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

Chance circumstance! I grew up in a tiny cottage with parents and three siblings, but close to my tenth birthday my grandfather died suddenly and it was suggested that I should go to live with my grandmother in her large farmhouse. From there being no space suddenly there was a great deal! There were few luxuries, but there was a piano, and my grandmother also had a general interest in music. Somehow I think that these two influences got me started. Before I had ever seen an orchestral score I had “invented” it, and by the age of 14 I had written three schoolboy symphonies etc…

Until the age of 16 I attended a very ordinary ex-Secondary Modern school (metalwork, technical drawing, milking the cows and horticulture). I recall taking my Midnight Symphony (80 pages of full score) to the music master one day who practically fell off his chair. He was very supportive and the piece was even performed by local music teachers. But my second stroke of fortune happened when I was awarded a scholarship place to the adjacent independent school. There they fostered my (probably quite thin) talent and enthusiasm for composing, and I was encouraged to apply to read Music at Cambridge.

How does a simple country boy end up there?.. Or three years later taking a doctorate?… I still wonder….

Important though all those were, I really had little idea of what I was doing, even less a voice or much technique. The Professor at Cambridge (I will not cause embarrassment by naming him) honestly told me as much; though I resented it at the time, he was quite correct. A few years ago I helped to commission a work from him, and gently reminded him… – we were both able to laugh!

In fact not long after my doctorate, and despite a fair degree of apparent success, I decided to abandon writing altogether. I looked through the microscope to see nothing; I also increasingly came to despise the whole new music world. So I hibernated for twelve silent years…

In 2001 I was suddenly fired up to write again. My good friend Michael Bell, pianist, directly challenged me to write again – it was a necessary, if rude, awakening! One of his students showed precocious musical gift and somehow these two catalysts, both playing in front of me daily, conspired to open my eyes to what had lain dormant. The result was a sudden flowering – it was as if a voice arrived ready-formed – the pen moved itself. I had never felt such confident ease in writing. This flood has remained undiminished now for fourteen years.

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

I am sure we can all think of specific “moments” – little glimpses of another plane. From my humble background of course everything was eye-opening, but as a teenager I was especially struck by encountering Schubert’s Die Winterreise, the delicate transparency that opens Peter Grimes, Strauss’s 4 Last Songs, Boris Godunov and so forth.

But the greatest sculptors of my musical psyche are the works of Leoš Janáček and Gustav Mahler, both of whom, like the painter Edvard Munch, dared to “compose their lives”, “to live in their compositions”. They taught me that music is not about playing games with notes, or some kind of “progressive scientific research”, but about conveying that life force that drives us, warts and all. We are each individual pebbles on the seashore, and each make our own splash in the ocean.

There have also been personal encounters: Robin Holloway, my first teacher, showed that one could fly in the face of orthodoxy (and God knows there is far too much of that “Emperor’s New Clothes-ishness” in the contemporary music world – …and recently, too!). His 2nd Concerto for Orchestra and Scenes from Schumann are personal favourites.

I learnt most perhaps though from Michael Bell. I truly think, through working with him daily in a music department and on recordings, that I finally understood how to listen, especially to articulation. There is a huge debt…

Recently I have become close friends Ondrej Vrabec, solo horn of the Czech Phil, and their Assistant Conductor. He has taken my music to his heart and become my greatest champion, commissioning and playing my horn concerto, and conducting other works.

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

I could mention having had to juggle my composing with a full time teaching post for many years. But far more significant is “the glass ceiling”, and sad to say, especially the glass ceiling in this country. The greatest challenge for any composer is a lack of interest. We need to hear our work performed in order to grow, and we are also fragile things on whom constant rejection takes its toll.

My real sadness is that so many of the people with power have no genuine interest in music, no inquisitiveness, and often no ears! I have lost count of the “jobsworths” who cannot get rid of one fast enough because the preconceived box cannot be ticked – it would not even occur to them to listen simply out of curiosity. Had I Beethoven’s talent it would be just the same. That is the greatest frustration, not anything more intrinsically related to inner struggle or personal compositional development.

Who are your favourite composers?

First and foremost, Leoš Janáček! I have held his walking stick, his conducting baton and the autograph scores of the Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass – incredible! One always hears his music as if it were for the first time. I admire hugely his coherent, cohesive sound world, his passionate drive, clear ideas, cunning textures and sparkling colours – how can one not smile every time!? I always do! Most of all, however, his was an utterly personal language but one which never lost its roots, or its connections with the listener. Compare this to what one now sees so often: a manufactured (and all-too-familiarly) empty desire simply to break the mould, or merely to relay the baton of progressive Modernism “logically” from one’s teacher to one’s pupil. No, Janáček had real genius.

….And then.. all the “wrong” people for a 21st Century composer…. Mahler, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Prokofiev, Nielsen, Sibelius…

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

Mahler 10, both as a young man and a few years ago at Symphony Hall, Birmingham with CBSO; and Jenufa at Opera North in 2015 – legs of jelly on both occasions!

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

As mentioned above, I am still at heart a simple country boy. The sheer magic of hearing one’s music played at all whether by an orchestra, ensemble, or musician, has never left me; particularly working with an orchestra, a beast so varied and “improbable” – a mysterious coalescence of so many musical minds! And one never, never stops learning!

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

Challenges?… Well – in short, a deadline! How many composers have missed those!? But also not having total freedom in the parameters of a piece. I will say, perversely, that I have been fortunate enough not to have been commissioned that frequently and thus have had the freedom to decide my own agenda and timescales. However, contrarily, sometimes an awkward restriction, or unforeseen stipulation can force a creatively productive exploration – perhaps my Storyteller is an example – a mini-concerto for double bass and ensemble..

Pleasures?…. The opportunity to work with specific performers who “share the investment”. That combined journey is truly special. Of course a guaranteed performance is always welcome, and the time spent with like minds, often in a nice location!

Of which works are you most proud?

This is hard. For me I only succeed when there is a feeling of communion with the listener; of conveying some powerful idea successfully – and if I am shaken up by hearing it, myself! If I may slightly sidestep this question, I feel that perhaps my most significant work is the ongoing Steps piano series, which is an unusual and wide reaching project. This format, five large cycles comprised of smaller pieces, has great potential for colour, variety, and feeling of “journey” over a long time span without exhausting the listener. Like a song cycle, these short pieces can say a great deal.

But I hope also that in time my symphonies and concerti will stake a claim to scheduling. Perhaps my 2nd Symphony is the most epic of them – like Mahler’s 2nd it is my own “Resurrection”!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

This is often asked and so difficult to describe. My sensibility is Romantic rather than Classical. For me both emotional drive and a sense of free, organic growth are vital. I am with Mahler: music should contain all of life! My work is quite traditional in terms of genre, motif, development and perhaps also formal structures. One commentator said that I wilfully ignored recent stylistic trends, yet sounded distinctively modern. I hope so….

How do you work?

I grew up with pen and paper, but predominantly now I work on a computer with Sibelius software. I rarely use a piano. This might be surprising, given my general stance, but I have gradually made the process quite spontaneous. I work interactively with “realised instrumental sounds”, which again I have learnt to “hear past”.

Another composer once said that he had changed from a traditional “successive accumulation” technique to become more like a potter with a wheel – throwing on a slab of clay and subconsciously moulding “on the fly”. This is my method, too. It all starts very crudely, and hopelessly wrong, but gradually refines.

However, I never cease mentally doodling – all day, every day!

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

For composers, maybe also for others, too, it is important not to try “to manufacture” a voice. So much of the 20th century is riddled with shallow people like that. One trick ponies who have grabbed a little nameable “-ism niche” for themselves. My “honest professor” above always used to say that a student should simply try to compose the best piece he can, and that if a voice is there it will emerge when it is ready.

Unfortunately the whole current arts system glorifies all the wrong things. Thus young composers and performers are thrust into the limelight (as I was) long before they should be, and are often discarded just as fast. What does one know at the age of 25!?…. To resist the “industry” and not simply to fill the expected template is very hard when one’s shelf life is ten years. For composers finding a true voice can take a lifetime. I wish this were better realised by promoters and broadcasters.

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

In truth, on a small island with perfect peace! Conversely, to avoid the tinnitus and deafness that may slowly now be robbing me of my art.

But more practically, I would like simply just to be writing, with others finding performances and recordings for me. So much time is wasted in being one’s own manager.

Artistically, I suspect that my voice is now quite settled and may not actually change that much… I am not a Stravinsky! But who knows… I would love to reach the obligatory nine symphonies (and Steps volumes)…

What is your present state of mind?

The “full half” of the glass is content to explore further my sound world, with plenty of projects in mind; the empty half is endlessly frustrated by being ignored and banging my square head on the institutional round hole.

More information on Peter Seabourne can be found on www.peterseabourne.com or Wikipedia.

VIDEO:  A COMPOSER’S LIFE – Portrait of Peter Seabourne

World Premiere of Peter Seabourne Piano Concerto no.2 given by Kristina Stepasjukova with the Academy Orchestra of the Czech Philharmonic. The performance took place at the Martinu Hall in the Lichtenstein Palace, Prague on 12th March 2016 and was received with tumultuous, sustained applause and much comment. It has already been partly broadcast by Czech Radio:

natasha-hardy-soprano6-1

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

The thought of singing and acting appealed to me from a very early age. I was always the performer in my family and as the middle child, it was the best way to get attention! Singing was a part of normal family life. I enjoyed singing at home, (although most of the time my brothers wanted to shut me up!) My parents always had music playing and were always singing. We sang regularly at our church, so it always felt quite normal to sing. I started to write songs from the age of 13 and had piano lessons from around age 9.

Singing always made me feel good, although I hadn’t ever considered it a career choice.  When I started to pursue my acting career, I took up singing seriously. Singing was originally to add a feather to my bow as an actress. However, unexpectedly, I completely fell in love with the classical technique; I had found a medium that would let me fully express myself. I was able to use my body in a way that allowed me to channel my energy and emotions. I could pour my heart and soul into it. It felt inevitable that this was going to be my career.

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

The most important influences on my career have to be my voice teacher Maryliese Happel, Mark Crayton and my mum.  Maryliese introduced me to classical repertoire and opera.  I had no idea about singing in this genre before I met her and to her I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude.  She taught me solid technique, taught me about my own voice and has always been an inspirational teacher.  She helped me ‘free the beauty of my voice’.

Mark Crayton (Roosevelt University, Chicago) who over the years helped me find my inner confidence through technique and performance master-classes. He has helped me find freedom of expression in my voice.

My wonderful mother, who calls me her little songbird, always wants to hear me sing. From the moment she wakes up, she is always singing around the house. My mother always made it feel really normal to just sing.

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

Self-belief and self-doubt. I have done lots of work to help myself through these challenges.  My top tips that have helped me include; meditation, positive affirmations, healthy diet & keeping fit.  I am a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind.

I always come back to a couple of sayings, allowing yourself to be both a work in progress and a masterpiece simultaneously, and my favourite quote from Martha Graham:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”  
― Martha Graham 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Probably my recital ‘Dans L’air du Temps’ at the Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair and the recording that I wrote and sang for a performance at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Puccini; I love his songs, his operas, and his characters.  On the surface they can seem simple, but underneath there is a complexity and strength to them.  The way he writes is inspiring. There is always a leading melody, and long beautiful lines.  As a songwriter, I know how hard it is to make something sound ‘simple’ and that is what I love about his compositions.  I also think I perform my own compositions pretty well, because I have written them. I know every feeling and every memory that has gone into the writing of every line, lyric and melody.  I do hope one day that other singers will want to perform them.

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

I try to choose pieces that are well known with the audience, combining them with unknown or rarely-performed works

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

Not really, I just love performing wherever I have an audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, Prince, George Michael, Faithless, Massive Attack, Andre Previn, Richard Rodney Bennet, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Hans Zimmer, Eric Serra, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and Maria Callas.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first ever concert.

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

Practice smart, know your words/notes, know yourself.  Get trained in the business side of things. This can take up a lot of your time!  Be determined. Don’t give up. Try to get a little bit better every day. Make time for family & friends, and most importantly, have fun!

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

In my beach house in Bermuda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Any of the following: Summer barbecues, listening to old LPs on a Sunday afternoon with family and friends, roast dinners, long beach walks, my poodle every time I look at her, getting to sleep in a bed with my favourite pillow and a duvet, waking up to another sunny day, the sound of rain, the smell of a forest, the touch of my grandmother’s hand, skiing, ice-skating.

What is your most treasured possession? 

An 18th-century French dressing table which has been ‘dipped and stripped’ about three times, it was my mum’s dressing table from when my parents first got married, and it has finally been restored and I use it everyday.

What is your present state of mind? 

Excited – relaxed – grateful.

Natasha’s new production ‘Lost in Love’ is premiered on Saturday 30th April at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London. Further details and tickets here

Natasha Hardy is a soprano whose eclectic repertoire seeks to demystify the traditional operatic world. Trained in both Classical and Contemporary traditions, her maverick approach has seen her work on several classically inspired projects, most recently an intriguing concert series of her favourite operatic works as well as those she has penned herself.

www.natashahardy.com

 

anna-tcybuleva

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

I spent my childhood in a small scientific town in the south of Russia. I grew up in a creative family. My father is a radio physicist, my mother was a musician. She opened this fantastic world of music and art for me. She graduated from the College of Music as a pianist and also studied in Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg as an art historian. We had a lot of books about music and art at home. While I was a child my mother often played for me, or showed gramophone records of great musicians. When I was 6, my mother became my first piano teacher. Aside from that, I studied violin, but after two years I made the decision to play only the piano.

I remember one important moment in my life. I was 10 and I prepared for my first serious competition for young pianist in Moscow. At that time I already lived without parents, studied with another teacher in a town of Volgodonsk (approx. 700 km from my home). My mother also came to Moscow to support me. But everything was so difficult… I missed home, my parents missed me. My new teacher was very strict with me, forced me to practise more and more. When my mom saw how difficult the life of her 10-years-old daughter already was, she told me: “Let’s give up music and go back home?” To which I answered: “No, mommy, it is too late to go back”.

From that moment I never doubted that I was on the right way, and my mom always supported me.

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

For me there is no difference between musical and real life. Everything that happens to me affects my outlook. In other words, I learn from everything. My parents taught me to be always honest and analyze what is happening. I learn from my dear teachers, who are also teaching me to be honest and to listen to the sounds. They are the same important people for me as parents. By the way, my mountain skiing and swimming instructors taught me to be strong and always keep working, no matter what.

When I take the music scores, read them and play, I learn from composers. Some of them have greatly influenced me and my views. When I listen to great musicians, I get inspiration from their way of expression, but never try to copy them.

Life influences me every day and gives the most important lessons. And the music helps me to understand and express them.

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

There are a lot of creative challenges in the life of a musician: for example, to play something, what you wanted to play before, but weren’t ready for; how to analyze and understand, how to unite the form of the piece in your mind. Sometimes this kind of problem interrupt my sleep. But for me, the more harder the challenge is, the more interesting it is. I will never stop searching for new musical challenges.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It is very difficult for me to be satisfied with my playing. Every time after my performance I know how to make the piece better.

It is too early for me to be proud of something, which I played. The big and interesting endless searching is ahead. I hope I will be able to reach something genuine in the future. But I will start thinking about it no earlier than in 60 years.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

The works which I love with all my heart I play well. If I open the score and don’t like the piece, it means that I didn’t looked at the score attentively. Then I try to find more interesting details (there are always a lot). I discover something new for me in the piece and attempt to better understand the intent of the composer. Step by step, I fall in love with the work and then I play the piece, which I love!

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

The choice of repertoire is a very serious thing. Sometimes I spend weeks choosing the programme for a concert. I often seek advice from my teachers who have more experience than me. We discuss each programme and decide together.

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

When I go to the stage, I get into a special private space, where I can imagine around me whatever  I want (big or small hall, empty or full audience and etc). There is no favourite concert venue for me. My feelings don’t depend on the external situation. I try not think about it while I’m on the stage.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I happy to play any kind of solo, chamber and orchestral music.

And I love to listen any musical genre in general.

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

The main thing in music for me is to listen and hear.

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

At home with my family, in front of a keyboard with scores and a pencil.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Fortunately, I don’t know yet. When the time comes and if I have a chance, I ask one man, who definitely knows about that.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Health and happiness of my family.

Anna Tsybuleva was born in 1990 and started piano studies at the age of six. Anna is currently a post-graduate student at the Moscow Conservatory, while also studying at the Basel Music Academy with professor Claudio Martinez Mehner.

In 2012, Anna took part in the International Gilels Piano competition in Odessa (Ukraine), where she has won the 1st prize. The same year Anna was one of the winners of the prestigious Hamamatsu Piano competition (Hamamatsu, Japan).

Anna has performed at a number of international music festivals in Russia, the United States, Europe and Japan.

In June 2015, Anna Tsybuleva won 1st Prize at the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition in the United-Kingdom, leading to many important invitations to perform in the UK and internationally.

 

 

 

(photo © Benjamin Ealovega)

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

I discovered the piano at a very young age but I remember feeling instantly connected to the instrument and knew almost immediately that I wanted to be a musician. I didn’t understand what that implied but I was very sure and have been ever since.   I also played the violin for about eight years until it became clear in my early teens that I had to be a pianist.

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

I’ve been so lucky to have always had wonderful teachers who understood how I needed to develop at different stages. I established a very good and solid foundation with my first teacher, Ilana Davids, so that when I went to study with Imogen Cooper at 14 I was ready to be introduced to a completely new way of thinking and listening. It was extremely liberating and overwhelming.

After that I studied with Joan Havill, who has so much experience and detailed knowledge both as a performer and a teacher. She has helped me tremendously to feel more in control of my body and mentally stronger on stage so that (hopefully) there is an uninhibited flow from the imagination to the keyboard.

Equally importantly, my mother has always supported and understood me and in a way we discovered music together when she took me to the Purcell School. Families often have to make huge sacrifices to create the right atmosphere for a serious musical education.

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

Trying to reconcile developing as a musician with developing a career and dealing with the business side of things. Being on time for flights.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I was proud of my performance of Bartok’s 3rd Concerto with the CBSO last November as I think it’s such an imaginative and subtle piece and I felt we were able to find a free and natural way of communicating with each other. My performance of some Ligeti Etudes in the summer felt like death but I adore these pieces and find them beautiful and fascinating and was so happy that people in the audience felt that too.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

It’s probably not for me to say, but I always love playing Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin and much more.

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

Pianists have such a wealth of great works to choose from and I always choose far more than I could actually play. I try to think of interesting programmes which have some kind of narrative or idea behind them and I also love including little-known works alongside more famous ones. I think a recital programme should be a kind of statement of one’s musical personality.

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

Wigmore Hall is maybe the ideal recital venue, and I also love Symphony Hall, Birmingham and St. James’ Church in Chipping Campden is really special.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Too many to choose from.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, there are so many, but just to mention a few, Alfred Cortot, Pablo Casals, Jacques Thibaud, Radu Lupu, Richard Goode, Alfred Brendel , András Schiff, Steven Isserlis, Imogen Cooper and Fischer-Dieskau.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The most recent one.

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

That the music is bigger than us

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

Here, with a whippet beside me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The Goldberg Variations

What is your most treasured possession?

My EpiPen, because I have a nut allergy and I literally couldn’t live without it.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Playing the piano.

Mishka Rushdie Momen performs at the Hebden Bridge Piano Festival, 22-24 April 2016. Further details here

Mishka Rushdie Momen, born in London 1992, studied with Joan Havill and Imogen Cooper at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and has also periodically studied with Alfred Brendel and Richard Goode. She has twice been invited by András Schiff to participate in his summer class in Gstaad as part of the Menuhin Festival.

In November 2014 Mishka was unanimously voted the 1st Prize winner of the Dudley International Piano Competition and performed Bartok 3rd Concerto with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Seal at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. In September the same year Mishka won 2nd Prize at the Cologne International Piano Competition and most recently she was a prizewinner at the Dublin International Piano Competition 2015. She was awarded the Prix Maurice Ravel at the 2013 Académie Ravel in St. Jean-de-Luz, France where she returned to give three concerts at the Ravel Festival last Spring. Previously she was selected for the Tillett Trust Young Artist Platform Scheme 2012-2013 and other prizes include the Kenneth Loveland Gift and First Prize in the Norah Sande Award 2012, First Prize in Piano at the Tunbridge Wells International Young Concert Artists Competition 2010, the Chopin Prize at the EU Piano competition 2009, Prague, and at the age of 13 she won 1st Prize in the Leschetizky Concerto Competition, New York.

Mishka has given solo recitals at the Barbican Hall, the Bridgewater Hall, The Venue, Leeds, St. David’s Hall , Cardiff and in the Harrogate and Chipping Campden Festivals. Her concert experience includes most major London venues including the QEH, RFH, Purcell Room, Wigmore Hall, and abroad in New York, France, Germany, Prague, and Mumbai.

www.mishkarushdiemomen.com

clio-em-photo-by-georg-aufreiter-691px
(Photo: Georg Aufreiter)

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

I remember asking my parents for a keyboard as a child and never looking back.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since my teens, but I decided that I wanted to spend a great deal of time perfecting my musical craft first. This would give me something interesting to write about later, a topic with which I would be not only intimately familiar but also passionate about.

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

My musical influences include but are not limited to Beethoven, Yann Tiersen, Philip Glass, Dolly Parton, Lana Del Rey, Edith Piaf, Leonard Cohen, Fever Ray, and Bach. My mom is one of my role models because she is the quintessential creative woman: she works as an engineer and is also a visual artist (halinamontrey.com). Tom Plaunt, Wolfgang Dosch, Anne Wieben, Karlheinz Essl, Barbara Lueneburg, and Suzana Stankovic are artists with whom I’ve either worked or studied (or both), who have helped shape the way I approach creativity.

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

I believe that the greatest challenge for an artist that strives for authenticity is remaining true to oneself while surrounded by various sources of pressure. For me, this means time, resources, and the opinions of others. Not only have I been true to my own musical and artistic intentions; I have defined my own voice as an artist. I continue to speak with that voice every day and strive to communicate from the heart with my audiences.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I am always proud of a performance in which I reach someone. If I make you laugh, cry, or ponder, I feel that I have accomplished a part of my continuing mission to connect with the people taking the time to listen to my work.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m told that my solo piano compositions both with and without electronics, such as Raven Dress (https://soundcloud.com/clio-em/raven-dress) or Serge’s Song (https://soundcloud.com/clio-em/serges-song-piano), make quite an impression when I play them live. I personally love performing my folksy favourites such as Orca Smile (https://soundcloud.com/clio-em/orca-smile-banff) because I can convey so much emotion, and I often get a very positive audience response.

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

It depends on what I’ve recently written! This year, and, I suspect, for much of next year as well, my set is mostly about GRAVITY WING, a science fiction concept album written in various musical genres and styles. I describe it as folktronica/classical crossover. You can read more about it at this link: clio-em.com/gravity-wing

In preceding years, I focused more on contemporary classical repertoire I’d composed, and on classical pieces by other composers. Some favourites by others include song cycles by De Falla and Rodrigo. The longer I make music, however, the more I enjoy performing my own compositions. This way, I can convey a certain intention that I carry from beginning to end throughout the entire creative process.

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

I’ve performed in venues across a wide range of spatial arrays and sizes, from the Vienna Musikverein and the Austrian National Library (in the Hofburg Palace) to jazz bars, coffee houses, and, one time, a cupcake shop called Brass Monkey. Every venue can be made magical. I just need to find the right recipe of sounds and songs! It’s like casting a spell, and when it works, the venue breathes with the music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Where do I begin? There are so many. I’ll focus on what’s been on my mind recently.

I absolutely love to play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in Bb minor (book 1).

Lately I’ve been listening a lot to Apparat [Sascha Ring]’s fantastic work. He strikes a wonderful balance between classical, new music, and pop. His songs pull apart my emotions and put them back together.

Magdalena Kozena does a beautiful interpretation of “Connais-tu le pays?” from Thomas’ Mignon that I just keep listening to over and over again (with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Marc Minkowski).

Who are your favourite musicians?

I really enjoy listening to Owen Pallett. He’s completely down-to-earth when performing live and his music speaks to my soul. Tanya Tagaq’s music is full of joy and pain and both raw and processed energy, really so much of what it means to be human. Her powerful live performance makes you redefine the term “force of nature.”

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Singing the Carmen Habanera on the runway of MQ Vienna Fashion Week 2013! Fellow operetta singer Anete (Liepina) and I arranged a duet version for a show put together by Mario Soldo, showcasing a collection by Lisi Lang for her label lila. We walked onto the runway as if we were modelling the clothes, and suddenly we started singing duelling strains of the aria. The audience responded so enthusiastically, it nearly overwhelmed me. It was then that I decided to move more into the world of crossover music.

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

Music gives us a way to experience ideas, emotions, and atmospheres collectively, and so it is a tremendously powerful tool. Fearlessly and honestly share your love for sound with those around you.

Remember, though, that you are a part of your own audience. Be kind to yourself. Perform what you are passionate about. Have passion for what you perform. Learn to love music you may not have liked in the past. Give new pieces a fair chance, but don’t waste time adjusting to others’ expectations of what you should sound like. There is room enough for all our musical ideas in this universe, so express yours.

What do you enjoy doing most?

As much as I love performing and composing music, the act of writing a story is what holds my heart. You can find some of my speculative fiction on my blog (at clio-em.com). I incorporate a great deal of my musical knowledge into my writing, though. Descriptions of surreal instruments and futuristic compositions, that sort of thing. My texts inform my musical work, and vice versa.

 

 

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

In my family, music was our everyday life, my father being an orchestral musician and a music teacher. Practising piano, learning music and going to symphony concerts and recitals every week was as a natural thing as going to school, skiing and skating, fishing, and biking around. I was therefore practically never given a choice to become or not to become a musician. Later the study became a passion, music turned into profession and a way of life.

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

…My teacher Lev Naumov, the greatest artistic talent and musical encyclopaedist that I have ever encountered. The trace that this charismatic and extremely influential pedagogue left on my ideas about music was overwhelming.

Next, listening to music and sight-reading have been life-long passions. They always fed my appetite for musical discovery and set me on my path into the world of lesser-known music.

Winning prizes at competitions was another major contributor to my career. It helped establish my name. However, the most important influence on my career came from the labels with which I have been associated for more than twenty years: Marco Polo and Naxos. My first commercial recording (Lyapunov’s Twelve Transcendental Etudes, 1994) was not only the first step in my artistic journey; it also defined its direction.

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

The beginning of the project to record the complete works of Leopold Godowsky. The condition that Naxos set meant the project had to be finished in four sessions, I was supposed to record four CDs in each eight-day session, 16 CDs in total. The first session took place in Los Angeles in 1998 when we indeed recorded four CDs of Godowsky’s music in eight days!

Playing the 24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich at the Salzburg Festival and breaking my right leg just two days before the performance (nobody noticed!).

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic under Yuri Simonov at Seoul Arts Center;

Strauss-Transcriptions (EMI);

12 Transcendental Studies by S. Lyapunov (Marco Polo);

24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich (Naxos);

Sonatas by Scarlatti (Naxos).

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

From my very personal point of view it is the Russian repertoire and Beethoven.

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

There are a few factors that I take into consideration: my own repertoire preferences; wishes coming from concert organizers / orchestras; sometimes it is just the repertoire that is linked to current recording plans.

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

Hard to say! I recall many wonderful halls which I thought were fantastic. Many British halls; the absolutely stunning Town Hall of Dunedin, the most southern city in New Zealand;  National Hall in Taipei, Tonhalle Zurich, the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

The acoustics and ambiance, a lively and enthusiastic audience, great piano – when brought together, all of this means a successful concert.

Good concerts stay in the memory and the concert hall where they took place is a huge part of that.

Favourite pieces to perform?  

Liszt’s transcriptions of the Beethoven Symphonies; Piano Concertos by Beethoven, Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky; Anything by Chopin.  Listen to?

I can’t really name them all! I never sit and listen to a work that I would consider ‘my favourite’. Basically, I like whatever’s in my ear at a given time; it’s a very good critic.

If I had to choose, I’d say: Beethoven’s Symphonies and Quartets. Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony; Brahms’s 3rd Symphony…

Who are your favourite musicians? 

There are many, various musicians at different times. Among pianists that have formed my idea of pianism (with this they are my all-time favourites) there are Vladimir Sofronitsky, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz, George Cziffra, Emil Gilels; all pianists of the Golden Age.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A Beethoven recital in a small town some 70 km away from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. Outside temperature -45°, in the hall – the most intense dialog with the audience. Unforgettable.

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

Practical advice: Practise a lot! Listen a lot! Sight-read! Every time you sit down at the piano think of the purpose of your practice!

General advice: next to playing, try to learn the profession. Every day ask yourself: what have I done today to be on stage in one – ten – fifty years’ time?

At all times try to answer the questions: Who am I? – Why do I play music? – What do I want to communicate? – Is my message clear?

Tell us about your new disc from your Godowsky collection: why did you decide to embark on this project to record 15 CDs?

As I said, the suggestion to undertake the project came from Naxos / Marco Polo. On the one hand it was my curiosity, my insatiable greed for new repertoire, the ability to learn fast; on the other hand, there were countless challenges involved – how could I resist?

You’re returning to Wigmore Hall on 26th November. How did you choose your programme for this concert? 

Given the concert’s length (an hour), my passion for Beethoven/Liszt’s Symphonies (I have played and recorded them all) and an intention to present an unusual and attractive program it seemed to be quite a natural choice. Moreover, I’ll be playing the Eroica Symphony many times this season, ending at the 2016 Beethovenfest in Bonn.

Besides, it is a sheer joy to play this marvel of musical genius, compositional beauty, and pianistic sophistication!

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