1- Amongst the prizes you have won was the Worshipful Company of Musicians’ Prince’s Prize. How was this received and how were your feelings at the time?
I first became involved with the Worshipful Company of Musicians in 2012, when I was invited to be a Yeoman after I won the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Gold Medal. The Company do an enormous amount to help support and promote young musicians and I was absolutely thrilled to have been shortlisted to participate in their competition. It is open to all forms of instrumentalists and singers who have previously been awarded prizes by the Company, and so it was not only a great joy and privilege to win this coveted award, but very special for me to become even more closely connected to the Company. I remember playing in the final round, and the atmosphere was so positive and encouraging that I simply enjoyed the experience of sharing music – it is quite an achievement for any competition to create that sort of environment.
2- Is your family musical?
I do not come from a musical family and I suspect that, on the whole, it has been more rewarding for me this way around. I had a true childhood and was encouraged to pursue many interests. I think that because we all are all engaged in vastly different activities (my twin brother is a fantastically gifted chiropractor, my mother in criminal psychology, for instance) that we each provide a counter-balance to our usual lives and I think that is very healthy.
3- Who was your first music teacher?
I was self-taught for the first three years of my musical life, but my studies began in earnest with Emily Jeffrey, with whom I studied both at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and the Purcell School. Emily is a remarkable lady who focused on extremely high standards of refinement, has exceptional musical taste whilst keeping all the enthusiasm and positivity necessary to let music breathe. I finished studying with her in 2007, yet still feel her phenomenally warm and guiding presence every day.
4- You were chosen as a ‘Rising Star’ by the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO). What did the bestowing of this honour feel like?
The ECHO Rising Star nomination was a dream come true in every sense of the word. The Barbican Hall, London put me forward and the result was eighteen concerts in thirteen different countries in many of Europe’s greatest halls. It is difficult to express how this made me feel or to quantify the value of the experience, but needless to say it really was a great honour, a tremendous pleasure and a life-changing year.
5- You recently graduated with a Master’s degree and Artist Diploma, both with distinction, from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where you studied with Ronan O’Hora. How do you remember this time and how was it like to study under this mentor?
Ronan O’Hora is an exceptional teacher, pianist and mentor. The Guildhall School environment was one of hard work, creative freedom, growing into adult life and an enormous source of motivation. I boundlessly admire Ronan’s musicianship and pianism. He has a razor sharp intellect and a staggeringly wide range of interests – a richly cultured man with such wonderful sensitivity. It was magical studying with him.
6- What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?
I have appreciated a wide array of performing experiences and enjoyed (almost!) all of them, from Vienna’s Musikverein to small churches, New York’s Carnegie Hall to museum concerts on historic pianos. It goes without saying that the big venues and the spotlights are exciting and memorable, but of everything I think the fondest memories are the house concerts I have given at Tessa Uys’ house in Highgate, London. South African pianist Tessa is one of the most magical, kind and inspiring people I have ever known and I love to play in her beautiful home for her, her two cats, surrounded by friends. We frequently play duets for fun, or even the Bach Triple Concerto with fellow South African Ben Schoeman and all of these rank among my most treasured memories.
7- How often do you practice?
Every day! I do, however, consider it extremely important to have many other interests and to take time out when needed. I love to read (I have a strong love of classic Russian literature), cook, walk, travel, visit museums and so on. To paraphrase Artur Rubinstein, one cannot express anything in music if all you know is the inside of a practise room.
8- Would you consider teaching music in the future?
Yes, and I think one of the nicest things about teaching is the chance to share and discover a far larger repertoire than one could possibly manage alone. I think I am more drawn to the idea of giving classes and workshops, or at least teaching more mature students. The commitment to a student’s long-term development is very important, yet I would still like to maintain an active performing life with all the travelling entailed.
9- Who would your dream accompanist be, from the present or past?
As a pianist, I don’t tend to work with accompanists, but learn a great deal and enjoy listening to many of the greats. Gerald Moore was a hero to me, and the likes of Richter were formidable chamber partners. I love playing chamber music and accompanying singers and would certainly welcome opportunities to do this more often.
10- How do you balance your time commitments in terms of study, research, performance? What are the biggest sacrifices?
It is a challenge for any freelance to balance their time effectively and happily. Gary Graffman’s autobiography, “I really should be practising”, does sum up the attitude of most instrumentalists, but I actually weigh equal value to time off. I find that if I focus on relaxing and doing other things when I need to, I am well rested to focus and function efficiently when I need to work. It is important to listen to your body’s rhythm and go with it. If you love something enough there is always time somehow, and never the need to make any serious sacrifices in life.
11- What advice would you give music students, particularly to pianists, at the beginning of their journey?
I would strongly encourage them to practise hard, study a wide repertoire and to concentrate on versatility as people and musicians. The wider read you are, the more art you see, the more places you visit and more interests you have the better – it will all inform your musicianship. Work with singers, other instrumentalists and listen to great concerts, opera productions, go to the theatre, play inspiring teachers and never allow yourself to fall into a comfort zone with work. And practise hard!!