1. Your 2015 performance in the BBCSO / BBC Radio 3 ‘Boulez at 90’ celebrations received widespread critical acclaim in the press. Can you tell us more about this anniversary concert and your feelings at the time?
This anniversary concert in LSO St Luke’s was part of the Barbican’s Total Immersion Series – a weekend of concerts and events celebrating Boulez’s music. I remember feeling a combination of exhilaration and excitement. I also had a few nerves - the concert was recorded live after all, and there were suggestions that Boulez himself would attend (unfortunately this was prevented by his poor health). I was playing both chamber music, conducted by the wonderful David Corkhill, and had the honour of finishing the concert with the Douze Notations for solo piano. The latter was broadcast alongside the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the orchestral version – a proud moment for me!
2. Is your family musical?
My mother studied violin when she was younger and has always loved music. Both my parents have been incredibly supportive of my career.
3. In 2015 you were awarded 1st prize and Gold Medal in the prestigious Royal Overseas League Competition, and was subsequently selected as a 2015 Artist by City Music Foundation. Can you tell us more about this competition, what pieces you played and how it felt to be honoured by this double accolade?
The ROSL competition was a wonderful experience. There were 3 initial rounds in which I played a variety of repertoire – Chopin, Bartok, Liszt, Dutilleux and Messiaen. I usually get quite nervous in competitions – however I had a round trip to Wales for a recital in between the rounds: in some way this seemed to relieve the stress. The Grand Final then took place in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I don’t remember much about the performance until the end (perhaps a good thing?!). And of course I was thrilled to win the Gold Medal. The subsequent selection by City Music Foundation has also been life changing. I’ve had the opportunity to record my debut album, and the professional development and expertise they offer is world class!
4. Contemporary French repertoire forms a major part of your programming. Since a U.K. première of Tristan Murail’s work in the BBCSO Total Immersion series, you have performed this repertoire in debut recitals elsewhere. Do you think contemporary repertoire is too often overlooked and do you see as part of your mission to overcome possibly misplaced preconceptions?
I do believe the attitude towards contemporary music is changing, and I certainly I try to perform this to as wide an audience as I can. There are often extremely unusual yet satisfying musical experiences when pairing contemporary repertoire with the classics. It seems unlikely, but I've always found that Boulez and Chopin pair very well together!
5. You collaborated with the renowned recording producer Andrew Keener in December 2016, to record your first album of the solo works of Boulez, Dutilleux and Messiaen. The album is scheduled for release in 2017. Clearly the French repertoire is clearly there, but apart from that what was the philosophy behind this work and are you satisfied with the result?
I feel enormously privileged to have recorded this album with Andrew - he is a world-class producer and an absolute delight to work with, along with the renowned and talented recording engineer, Oscar Torres. The venue (Milton Court) is one of my favourite halls, and I am so grateful to City Music Foundation who supported the project. The project focusses on major works by these composers, paired with smaller sketches - including Messiaen’s La Fauvette Passerinette, only discovered in 2012. The album is currently in post-production, but I’m very excited to hear the finished product.
6. In 2015 you completed a doctorate investigating memorisation strategies for contemporary piano repertoire, under the supervision of Professor Daniel Leech-Wilkinson. How was it like to study under this mentor? Clearly this is a subject close to your heart. In a few lines could you give us some nuggets of inspiration for fellow musicians?
This research was an illuminating insight into what performing musicians undertake every day in practice, and Dan Leech-Wilkinson was a perfect supervisor – immensely intelligent with the ability to gently guide me in the right direction. Above all, patterns are essential for memorization to be effective. In tonal music there are obvious patterns formed by harmony, and years of early training in scales, arpeggios etc. ensure that professional musicians see these immediately, and use them as schemas. For contemporary music, these patterns are not so obvious – my research demonstrated that a much wider range of patterns are called upon – hand shapes, conceptual patterns (e.g. intervals), verbal associations, ‘voice-leading’ (in a non-traditional sense). Further investigation of a particular composer’s habits creates some sort of framework in a piece so that this network of patterns is connected.
7. What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?
Often it is the discovery of a new piece, or sitting in a practice room with a piece you are unable to stop working on. Regarding performances, my first concerto is a fond memory, and during my last year at Guildhall taking the solo part in Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Etoiles was an exhilarating experience.
8. How often do your practice?
Every day! I aim for 4-5 hours, but sometimes it can be much more. Travel and teaching sometimes prevent this schedule, but I think I have found other productive practice methods.
9. You are a teacher and a curator student concerts, working at City of London School for Girls and Whitgift School. Do you see teaching as a two-way street, where you also benefit and even learn aspects of music that you can then weave into your own performances?
Most certainly – it has been invaluable! As with my research, teaching is another form of self-reflection on what we do as musicians. It is also extremely satisfying when students master a particular skill or piece, or discover a new facet of music.
10. Who would your dream accompanist be, from the present or past?
Not an accompanist perhaps, as I am a pianist, but I greatly admire Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
11. What advice would you give to young musicians at the start of their journey?
Dedication! And also try and experience as much as you can from a wide a variety as possible.