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(Photo Benjamin Ealovega)

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

There was a piano in the house and as soon as I could reach the keyboard, I was mucking about on it. I was very, very drawn to it and spent every spare minute playing it. I didn’t sleep much as a kid and I would get up very early and go straight to the piano, and my dad would come down and tell me it was too early to be playing.

I didn’t really think in terms of planning any kind of career. I loved playing piano, I went to music college, won a competition and secured a few concerts and it kind of started from there – I was very lucky with that. But there was always a very visceral attachment to the piano.

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

There have been a few:

One would certainly be Ian Kemp, my tutor at university. His way of looking at music, at analysing it, was so passionate in an understated way. He went right to the essence of music

Richard Beauchamp, my piano teacher at St Mary’s School in Edinburgh, was very musically opened-minded

Renna Kellaway, my teacher at RNCM, gave me a real grounding in technique which was lacking before

Arnaldo Cohen – he was very influential. He had a way of looking at the smallest detail in the broadest scope

Bobby Mann of the Juilliard Quartet and chairman of Naumburg Competition, which I won in 1997. He was a musical guru without particularly trying to be. But he could make a single remark to me after a concert and that would form the basis of several years of exploration for me. He could put his finger on the absolute nub of an issue.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season

It tends to be based on an instinct of what I am desperate to learn next. Happily, the repertoire being so big, you don’t have to retread old ground if you don’t want to, so I’ve always been moving on to new things.

In fact, in the last few months this has been the first time I’ve actually had to think what I want to play. It’s also driven by recordings – what am I dying to do.

Are there any composers whose music you keep returning to?

Definitely Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Ravel. Beethoven has this incredible balance of very strong structure and an extremely wild spontaneity which breaks out of structure. How he keeps those things in balance, especially in the mid to late works, I find unbelievably satisfying

Rachmaninov’s completely visceral connection to the music, in terms of how he expresses things that really no one else quite does, how open he is to his own emotions

What attracted you to the music of George Crumb and Morton Feldman, and what is the particular appeal of this music for you?

I first heard George Crumb’s ‘Black Angels’ while I was at school and I was quite amazed by the variety of character, the craziness of it, the bizarre sound effects: I found it really compelling. There’s the sense that he is really interested in character, with a complexity which never seems gratuitous. Later I came across his piano music. I love the soundworld, the sense of atmosphere. He talks about growing up in west Virginia and the atmosphere of being in the forest – the birds and other sounds.

Rather often composers towards end of 20th century are showing off their wares, especially in the 60s and 70s, and it’s refreshing to find someone who is interested purely in sound, that visceral quality of sound

Morton Feldman’s music is very ambiguous. I first came across it when Ivan Volkov told me he’d heard ‘Palais de Mari’ played in one of his festivals. I found it very interesting, and I loved it. It’s a really really beautiful piece of music.

It’s a very extreme position that he takes on music – like John Cage – that the notes aren’t that important, but it’s the moment to moment experience of the notes, letting go of that self-satisfaction that exists around some music. It strikes me that there is maybe a philosophical paradox to really do that – even though you might be able to encourage people to lose the sense of where they are

Will you perform the Feldman from memory?

Oh no! Absolutely not! I don’t memorise music like that because it’s so much trouble and it seems like a needless waste of energy, and I really don’t think it adds anything to play it from memory. There is this obsession about memorisation for pianists, but increasingly I don’t bother if I don’t think it’s necessary. It’s so insignificant in the great scheme of things

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

The big thing is to enjoy it, to play music that you love, not to feel pushed into playing music that doesn’t suit you. Choose music that you really love playing, not because a teacher has told you to learn it.

It can take a while to discover what you really want to do. A lot of people in the profession lose that love for the music, so anything you can do to guard against is important.

Steven Osborne’s standing as one of the great pianists of his generation was publicly affirmed in 2013 with two major awards: The Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist of the Year and his second Gramophone Award, this time in the Instrumental category for his recording of Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition and solo works by Prokofiev. Previous awards include a 2009 Gramophone Award for his recording of Britten’s works for piano and orchestra, as well as first prize at both the Naumburg International Competition (New York) and Clara Haskil Competition.

www.stevenosborne.co.uk

(Interview date: 2nd May 2016)

It is a mark of the popularity of the BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, and the high calibre of the performers, that these hour-long recitals are regularly sold out. Indeed, when I arrived at the Wigmore to hear Steven Osborne in a programme of music by Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky, there was a long queue of people waiting for returns. I relinquished my spare ticket (concert companion was indisposed) so that someone else could enjoy Osborne’s superb pianistic mastery and sensitive musicality. The theme of the concert was pictures: Mussorgsky’s popular and evergreen Pictures at an Exhibition preceded by a selection of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux from the lesser-known Op.33.

Read my full review

Steven Osborne © Benjamin Ealovega
Steven Osborne © Benjamin Ealovega

 

Listen to the concert on BBC iPplayer

Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux – an earlier article on the Opus 33

Ronald Center: Instrumental and Chamber Music 

Volume One:

Music for Solo Piano

Catalogue Number: TOCC0179
EAN: 5060113441799
Release Date: 2 September 2013

Christopher Guild, piano

Sometimes described as “the Scottish Bartok”, composer Ronald Center (1913-73) was born in Aberdeen, the youngest member of a musical family. Despite his active working life as a soloist, accompanist, organist and teacher, his music was somewhat overlooked during his lifetime and after his death, and the centenary of his birth was rather lost amid the furore of last year’s composer anniversaries of Britten, Wagner and Verdi.

Fellow Scotsman and pianist Christopher Guild is a crusader for the neglected Center, and makes a persuasive case for Center’s piano music in his new disc on the Toccata Classics label. There are intimations of the percussive spikiness of Prokofiev, the folk idioms and harmonies of Bartok, the simplicity of Poulenc, the wit and humour of Shostakovich, and the sensuality and stately parallel harmonies of Claude Debussy (in a work entitled ‘Hommage’ which is dedicated to Debussy). Hints of Scottish airs make intriguing appearances in the music, reminding us of the composer’s heritage. There are moments of haunting beauty and wistful lyricism, such as in the ‘Larghetto’, the middle movement of the ‘Sonatine’, the ‘Impromptu’, or the first of the Six Bagatelles. Meanwhile, the Piano Sonata opens with a sprightly Bartokian Allegro molto,

Alert to the musical and emotional cross-currents in the music, Guild offers a sensitive reading of these interesting and varied works that is insightful, colourful, brimming with rhythmic vitality, and meticulously presented on this high-quality recording. An excellent introduction to Ronald Center’s oeuvre.

Toccata Classics

Meet the Artist……Christopher Guild

Christopher Guild, pianist

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

Not my family, initially, although to their great credit my parents were always entirely supportive of me in any of my aspirations – and still are.  A dear friend of the family, who lived round the corner from us at the time, was a great classical music lover and had a piano in her home.  It was she who incited in me a real interest in classical music.

I had already begun to play the violin at my local primary school (this was by the time I was 8 years old), and she was getting in to the habit of practicing with me every day after school for 20 minutes.   I remember being allowed to play on the piano for 10 minutes after my violin practice every day, and chatting to this lady about classical music: she was from Berlin, and I remember her enthusing me about the great German composers, mainly Schumann and Beethoven.  Eventually I asked my Mum if I could start having piano lessons, and so they began in Elgin, the town of my birth, in 1995.

Years passed until I found myself in my third year at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, working hard at the violin and keeping the piano ticking over although not taking it that seriously despite a recent victory at the Moray Piano Competition.  Something happened around this time and I suddenly realised I couldn’t stand the prospect of making the violin my career – although I still maintain I had a real flair for the instrument and indeed could have succeeded as a session musician, I never found it that comfortable to play and I always felt a deeper connection with the piano.  Somehow the piano suited me better: it seemed a more ‘independent’ instrument, you had total command of the music you were playing (I remember my teacher at the time, Margaret Wakeford, counselling me to ‘be your own conductor!’ when I played), and on the whole I much preferred the repertoire.  It promised me a greater deal artistically, even if the career path was to be more precarious.

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

There are many people and many things, but one of the most important people has been Andrew Ball, whom I studied with at the Royal College of Music (London) for six consecutive years.  It was his open-mindedness, his way of thinking about music and indeed his great knowledge of just about everything which has steered me in to becoming who I am artistically.

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

I suppose this might be commonplace among all music college graduates in their mid-twenties, but it is the combination of attempting to make ends meet, whilst pursuing my artistic ambitions, and maintaining my artistic integrity in all that I do.  Keeping up my standards of playing amidst a hectic life of teaching, rehearsing, performing and of course those interminable periods spent on trains is certainly a challenge!

Which performances are you most proud of?  

Tricky!  I have to say that some of my recitals as a student tend to stand out: I’m proud that I performed works by Elliott Carter and Stockhausen in the same recital, for instance, and that I felt completely involved in the music.  Also, performances I gave of Reubke’s magnificent Piano Sonata in B-flat two years ago, a piece which has come to mean a lot to me.  More recently, playing the Bach Keyboard Concerto in D minor with Sian Edwards in Milton Keynes in 2012 was extremely memorable.  And of course, playing as part of my duo at our Wigmore Hall debut in November 2012 was very special.  Being in the green room before stepping on stage was something in itself, just looking at all the signed photos of so many of ‘the greats’ gazing down on you makes you realise just what a privilege it is to be performing in that hall.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Favourites so far in my career have been: Wigmore Hall, for the acoustic (it’s perfect, that’s it).  There have been a few stately homes and churches that were very comfortable to play in too.  I really enjoyed the Pump Room in Bath

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Ask me in ten minutes and I’ll have changed my mind!  These days I’m gravitating largely towards British Music.  I have a real ‘thing’ for the Bridge Piano Sonata, the three Elgar chamber works too.  The music of Kevin Volans interests me currently.  As a performer, I strongly hope to get back in to contemporary music next season.  It sounds trite, I suppose, but any music with a truly strong and vital message will surely grab me.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Glenn Gould, for his individuality, his refusal to compromise his artistic vision and integrity – I think that’s a very important thing.  Whenever I hear piano rolls, or old records, of the now lost age of pianists I come away feeling totally inspired.  I recently bought an LP of a piano roll of Moritz Rosenthal and some of the playing is mindblowing!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are many, but sometimes how people react to a performance I’ve given is what makes a concert particularly memorable.  For example, after performing at the Dorking Halls in Surrey last season, a Russian lady came up to me in the foyer and gave me a little matrioska doll, as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for my performance of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3.  She was visibly moved (slightly choked), and it was the way she did it  anonymously too which made the experience so potent.  I keep the matroyshka on the bookshelves next to my piano: it reminds me of music’s power to enhance peoples lives, its possibilities, its importance.

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

Keep an open mind!  You’re about to enter a field which is enormously competitive, a lot of people will be striving for the same goals.  It pays to think outside the box a little.  Try never to turn down opportunities, even if they seem irrelevant to your interests: I’ve pursued paths I never dreamt of pursuing (or particularly wanted to pursue), and I ended up with quite a few great concerts, or jobs, that I would never have got otherwise.  And never lose sight of your artistic goals.  Above all, have fun!

What are you working on at the moment?

The biggest project this year has been preparing the vast majority of Ronald Center’s piano music for recording.  Ronald Center (1913-73) was an Aberdonian composer whose music has been incredibly neglected both during his lifetime and since his death. Aside from this, I’m preparing quite a lot of duo repertoire, namely works with violin – Sonatas by Grieg, Haydn, Hindemith and Janacek – and works with oboe – Sonatas by Poulenc and Dutilleux.

What is your present state of mind? 

Positive!

Christopher Guild’s new recording of piano music by Ronald Center is available now on the Toccata Classics label. Further details including sample sound clips here

Born in Elgin in 1986 and brought up on Speyside, Christopher Guild studied piano and violin locally before entering St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh aged 13.  He returned to Morayshire one year later to take top honours in the Moray Piano Competition – a victory which sees him as the youngest ever winner to this day. 

Christopher entered the Royal College of Music in 2005 as a Foundation Scholar, and remained there under the tutelage of Andrew Ball until 2011, successfully gaining a First Class BMus (Hons), and the MMus and Artist Diploma’s with Distinction.  He now combines a busy schedule as a performer with extensive work as a teacher, and coaches students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where he is the Richard Carne Junior Fellow in Performance.

Christopher Guild acknowledges the following organisations for their invaluable support to his studies at the RCM: Dewar Arts Awards, the Robertson Scholarship Trust, the Alistair Maclachlan Memorial Trust, the Cross Trust, The Royal Caledonian Schools Trust, the Hope Scott Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarships Trust, the RCM Foundation, a Michael Whittaker Scholarship, and an Ian Fleming Award Award administered by the Musician’s Benevolent Fund. 


Christopher Guild’s full biography here

Christopher Guild’s Facebook fan page