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Leylâ Cemiloğlu - Piano

Interview

1- Is your family musical?

No, but my parents are very enthusiastic about classical music.

2- You started playing the piano at 5, who was your first piano teacher?

My first piano teacher was Mrs. Budds, who was recommended by my primary school music teacher.

3- When and where was your stage performance debut? How did it feel like?

That was in my first term at the Menuhin School, in the Menuhin Hall, when I was ten. I remember finding it quite exciting and enjoyable; I think I was oblivious to the 300 people watching me!

4- What was the first prize you won and what were your feelings at the time?

When I was seven, I won first prize in my age category, with a small trophy, at my local Bromley Music Festival. I seem very proud of my efforts in the photographs.

5- At the tender age of ten you successfully auditioned for the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music in Surrey, where you have since been studying with Professor Ruth Nye. Tell me how it is to be in this prestigious institution and mentored by this professor?

Joining the Menuhin School when I did was very good for me; my playing improved rapidly within my first year of being there. It’s great to be surrounded by like-minded people, and I get grounding in ear-training, harmony, music theory and history on an intense level which wouldn’t be available to me otherwise. I am so incredibly lucky to have Mrs. Nye’s guidance in my life; she is both a phenomenal teacher and a phenomenal person, so kind-hearted and nurturing. I also enjoy the Claudio Arrau influence- Mrs. Nye worked closely with him and has many anecdotes to tell and apply.

6- You regularly work with the legendary Turkish pianist İdil Biret. What was the occasion that started this mentoring and what special qualities have you been able to absorb from this master?

I was introduced to İdil Biret after a concert she gave in London in 2009. Later that year, I played to her in Istanbul; contact was established from there. Working with İdil Biret really is a treat for me; her intense dedication to music is amazing. As somebody with quite a small hand, I am inspired by İdil Biret’s ability to play a repertoire full of large stretches, when her hands are not much bigger than mine. While many pianists will give up on the likes of Brahms or Rachmaninov for this reason, İdil Biret is of the mindset that ‘if you want to play it, you will’, and thus astounds audiences.

7- Can you tell us more about the Ayvalık International Music Academy in Turkey in which you have taken part?

AIMA was set up by Dr. Filiz Ali, daughter of the famed writer Sabahattin Ali. The Academy stages a series of intense masterclass weeks over the summer, each week being dedicated to a different instrument, under the guidance of excellent musicians. İdil Biret always takes the piano course, which is why I have been attending for the past four years. At the end of each course, there is a concert on Cunda Island, which is always packed. Additionally, some years we have performed in the Moonlight Monastery on Cunda, which is the home of AIMA’s main sponsor, Suzan Sabancı.

8- How often do you practice?

I generally practice every day for 3-5 hours, depending on whether I am busy with lots of rehearsals or if I am preparing for a solo performance commitment and have a lot of repertoire to cover.

9- What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?

From when I was younger: in my first year at the Menuhin School, we did a Bach series, and all the pianists gave a concert of the complete Inventions & Sinfonias. Being the youngest pianist in school at the time, I was tasked with playing the opening First Invention, which seemed quite daunting at the time. More recently: last year, the great cellist Heinrich Schiff came to School and taught masterclasses to the cellists. I was the only student pianist accompanying, and was terrified that the legendary Schiff would label me a ‘bad’ pianist- he was in a mood that day and had been very cruel to the cellists. So I was overjoyed when, at the end of the session, he told the cellist I was playing with that she had a ‘good’ pianist. I had only been hoping he wouldn’t say I was terrible!

10- Which famous musicians do you admire and why?

Claudio Arrau and İdil Biret, amongst other things, for their huge repertoire; Martha Argerich, for her individuality and brilliance; Yehudi Menuhin for his interest in other genres of music and the way he applied this; Wilhelm Kempff’s Beethoven, Rubinstein’s Chopin; Charles Mackerras’s’ Marriage of Figaro’.

11- How do you balance your music with other obligations? If you had the time, would you want to research and then play particular genres of music you haven’t dealt with before?

Balancing my music commitments with my academic work is always a challenge; it is basically a matter of organization. I am interested in period Baroque performance, contemporary music and jazz improv, and I have limited experience in all of these. As time goes on and my career progresses, I would like to take a closer look at each of these. But for now, I have plenty to develop with my piano playing!

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submission March 2015