From my Odradek CD
This recording is dedicated to the memory of my dear mother. She was a gifted amateur pianist, and it is certain that she introduced me to much music during the earliest nine months of my existence! And Bach would have been there. She was my only piano teacher for several years, and Bach was always there. My next teacher informed me that, as a pianist, I was in no position to play Bach exclusively unless I was Glenn Gould! Was she correct?
I found myself proceeding to take the most usual route to becoming a pianist. I willingly immersed myself in the enormous, diverse repertoire for the piano. I was then fortunate to study with some very illustrious professors at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and I recall their names with much thankfulness. Ronald Farren-Price, John Lill, Arnaldo Cohen and Richard McMahon.
Concert and competition successes followed, but… was I spending a large enough proportion of my life with the music which is closest to my heart? After a time I became convinced that I must consciously pursue the ‘naive’ ambition of my childhood and dedicate myself to the music of Bach. His music should not be an absolute exclusivity, but it should occupy the predominant place. My repertoire should also, very importantly, stretch back to the music of the Renaissance…
After my emigration to the UK, a revelatory experience came with my commencement of lessons with renowned harpsichordist and scholar David Ponsford. I soon discovered that my most profound and euphoric musical experiences resulted from a fusion of my knowledge of Baroque performance practice with all that I had learned about the enormous expressive potential of the modern instrument.
As an interpreter, my most fulfilling moments are when sharing such masterpieces as the complete Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg Variations in different parts of the world with the warm and devoted Bach-loving public.
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?
My wonderful mother was a passionate amateur pianist, and she joyfully shared her playing with me when I was still in the womb! A little later, she taught me to sing melodies before I could speak. She also composed melodies to represent individual words, and taught me to communicate in this way. Also my father played the violin, and the house was always full of live and recorded music. I’ve always had a deep emotional connection with the language of music, and Bach’s in particular. So any other profession? Impossible!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
There have been many powerful influences which have shaped my artistic priorities and my development as an interpreter. Despite being privileged to have excellent piano professors (such as John Lill and Arnaldo Cohen), after a number of years I came to the realisation that I must devote my life to early music. So as a pianist, I decided to move away from piano repertoire.
The single most influential individual has been the harpsichordist-organist-scholar David Ponsford. My lessons on the harpsichord were a revelation, and through this knowledge I was inspired to create a vocabulary of sound and expression on this beautiful modern instrument which allows me the greatest emotional freedom.
Listening to other early instrument performers has also been a primary influence. Anner Bylsma, John Eliot Gardiner, Michael Chance, Philippe Herreweghe, and of course Gustav Leonhardt (one of David Ponsford’s professors) … these are only a few names which immediately come to mind with reference to my development.
I would also mention the work of certain musicologists, such as Yo Tomita whose name is synonymous with Bach research.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Every performance of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier has always been a major challenge. I can’t decide which book contains the greater demands in performance… Certainly the ending of Book One is a kind of pinnacle, with the long, torturous and emotionally devastating B minor Fugue. What a moment! Each book is demanding in terms of sustaining a particular kind of uninterrupted focus for an extended period. It’s the intellectual focus on every sound, coupled with the diversity and intensity of the emotional journey… It’s a marathon, but a marathon I love to undertake. And it’s wonderful to sense the audience running with me!
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
My recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier II has just been released, and I am thankful for the sense of expressive freedom I felt during the sessions, not hindered by the quest for absolute precision. When listening to the playback, I was very pleased that the more unusual interpretive concepts were captured… the A minor Prelude for example. I also love the recorded sound and worked closely with the engineer until we found the warmth and transparency I had imagined was possible.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Composers become your friends. Just as it is natural to feel closer to some composers more than others, likewise some works stand out as those you feel closest to. These works seem to most completely synchronise with your own expressive world, your inner self… They may also have been an outlet for your most significant, and perhaps difficult, life experiences. Because of these connections, I’m inclined to say I might play these works in a more special way, but of course it’s objectively impossible to ascertain whether this is the case or not! I have no specific pieces to name. Let each listener decide for themselves.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I happily reprogramme many wonderful works for successive seasons. Certain masterpieces can never be heard too often. I also have a strong aim to include works which are rarely heard. I’m referring in particular to the quantity of extraordinarily beautiful and profound music of the Renaissance and early Baroque which is normally avoided by pianists. There is so much of it! One of my aims is to bring this older music to newer audiences.