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Getting to Know...

9th February, 2017

Why the piano? 
I played all kinds of instruments when I was young - guitar, violin, recorder, percussion - but the piano is like a universe. You can use it to compose and to perform - it represents so many different styles of music from early French keyboard music and Bach, to Beethoven and Cage, jazz and blues. I've always loved the piano, and loved listening to other pianists.

When did you first realize you had a gift for playing the piano? 
I didn't at all. It was perfectly natural to me to play the piano - my mother tells me I was picking out piano pieces by ear when I was three, and I carried on playing all through my childhood and teens, rather like running around the garden.  I didn't think anything of it, right up until I was about seventeen, when I thought I'd better start taking it a bit more seriously. I went on to study at Cambridge and the Royal College of Music.

Who had a major influence on you in your professional life?
Being taken on by YCAT (Young Concert Artist Trust) in my twenties was a fantastic apprenticeship; I played concerts in various venues, built up a big repertoire, and learnt to communicate with audiences. 

David Sigall was also undoubtedly a major influence. He was my manager until he retired last year. He taught me to see the long game, encouraged me to be a curator and artistic director. He seemed totally unfazed by anything I got up to, whether it was starting a record label, conducting or collaborating with world musicians.

I've also been heavily influenced by jazz musicians; the way they collaborate, make things happen, hang out together, and support each other's gigs.

What have been your professional highlights thus far?
I've always loved playing at the BBC Proms - my first one was nearly thirty years ago! Playing the Goldberg Variations at the Wigmore Hall, then being invited to play them at the Albert Hall by Sir John Eliot Gardiner was pretty exciting for me. 

My most treasured memory is working with Pierre Boulez, twice; first on an European tour with the Philharmonia and later with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was witty, warm, elegant, gossipy and just a gorgeous musician to be with, both on and offstage.

What are you currently working on?
The complete Chopin Mazurkas - all 58 of them! I'm also in the middle of recording them. I'll be performing them all in one evening at Wigmore Hall, London this May. 

How do you go about picking your repertoire for a concert?
It depends on the venue and the audience, and what I'd like to add to my repertoire. I still learn new pieces - this year it was Schubert's last sonata in B flat, coupled with some late Liszt.

If you could tell the story of your life in music, which piece(s) would you choose and why?
I've no idea at all. Maybe the Goldberg Variations (sunny, lighthearted, complex, goes through a dark patch, comes out the other end and dreamily reprises the Aria) or maybe Cage's Sonata and Interludes for Prepared Piano (spiky, dance-like Gamelan pieces, tranquil and content at the end). 

Oh hang on, there are all those Mazurkas!

What was the last concert you attended that you weren't involved in?
A jazz gig at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam, on New Year's Eve.

With which composer or musician (dead or alive) would you like to have dinner with and what would you talk about?
Well - either Liszt as an old man, who was the most generous, knowledgeable and well-connected musician in Europe; John Cage for his humour and originality; Pierre Boulez, who was an exquisite, wise and sparkling companion. 

Perhaps I could have all three?

Imagine you have to lose all your scores except one: which one would you keep?
My battered copy of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1.

What are your passions, apart from music? What do you do for fun or to relax?
I enjoy the usual things - I love literature, reading and watching old movies.  
I like walking on the Sussex Downs; I love the sea and I'm particularly interested in trees. My dream would be to live in a forest.