+ How can we keep music alive?
At the crux of my musical philosophy is my desire to keep the performance of music alive.
Currency and diversity are important here. I like to know what new musical voice is entering the scene, particular in the area of composition and I do what I can to support that voice.
I want to make sure that there’s always something new on the horizon, that there’s something more than just the recreation of music from the past.
Great music from the past must remain part of the mix - today’s musicians owe our very existence to it, but to keep music alive we have to keep looking ahead. Supporting the creation of new music and new performance opportunities is perhaps the most important thing that I do.
+ What are your thoughts on New Music?
Compared to music of the past, New Music is generally considered to be more complex.
The identifiable structures taken from the past are often hidden or buried deep within. For audiences to apprehend and appreciate something new, they need the listening vocabulary in order to derive new music’s meaning. They need something recognisable to attach to for meaning. They need to be made aware of music’s symmetries and patterns to feel secure and satisfied - as we know, humans have always deeply relied on symmetry for survival. That’s where the difficulty is, for me and for audiences, because many contemporary composers try their hardest to disguise recognisable structures.
It’s my job to unveil these hidden structures with clarity.
It’s possibly the most important thing that I do. It’s difficult, it’s challenging, but finding ways to reveal music’s message what makes my performing career so interesting, fun and addictive!
+ What have your learnt through the Sonata Project?
First impressions are often wrong.
I had negative reactions to each sonata when I first began to learn them. That each places heavy technical demands on my mechanistic skills is a given - I feel I can meet most practical challenges like that head on. But I didn’t really like them at first, to be totally honest. Each sonata was a struggle for me to take hold of, to make sense of, to interpret. Finding my way through the various different languages that each composer spoke, combining these languages with my own, and then translating them into sound and meaning for an audience took a very long time.
I have hours and hours of video taken on my iPhone of my learning process. I have markings on several different copies of each sonata tracing the long-term development in interpretation, involving rejections, acceptances or modifications of my thoughts and observations in my attempts to interpret the scores. For example, where once I heard a slow, mesmerising unfolding of a scene, at pianissimo, ghostly and forlorn, I could change my mind days later and hear instead an approaching, menacing army getting louder and louder and quicker too. Sometimes it would take me months to uncover the truth of the form, to discover that a theme had returned, disguised through the use of registral displacement, rhythmic augmentation, sectionalising of a theme, inversions, retrogrades etc.
But I don’t give up easily, and when I crack the secret codes of the sonata’s language, it’s the most fulfilling feeling I have as a musician. I fall in Love with this amazing creation and marvel at the composer’s genius.
If it's hard for me, then it’s going to be really hard for the audience.
I ask myself, how is an audience expected to appreciate this New Music on one hearing at a live performance? I feel that if I’ve done most of the hard decoding work, have consulted with the composers and am convinced by my interpretation of the score, then listeners should be able to understand and feel the message.
In reality, however, this is unreasonable. Firstly, they have no time to ponder as the music moves swiftly by (these are not minimalistic, slowly unfolding works - these are sonatas), and then disappears completely. Secondly, the messages, often, are meant to challenge understanding.
I am seriously thinking about this issue and how to challenge but not alienate my audiences. I’m going to try something truly unique in the first Sonata Concert in November, so WATCH THIS SPACE!
+ How do you approach teaching?
As a role model for students, I help them find ways to feel some sort of social responsibility to accompany their own musical goals. I guide them to think about how, through their art, they can contribute culturally towards enlightening both themselves and their audiences.
I am not interested in teaching people how to play a particular piece, to win a competition, nor to make carbon copies of myself. I want to teach them how to think, how to make informed choices, to become independent in order that they not need me eventually.
Also important to my teaching is passing on my knowledge of injury prevention. Having completed the only accredited Certificate in Injury Preventive Keyboard Technique with Barbara Lister-Sink in the US, I feel I am in the position to teach more knowledgeably, and sensitive to potential physical problems facing students in their efforts to master the piano.