photo: Malcolm Crowthers

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

Early years are formative so the environmental factors would include access to pianos (my dad repaired them at one stage) and listening to my mum’s record collection.

Hastings, where I grew up is also a very inspiring place. The American travel writer Paul Theroux singled it out in his tour of the UK coastline as “an artists’ colony full of optimistic romance and spirited intimacy”.

I played one of my piano pieces to Henze and (without knowing where I was from) he said it reminded him of the vague coastline of the south coast of England!

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

Channel 4’s series ‘Sinfonietta’, presented by the pianist Paul Crossley who introduced Berg’s Chamber Concerto. Spurred on by this, I bought a recording and tried to get to grips with this tough piece.

Broadcasts from the BBC Proms which stand out: I particularly remember Xenakis’s Keqrops, Barry’s Chevaux de Frise and Michael Finnissy’s Red Earth.

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

Surviving. Beyond that, every new piece presents an artistic challenge, even a more modestly piece such as this latest one for Jonathan Powell. Titles can be tricky. In this instance, I got the idea from a furniture shop of the same name, near the Columbia Road flower market in London.

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

Of course, It’s ideal to be commissioned (ie.funded,however small the fee!), but  the challenges are identical to that of a non- commissioned piece.

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

Jonathan Powell has a good understanding of my piano music, so it is always a pleasure working with him.

In 1999, I played ‘Flaking Yellow Stucco’ (for piano) to the composer and conductor Richard Baker and he noted a similarity with Jonathan Powell’s piano music. At that time, I didn’t know Jonathan or his work.

Which works are you most proud of? 

My Violin Concerto, written for Keisuke Okazaki. A few years after the premiere, it was recorded for NMC with the Esbjerg Ensemble conducted by Christopher Austin.

On a smaller scale, and more recently, I’m very proud of my ensemble piece for Ensemble Reconsil called “The Unrest Cure”.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?  

Oh, so many!

Of the more recent composers I’d include Aperghis, Babbitt, Dillon, Finnissy, Holt, Toovey and Xenakis.

As well as composing, I also play for dance classes and within this sphere the New Zealand born John Sweeney is without doubt the most amazing improviser I have encountered. He also accompanies silent movies.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The London Sinfonietta celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1989 at the Royal Festival Hall and a frail Michael Vyner (at that time artistic director of the ensemble) walked onto the stage to give a speech. It was a landmark occasion which was also televised, and with hindsight marked the end of an era. I particularly remember the new pieces by Birtwistle and Simon Holt, and the Suite from Henze’s opera ‘The English Cat’. I went backstage where Simon Rattle and Paul Crossley kindly signed a Birtwistle record I’d recently bought.

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

Don’t get sidetracked by commercial considerations.

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

London is a fantastic city so I’d happily still be here, albeit hoping for a halt on the unfortunate homogenisation and destruction which seems to have taken grip recently. In a nutshell, private interests prioritised above every other value humans might hold.

What is your most treasured possession?  

Besides an upright piano, a huge print I’ve got on the wall of somewhat dilapidated buildings in Cuba.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Besides more art-orientated things, swimming – ideally in the sea, but i like the Olympic Pool in Stratford.

What is your present state of mind? 

Cheerful

Jonathan Powell gives the London premiere of Morgan Hayes’s ‘Elemental’ on Friday 8th May at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hamsptead, London NW3. Concert starts at 7.30pm, tickets on the door.

Morgan Hayes won the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s coveted Lutoslawski Prize in 1995; he subsequently studied with Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. His early works include Mirage (1995) and Viscid (1996), the latter recorded by the Composers Ensemble for NMC.

Since then, a series of ambitious pieces composed for many of Britain’s leading new-music ensembles, has included Shellac (1997) for piano and orchestra, and Slippage (1999). An accomplished pianist, Hayes has also composed numerous works for solo piano, which have been performed by soloists including Andrew Ball, Stephen Gutman, Rolf Hind, Sarah Nicolls, Ian Pace and Jonathan Powell.

As 2001-2002 Leverhulme Composer-in-Residence at the Purcell School, Hayes’s major achievement was the ‘Tatewalks’ project, based on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and involving young composers in collaboration with photographer Malcolm Crowthers and with the London Sinfonietta, who featured the work in the 2002 ‘State of the Nation’ festival; the Sinfonietta also commissioned Hayes’ transcription of Squarepusher’s Port Rhombus for the South Bank Centre’s 2003 ‘Ether Festival’.

Hayes’ works include Opera for violin and piano, inspired by Italian director Dario Argento’s giallo classic Macbeth and written for Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea; Lute Stop (2003) for solo piano, premiered by Sarah Nicolls; Hayes’  2005 BBC Proms debut with Strip; and the Violin Concerto, a Birmingham Contemporary Music Group ‘Sound Investment’ commission, premiered by Japanese soloist Keisuke Okazaki.

More recent commissions include Original Version, for the 2007 Spitalfields Festival; Futurist Manifesto for string orchestra, commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra. A period as composer-in-association with Music Theatre Wales, resulting in Shirley and Jane, an operatic scena based on the career of Dame Shirley Porter; a Smith Quartet commission, Dances on a Ground (2009); and Dictionary of London, for the NMC Songbook.

Joanna Marsh

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

Although I have composed from as far back as I can remember, I went into teaching and organ playing after university, as I had no role model in composition and no understanding of how a person would forge a career doing that. It really was Judith Bingham, who I met in my thirties, who helped me make the transition to being a professional composer. She had a very practical and down to earth approach but she was also very inspiring and I felt a strong affinity with the way she thought about music.

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

I find that as a composer living in Dubai, I need to be highly proactive. You can’t sit around waiting for commissions to find you, you need to think up interesting projects and connect with people who can help make them happen. And actually it has been challenging living in a society that has no government funded performing arts sector as the priorities of a nation do largely filter down from the top. There are no professional orchestras or musical institutions in Dubai so the natural places for a composer to find work don’t exist. Things are subtly changing but Islamic Art and local Arabic Music will always be first in line for attention, which is probably as it should be.

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

The commitment and investment of others in a work is often very helpful. Composing is very solitary and although there may be collaboration at the point where you meet the performers at the first rehearsal, generally you spend many hours alone in a room working on the music, thinking hard and crafting ideas. A commissioner will provide an initial direction for these ideas through the occasion of the performance and musical forces offered. And then of course, they provide the most helpful thing of all, a deadline! I have been lucky enough in that no commissioner has got in the way of the piece so far. I have colleagues who have had their commissioners move the goalposts during the compositional process (actually we need a different length, sorry it needs to be for strings not brass…!), which can really create havoc.

How do commissions generally come about?

Lots of different ways. Sometimes people have heard something of yours that they like and get in touch. It is usually the performers in this case. But sometimes you happen across people looking for a way to mark a special occasion or anniversary who may not be the actual players. You suggest some ideas and it dawns on them that creating a piece of meaningful art could give relevance and immediacy to something they care about. Always at some point in the process ideas are discussed that catch a spark of excitement that lead the potential commissioner to think this work should definitely go ahead, and you should be the one to do it.

With my last piece, Rupert Gough, Director of Choral Music at Royal Holloway, came to performance of Act 1 of my opera My Beautiful Camel with National Opera Studio last May. That work was in collaboration with David Pountney who wrote the libretto from a story I had devised. Rupert mentioned that they were looking to commission a piece about the suffragette Emily Davison, who was an alumni of the college, for a date in January with the London Mozart Players. I remember excitedly telling David, who instantly poured forth a number of fantastic ideas for a choral depiction of the famous Epsom Derby incident. I could see that a musical record of the entire occasion and its aftermath could make a very interesting cantata and indeed it captured the imagination of Royal Holloway so they decided to go ahead.

You’ve collaborated with librettist David Pountney to create a work which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which first gave women the right to vote. Can you tell us a little more about the piece?

The cantata ‘Pearl of Freedom’ tells the story of suffragette Emily Davison’s ultimately fatal collision with the King’s horse Amner at the 1913 Epsom Derby. It opens with words that Emily Davison wrote in her diary about her passion for women’s suffrage. She uses the expression ‘Pearl of Freedom’ to refer to the prize that she was seeking, women getting the vote.

David created a text from original sources, juxtaposing factual elements from the day (the horses names, the riders, their numbers, their colours etc), with Emily Davison’s state of mind. He also includes commentary from various contemporary voices including King George V, the police sergeant on duty who listed Emily’s recovered possessions, and the Press. The only bit of text he invented is the race commentary before the collision between Emily Davison and the King’s horse Amner. He wrote this section in the style of Peter Bromley, a race commentator of a slightly later era, because no such live commentaries exist from this period.

Emily Davison was regarded as a loose canon within the Suffragette movement. Her militancy and extremism had considerably alienated the public. The work opens with jagged rising line of unison strings suggesting the intensity and turbulence of Emily Davison’s state of mind as she prepared and carried out her plan. She evidently knew that her actions would be far-reaching as she had commented to a friend that they should look at the press the following day. Her purchase of a return ticket to the Derby suggests that she was not planning to endanger herself fatally, however. The piece is around 20 minutes long and the final episode of the piece is devoted to Emily’s funeral, which was a very large scale public affair with 50 thousand people in attendance. The music of this section takes the form of a funeral march based around one of the hymns that was sung on the day “Nearer my God to Thee” with echoing quotes from Chopin Funeral March which was played throughout the procession.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

It’s easier for a composer to explain the intentions behind the creative process than to describe the outcome, which is the listener’s experience. But there are a few general points. For example I am certainly drawn towards tonality. I like the gravitational pull of it but always try to look for a means of expression that is not the obvious. I also enjoy using snap-shots of ideas or idioms from old or ancient musical works that can impart flavour but take off in a different direction in my own music. Development is important to me, I aim to find a strong idea and work it through fully in a piece. Clarity of structure is critical. An interesting or quirky idiom is just an empty costume when there is no actual body to inhabit it. And line is essential, it carries the energy that is the piece.

How do you work?

I work best with a deadline that is not too far away, or at least with some mini-deadlines to help me measure out the time! Usually I find a long time needs to be set aside for the pre-compositional process. This is when the idea of what the piece is going to be gradually appear as if out of the mist. When I start the actual writing I always find that the first two minutes seem to take an inordinately long time, much longer than any other section of the piece. It feels like ploughing a furrow for the very first time. After that the composing seems to move on much quicker, probably because the ideas to be developed further are distilled by then. And I always have to remind myself not to panic as I start to get to the end of a piece. Endings are difficult. They feel like bringing a plane into land; too easy to make a bumpy landing and you really don’t want to crash.

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

You need to be open to what life brings you in the most general terms. We can all get a bit fixated on what we think our careers should look like and look to our contemporaries for a benchmark. It is not helpful. Don’t just think of the next thing coming up as the real opportunity, better than what you are doing now. What you have on your plate NOW is the opportunity; focus on that and the future will take care of itself.

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

I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed living in the Middle East and I hope my connections here will still be alive and well regardless of whether or not I am still living here. Otherwise really I just want to be getting up each morning excited about the projects on my desk. That would be more than enough to ask for.

31st January sees the world premiere of ‘Pearl of Freedom’ by Joanna Marsh, a cantata which tells the story of suffragette Emily Davison and her death at the Epsom Derby under the King’s Horse. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, in which women first gained the right to vote. 

 


 

www.joannamarsh.co.uk

(photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega 2013)

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

I don’t remember the inspiration per se; just remember that I liked it from the beginning!

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

Leaving Japan at the age of 18 and coming to the UK.  For a long time I was undecided about whether to stay in Japan to study or to emigrate to see the “wider” world.  I feel the choice I made was the right one and I’m still here.

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

It often feels like extra work, having to learn pieces that are really hard and that I know I won’t play again for a while, if ever.  Then again, I do this all the time, as I love the so-called rarities so I can’t exactly complain…

On a slightly different note, I had a period when I seriously considered a career-change in the middle of my undergraduate studies.  My confidence level was at a record low then. In the end I came through to the other side and I am glad I didn’t change career only to escape the negative feelings I suffered from.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

For my latest Haydn disc from Artalinna, I intentionally chose his middle-period sonatas for harpsichord and fortepiano and recorded on a huge Steinway. I think it worked out pretty well.  I’ve been in love with these sonatas ever since I found out about them when I was a teenager and there’s a talk of doing Vol.2.  Please help us to make this happen!

The two great piano concerti (Catoire and Sherwood) I recorded with the RNSO for Dutton back in 2011 are both world-première recordings and I am rather proud of it too.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Beethoven: Piano Sonata Op.111

Boulez: 12 Notations

Chopin: Sonata No.3 Op.58

Elgar: Enigma Variations

Grieg: Ballade in G minor

Medtner Sonata minacciosa Op.53 No.2

Parry: “Hands Across the Centuries” Suite

Schumann: Concerto

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

I love exploring the lesser-known repertoire, both new and old, so if it is appropriate, I like putting together a whole programme with my recent discoveries.  That’s why I love playing in places like the Husum “Rarities of Piano Music” Festival in Germany.  At other times, I tend to recycle my old mainstream pieces as the framework of a programme and insert a few curios.

I am becoming more and more aware that I don’t have forever to learn everything I love, so I try to digest a few pieces from my “Learn by 40” list every season.

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

Not in particular.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I keep finding new favourite pieces.  My pattern is that I obsess over a piece for a while then move onto another obsession.  I remember my first real obsession was Ravel’s La Valse: I would listen to it numerous times day after day when I was 13.  Most recently, I’ve just graduated from Poulenc’s Dialogues des carmélites.

When I want to relax, I might listen to Nancarrow’s player-piano studies: they never fail to make me have a good laugh. Songs by Miyuki Nakajima are also on the list.  She is a singer/songwriter who has an iconic status in Japan.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

In no particular order and just off the top of my head – I’m bound to be missing many more.

Nelson Freire

Roger Muraro

Krystian Zimerman

Oleg Boshnyakovich

Rudolf Serkin

Wilhelm Furtwängler

Glenn Gould

Pierre Boulez

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

This is more to do with the state of mind I would love to be in before each performance: I was preparing to go on stage in Salzburg. My mental conditioning was as best as I could imagine. I was not nervous but felt calm yet so sharp, I could feel I was going to play really well.  Then I went to the bathroom.  The lock in the cubicle was a kind which I was not used to.  And because I was so concentrated on my imminent performance, I couldn’t work out how to open the door and panicked thinking I got locked in.

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

I mostly find musicians who have serious non-musical interests inherently more interesting, not only as people but also as musicians.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m always trying to raise funds for the next recording projects, which I have so many!  Also just starting to push my new CD of Haydn CD mentioned above.

To coincide with this release, I will be presenting a programme including two of the Haydn sonatas, Nancarrow & Prokofiev in a new festival in Paris Festival Piano-Oxygene on 3 October 2014.


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

In a South American jungle looking for butterflies and orchids.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

I had a great cigar lesson with the great Cuban pianist Jorge Luis Prats recently (with his custom-made Havanas).  As a master of that art like him, one might get close, or at least I was made aware that that was the objective of the cigar culture.  For this knowledge, I thank you, Jorge!  My whole body stank of cigars for the next two days though.

What is your most treasured possession?
 

If music-related, it would be the first edition copy of Medtner’s book Muza i Moda (The Muse and the Fashion) signed by the composer.

Heralded by The Times as “just the sort of champion the newest of new music needs”, while being praised as “impeccable in his pianism and unfailing in his idiomatic grasp” by Gramophone, Takenouchi’s curiosity and a natural penchant for integrity makes his playing and vast repertoire unique amongst his generation of pianists: his love for the music of classical masters – particularly Haydn, Beethoven and Chopin – sits side by side with his passion for the music of Medtner and Rachmaninov, lesser-known British composers such as Sterndale Bennett and Parry, and the contemporary repertoire.

As a soloist, he has recently appeared on many concert platforms including the Wigmore Hall, Tokyo Opera City, the South Bank Centre.  He has also performed at festivals in Bath, Cheltenham and Salzburg and given recitals in the UK, Japan, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy and Canada.  His future engagements will take him even further to the Far East, including performances in Singapore and Vietnam.  His more unusual recent appearances include the Rarities of Piano Repertoire Festival in Husum (Germany) and the BBC Four documentary The Prince and the Composer on the life and music of Parry alongside HRH The Prince of Wales. Takenouchi’s discography includes Cosmos Haptic: Contemporary Piano Music from Japan (LORELT) as well as the world première recordings of works by James Dillon (NMC), Edwin Roxburgh (NMC) and Jeremy Dale Roberts (LORELT).  2012 saw two further releases: two piano arrangements of Delius’s orchestral works (SOMM with Simon Callaghan), and a highly acclaimed disc of piano concertos by Catoire and Sherwood (another world première recording) with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Dutton Epoch).

Since 2012 Takenouchi has been teaching piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (Glasgow).  He also returns every summer to give masterclasses at the Poros International Piano Academy (Greece) and Ingenium International Music Academy (UK).

  

Website:

http://hiroakitakenouchi.com

Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/takenouchipianist

Twitter

https://twitter.com/giroaqui

 

 

A round up of concerts, CD releases, and other events from people who have featured in my Meet the Artist interview series.

Pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi (interview coming soon) performs music by Haydn, Nancarrow and Prokofiev as part of the Festival (Piano) Oxygene in Paris. His new disc of Haydn Piano Sonatas was released on 15th September. Further details here

Platinum Consort, directed by Scott Inglis-Kidger, performs choral works by Howells, Batten, Tallis, Josquin, Sheppard, Purcell, Lassus and Bainbridge, together with the world premiere of Miserere by Richard Bates in a concert on Saturday 27th September at Holy Trinity church, Sloane Square, London SW3. Further information here

Hannah Woolmer, violin, and Daniel Roberts, piano perform at the Foundling Museum, London on Sunday 5th October. The concert includes music by Nimrod Borenstein. In November, Hannah and Daniel release a CD of works by Franck and Brahms. Further information here

Pianist Jonathan Powell tackles some of the most fearsomely difficult and lengthy music in the repertoire with performances in Seattle of works by Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892–1988), including Sorabji’s 1949 Sequentia cyclica super Dies irae, a set of 27 variations on the Gregorian requiem chant— seven hours of music in all, performed in bouts of roughly three, two, and two hours with two intervals. More on this pianistic marathon here

Congratulations to harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani for the Gramophone Baroque Instrumental Recording Award for his disc of CPE Bach’s Wurttemberg Sonatas. Mahan has recently been signed by the Deutsche Grammophon label.

Fortepianist John Irving is giving a series of concerts, masterclasses and lectures around the UK and in Europe, focusing on Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven:

4 October 2014: Finchcocks (Mozart Kegelstatt Trio and chamber music by his Viennese contemporaries – with Jane Booth and Peter Collyer)

31 October 2014: University of Hull – Haydn Keyboard Sonatas, 1.15pm – followed by masterclass for students

14 November 2014: Old Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich (Beethoven Trio for Clarinet, Cello, Piano, Op.38 – with Jane Booth and Ruth Alford). 2.30pm. Greenwich International Early Music Festival.

27 November 2014: Masterclass at Conservatorio “Benedetto Marcello” di Venezia

28 November 2014: Fondazione Cini, Venice: Beethoven and Mozart sonatas with Davide Amodio (violin)

30 November 2014: Holywell Music Room, Oxford (Haydn and Mozart sonatas), 4.00pm

21-4 January 2015: Masterclasses/Lecture-recital at Conservatorio dell Svizzera Italiana, Lugano

22 February 2015: Milton Court, London (Mozart’s 1764 ‘London Notebook’)

Another post to follow soon with more news from Meet the Artist…..

 

 

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