees a celebration of all things piano at London’s Institut Français, with workshops, lectures, film screenings and performances. In the run up to this surfeit of piano goodness, I am delighted to be publishing Meet the Artist Interviews with some of the performers, including acclaimed French pianist Pascal Rogé (who also performs at Wigmore Hall in June) and harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss. The first interview is with French pianist David Bismuth.

Full details about the festival here:

www.institut-francais.org.uk/itsallaboutpiano

This marks an interesting and exciting new development in my Meet the Artist project – a podcast interview with pianist and conductor Alisdair Kitchen.

The motivation behind this interview is Alisdair’s fascinating and highly enjoyable #twittergoldberg’s project in which over the course of a month he has released on Twitter a single variation from Bach’s iconic work every day, with an accompanying commentary to each variation on Norman Lebrecht’s blog Slipped Disc.

In the first part of our interview, we discuss the Goldberg Variations and the background to Alisdair’s #twittergoldbergs project, what Glenn Gould might have made of the #twittergoldbergs project and social media. In the second part (published 3rd September), we talk more generally, covering aspects such as teachers, inspirations and influences, and forthcoming projects.

Alisdair’s complete recording of the Goldberg Variations is available here

www.alisdairkitchen.com

Twitter @alisdairkitchen

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and make it your career? 

My grandfather was a composer, so he definitely inspired me. My mum did a music degree when I was about 9 years old so we had a small music studio at home where I learnt to use Cubase. It was around then that I remember writing my first composition, a Morris dance that was used in a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my mum wrote the rest of the music for the production).

As for making it my career, I actually came to it fairly late – 8 years after completing my degree. At the time, I didn’t think it was possible to make a living from composing and I didn’t want to teach, so I took an office job to bring the pennies in. It’s only since getting married and having a baby that I’ve been able to stay at home and write music, but it’s been the best decision I ever made!

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing? 

I consider myself to be a self-taught composer, as I don’t recall ever receiving much direct feedback on my work. Even at university, our composing sessions consisted of listening to new music rather than learning compositional techniques and tips. This is my memory of it anyway! So my composing hasn’t been directly influenced by any teachers.

Instead, I would say that my main influence initially was music I had played in orchestras. I used to say that I wanted my music to have the harmonies of Debussy, the rhythms of Stravinsky, the Englishness of Vaughan-Williams, and the passion of Rachmaninov. However, since returning to composition in 2011, I’ve opened my ears to the wealth of new music that has been written since the time of those composers, right up to music being created in the present. As a result, my style has changed a little, I have learned a lot, and my ideas are more creative. I’ve started to look outside of music to find influences, for example ancient history and nature.

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

As I left it so long after university, I didn’t have any tutors to promote me, enter me for competitions, or show me how to turn this from a passion into a career. I have had to do a lot of research into how composers get paid, how to be noticed, how to get my music performed, etc. I have also had to find the performers for myself, something which would have been a lot easier had I still been at university and surrounded by musicians. This has actually been a good thing though, as I have made connections with a lot of fantastic performers.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I’m extremely proud of winning the Yorkshire Late Starters Strings composing competition 2011/12 with my 15 minute piece “Battle of the Winwaed”. The piece was written for the YLSS, who comprise adult string players of grades 2-8. To get round the challenge of writing for mixed abilities, I split the cellos into parts 1 and 2, along with the usual 1st and 2nd violins, violas and basses. I also wrote parts for a solo violin and solo cello, to add more complexity for those players of the highest standard. The orchestra performed the piece twice in 2012.

I’m also very proud of my third string quartet, “Cross Quarter Days”, which was recorded in 2012 and has been released on iTunes, Amazon, and on my website. The piece is in 4 movements, each representing one of the four key dates in the Pagan calendar that divide the year into quarters. It represents a big leap in terms of my development since the second quartet, written just a year earlier, and I feel it’s the work that best represents me as a composer.

Favourite pieces to listen to? 

One of my favourite pieces to listen to is Michael Torke’s July for saxophone quartet. It’s so funky, I don’t think I could ever get tired of it! Other favourites include the Rite of Spring, Turangalîla, the Planets, Ravel and Debussy’s string quartets, White Man Sleeps by Kevin Volans, Gabriel Prokofiev’s Jerk Driver… I also listen to a lot of 80s pop music and Steely Dan!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Performing Turangalîla with the County Youth Orchestra at Snape Maltings, I think it was in 2003. Such an overwhelming piece to perform, and in such a fantastic venue. I feel very privileged to have had that experience. I remember walking off stage with my cello at the end and saying to the conductor, “wow, that was amazing!”.

Regarding performances of my own work, the most memorable is probably when I performed my own concerto for cello and string orchestra at university in 2002. Having my Christmas carol “On A Gentle Winter’s Night” performed in Guildford cathedral in front of 1000 people in 2001, and then its second performance in New Zealand last year, are also very memorable occasions!

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

Be true to yourself. Don’t give up. Have an open mind. Listen. Network. Take criticism constructively. Make things happen, don’t sit around waiting to be noticed.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m currently about halfway through my largest commission so far – a 25 minute suite for full symphony orchestra entitled “Legends of the Tor”. The work will be in 5 movements, each referencing a different legend relating to Glastonbury Tor in Somerset. The piece has been commissioned by my local symphony orchestra, after they successfully applied for a highly competitive “Community Music” grant from the BBC Performing Arts Fund. The community element will be the involvement of 5 local schools, who will each have a group of children composing their own music on the theme of “Myth and Legends”, with the help of workshops led by myself and members of the orchestra. The children will perform their pieces at the concert in June when the orchestra will premiere my piece.

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

My goal is a commission for the BBC Proms! I’ve set myself a 10 year target, so we’ll see what happens! Failing that, I’d be happy to have my music performed regularly and to continue receiving commissions so that I can carry on writing.

Alison Wrenn’s new work for piano trio Between the Mountains and the Sea receives its premiere at the Halstatt Classics Music and Literature Festival on 17th August. Further details here

 

Alison Wrenn (b.1981) is a British composer, whose style brings together influences from the English Pastoral Tradition, elements of popular music and media music as well as strains of Celtic and some aspects of American minimalist music.

Full biography

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

My mother taught me to read prior to kindergarten. The nuns at St. Athanasius considered this a problem, as i would be bored and get into trouble. they offered piano or French lessons at $15 a week as an ultimatum. I remember my first piano lesson, and reading music made immediate sense; a connection was made and i never looked back.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

I most admire some of the greats from the past: Rachmaninoff, Schnabel, Gould. i am also inspired by string instruments in their capacity for true expression. with that in mind, i presently gain most inspiration from the kids who play on From the Top, and my colleague, Matt Haimovitz.

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

Dealing with adverse reactions to my crossing genre lines in my choice of repertoire, mostly from Neanderthals of the Classical music industry.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Knowing when to lead and when to follow, reacting and interacting in the moment.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

My upcoming Liszt recording of the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique and other Liszt arrangements; my Stravinsky record; both of my Radiohead CDs.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

Hard to choose, but Mechanics Hall in Worcester is a great recording venue, ditto the Academy of Arts and Sciences in Upper Manhattan; Meyerson Hall in Dallas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Nicolaus Harnoncourt, Jordi Savall, Sir James Galway, Bernard Herrmann, Danny Elfman, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Matt Haimovitz

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Listening: my teacher, Russell Sherman in numerous recitals
Performing: collaborating with Matt, Sir James

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

Rachmaninoff and Ravel are two favourites to perform, also Shostakovich.
I listen to The Bad Plus, Bill Evans, Elliott Smith

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

That one’s own creation of the present moment in music is most important, not submitting to some foregone conclusion as to what’s appropriate.

What are you working on at the moment?

Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninoff Concerto #1

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

Costa Rica

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Spending all day with my cats

What is your most treasured possession?

Elliott, my Tonkinese cat

What do you enjoy doing most?

Reading

Christopher O’Riley appears with Lara Downes in The Artist Sessions on 29th May, at the historic Yoshi’s SF, with a performance of his new Oxingale Records BluRay/CD O’Riley’s Liszt.

Christopher O’Riley is an American classical pianist and public radio show host. He is the host of the weekly National Public Radio program From the Top. O’Riley is also known for his piano arrangements of songs by alternative artists, including alternative rock band Radiohead.

Christopher O’Riley studied with Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory of Music. Christopher O’Riley splits his time between Los Angeles and rural Ohio. His radio and tv show can be found on-line at www.fromthetop.org. His personal website (including a full biography) is at www.christopheroriley.com.