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

There was a wonderful piano teacher in Glasgow called Lilian Grindrod. I remember as a 5 year old watching my cousin Beth play and thinking, that looks like a lot of fun, I want to try that. My Grandpa was an organist and choral conductor and he put air under my wings at every stage of my childhood. My school was academically strong but ruthlessly anti-musical. I’m the only professional pianist I know who was never asked to play in a school concert. So all the music came through my family, where it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

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

When I was at Oxford, I nervously got on the London train for some lessons with Alexander Kelly. He opened my eyes to connecting emotionally with music in general, and the piano in particular. He was very generous and very funny, and lessons passed in a blur of excitement.

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

Challenges change shape as careers develop. We all have demons perched on our shoulders, and the enduring challenge is to block out their noise. When I was starting out I jumped in at short notice to play for Margaret Price in Vienna. It was a hard programme with lots of songs i’d never played. No-one had pointed out that audience would be sitting on stage with me, close enough to touch. And that it was being broadcast live. I opened the music and thought, this would not be a good time to mess up.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Recording is such a bittersweet experience. I mostly hate hearing my recordings, and see only things I don’t like. Occasionally there’s a track where you might think, hmm, that was ok, but mostly my (very Scottish) reaction is to question, did I get away with it? Being what the Americans call a collaborative pianist, it usually gives me more pleasure to listen to my collaborators.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

There is a particular circle of Performers’ Hell reserved for anyone who answers that seriously! I do identify more strongly with particular areas of repertoire, and I also have a few composer allergies. But those composers come up in programmes and it’s part of my job to be convincing with them too.

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

That’s a jigsaw: some programmes I choose, others land in my lap. I adore programming – it’s one of the great joys of this profession. But the choices other people make are often more interesting, and lead to musical discoveries.

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

I love the Crucible in Sheffield. Performing in the round with an audience raked above you is a transformative experience, particularly when that audience is warm and knowledgeable and welcoming. In a totally different way, the church at St Endellion in Cornwall is a place where magic happens, for reasons I’ve never fully understood.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I did a recital in Japan where every time I nodded for the page turner to turn, she slowly nodded back, transforming the gesture into a most elegant bow. Every time. I had to anticipate by half a line to keep the show on the road.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I’d love to come up with something highbrow and philosophical, but the honest truth is, getting by without major disaster. Actually enjoying the process is the Holy Grail.

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

Be true to the composer, and to yourself. In that order. Remember that a large part of talent is the capacity to change.

What is your present state of mind?

There’s not a pianist alive whose state of mind is anything other than “I Really Should Be Practising”.


Iain Burnside is a pianist who has appeared in recital with many of the world’s leading singers (“pretty much ideal” BBC Music Magazine). He is also an insightful programmer with an instinct for the telling juxtaposition. His recordings straddle an exuberantly eclectic repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Schubert to the cutting edge, as in the Gramophone Award-winning NMC Songbook. Recent recordings include the complete Rachmaninov songs (Delphian) with seven outstanding Russian artists (“the results are electrifying” Daily Telegraph). Burnside’s passion for English Song is reflected in acclaimed CDs of Britten, Finzi, Ireland, Butterworth and Vaughan Williams, many with baritone Roderick Williams.

Away from the piano Burnside is active as a writer and broadcaster. As presenter of BBC R3’s Voices he won a Sony Radio Award. For Guildhall School of Music & Drama Burnside has devised a number of singular theatre pieces. A Soldier and a Maker, based on the life of Ivor Gurney, was performed at the Barbican Centre and the Cheltenham Festival, and later broadcast by BBC R3 on Armistice Day. His new project Swansong has been premiered at the Kilkenny Festival and will play in Milton Court in November.

Future highlights include performances of the three Schubert songcycles with Roderick Williams at Wigmore Hall. A Delphian release of songs by Nikolai Medtner launches a major series of Russian Song in the 2018 Wigmore Hall season. Other forthcoming projects feature Ailish Tynan, Rosa Feola, Andrew Watts, Robin Tritschler and Benjamin Appl.

Iain Burnside is Artistic Director of the Ludlow English Song Weekend and Artistic Consultant to Grange Park Opera.

 

(Artist photo and biography courtesy of Askonas Holt)

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

I picked out tunes on our piano at home, then my grandfather showed me how to play showtunes by ear on his Hammond organ. My first professional jobs were as a church organist (including an inspiring year at Lincoln Cathedral), a jazz pianist in bars all over the Midlands, and a one-man backing-group for a Patsy Cline tribute act! I came to accompanying when singers at university started asked me to play for them in their recitals. I immediately loved the experience of playing in a duo and was fascinated the idea that it is possible to ‘play words’ as well as notes. I’m still fascinated by it now…

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

David Whittle (a music teacher at school), John Streets and Malcolm Martineau could hardly be more different, but were inspirational and incredibly generous teachers. I’ve also been influenced and inspired by many of the singers and musicians I’ve worked with. One of the first was Anthony Rolfe Johnson, whose straight-from-the-heart singing I will never forget.

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

The biggest challenge for a piano accompanist is also the most interesting part of the job: to reinvent constantly the way you play pieces you know well and have played many times to reflect new ideas brought to the table by different partners.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m excited about two I’ve just finished making, both of which will come out early next year. I’ve always loved his music of Percy Grainger and was thrilled when Claire Booth asked me to collaborate on a disc of his folksong arrangements. I also really enjoyed unearthing the little-known songs of Donald Swann (of Flanders and Swann fame, but also a ‘serious’ composer) for a recording with Felicity Lott, Kathryn Rudge, John Mark Ainsley and Roderick Williams.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I find that very hard to answer and will have to leave it for others to judge!

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

A lot depends on what I’m invited to do by the singers and instrumentalists I work with – and it’s nice to be surprised. My own projects are often motivated by an interest in finding new ways to present old music, such as a recent venture to present the Schubert song cycles in new English translations by Jeremy Sams.

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

I love the Wigmore Hall for its unique atmosphere and audience. There is a special excitement to playing in Carnegie Hall, but I also love the modesty and intimacy of the Holywell Music Room in Oxford. I also really enjoy the wonderfully varied venues of the

Ryedale Festival that I’ve got to know so well – from Castle Howard to remote country churches.

Favourite pieces to listen to?

I love early English music, especially Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons and Purcell. Anything and everything by Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Schubert. Operas by Verdi and Janacek, string quartets by Bartok and Shostakovich, piano music by Chopin, Liszt, Mussorgsky, Debussy, Fauré and Ravel. Orchestral music by Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Bruckner, Mahler and anything recorded by Harry Christophers’ choir The Sixteen. Favourite albums by Leonard Cohen, Edith Piaf, The Smiths and Joni Mitchell. I also love musicals, my new favourite being Tim Minchin’s amazing Groundhog Day.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My musical heroes include Sviatoslav Richter, Alfred Cortot, Martha Argerich, Gerald Moore, Clara Haskil, Benjamin Brittten, Andras Schiff, Daniil Trifonov, Bernard Haitink, Trevor Pinnock, Jacqueline du Pre, Peter Schreier, Janet Baker, Maria Callas and Victoria de los Angeles.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The experience of taking part in the Passion project with Streetwise Opera and The Sixteen was unforgettable. We staged Bach’s St Matthew Passion with professionals performing alongside people with experience of homelessness – the results were moving and inspiring.

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

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’. Learn how to read a score and acquire the technique you need. Then feel like you are improvising. Tell stories and paint pictures in music. Distrust anyone who thinks they have all the answers. Stay curious.

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

Still playing – and able to say I’ve done something to bring classical music to a wider audience. Also to have written my book and a hit musical (some way to go on both those last two!)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The sort that appears when you least expect it and aren’t looking for it.

What is your most treasured possession?

A first edition of Schubert’s Schwanengesang.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Spending time with my children and those closest to me. A pint in a good pub with a friend.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited, as I’m deep in planning for my festival – the Ryedale Festival – next year.

 

Christopher Glynn is a Grammy award-winning pianist and accompanist, working with leading singers, instrumentalists and ensembles in concerts, broadcasts and recordings throughout the world. He is also Artistic Director of the Ryedale Festival, programming around 60 events each year in the many beautiful and historic venues of Ryedale, North Yorkshire.

Described by The Times as having ‘beauties and insights aplenty’ and praised in Gramophone for his ‘breathtaking sensitivity’, Chris has performed with singers including Sir Thomas Allen, John Mark Ainsley, Sophie Bevan, Claire Booth, Susan Bullock, Allan Clayton, Lucy Crowe, Sophie Daneman, Bernarda Fink, Michael George, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Christiane Karg, Jonas Kaufmann, Andrew Kennedy, Yvonne Kenny, Dame Felicity Lott, Christopher Maltman, Mark Padmore, Joan Rodgers, Kate Royal, Kathryn Rudge, Toby Spence, Bryn Terfel, Sir John Tomlinson, Robin Tritschler, Ailish Tynan, Roderick Williams, Catherine Wyn Rogers, Elizabeth Watts and many others.

He has also performed with instrumentalists including Julian Bliss, Andrej Bielow, Adrian Brendel, Michael Collins, Nicholas Daniel, David Garrett, Tine Thing Helseth, Daniel Hope and Steven Isserlis; with ensembles including the Elias, Heath, Fitzwilliam and Szymanowski Quartets, London Winds, Britten Sinfonia and Scottish Chamber Orchestra; and with choirs including The Sixteen.

Chris was born in Leicester and read music an organ scholar at New College, Oxford, before studying piano with John Streets in France and Malcolm Martineau at the Royal Academy of Music. His many awards include a Grammy, the accompaniment prize in the 2001 Kathleen Ferrier competition, the 2003 Gerald Moore award and the 2002 Geoffrey Parsons award.

Since making his debut at Wigmore Hall in 2001, Chris has performed in major concert venues and festivals throughout Europe and North America, and toured to Japan, China, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Russia and Canada. He has made over 20 recordings on labels including Hyperion, Decca, Erato, DG, Coro and Signum. He has also made many studio recordings and live broadcasts for BBC Radio 3.

Chris enjoys working with young musicians and is a Professor at the Royal College of Music, an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, a coach for the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme at the Royal Opera House, and a course leader for the Samling Foundation. He has been an adjudicator for many international competitions.

Recent highlights include recording the piano soundtrack for the forthcoming film ‘Altamira’ (starring Antonio Banderas), the world premiere of a newly-discovered work by Mendelssohn on BBC Radio 4, performances at the BBC Proms, collaborations with the Richard Alston Dance Company and Rufus Wainwright, rediscovering the ‘serious’ songs of Donald Swann for a forthcoming CD, and ‘The Passion’ with The Sixteen and Streetwise Opera.

Future plans include a series of concerts entitled ‘Songbooks’ that he will curate for Wigmore Hall, Winterreise with Mark Padmore at the Endellion Festival, and a forthcoming CD of Grainger songs and piano pieces with Claire Booth. Chris will also join Toby Spence, Roderick Williams and Sir John Tomlinson for the first performances of new English translations he has commissioned from Jeremy Sams of Schubert’s song cycles.

 
(interview date: November 2016)