click for larger image

Julian Clef - piano


1. Who was your first music teacher?

My first teacher was my father. He is an amateur musician who taught himself to play a variety of instruments like guitar, piano, mandolin and a few others. So when I was about five he gave me the first lessons because he was keen to pass on what he knew.

2. Is your family musical?

Yes they are. As seen from the previous question, my father is very musical. My mother not so much but she enjoys listening to music and is very supportive of what I do. My brother plays the violin.

3. What sort of higher musical education is offered in Kerala?

For Indian music there are lot of options for higher musical studies but there is nothing available when it comes to western classical music at a conservatoire level.

4. Is Western classical music widely appreciated in India?

Western classical is not widely appreciated in India. But there are a dedicated few who are trying their best to promote it and keep it going, and there are musicians around who are great at what they do. But unfortunately it does not reflect the potential there is in the country.

5. You studied piano under the direction of Murray McLachlan in Manchester until you graduated with a B.Mus (Hons) Degree. Can you tell us more about this influential period of your life please?

My Studies with Murray was at a very crucial period in life. Because after my father taught me the first lessons at the piano and how to read music, I was working on my own without a teacher. So there were a lot of bad habits that crept up during this period. So the teacher I required was someone who could identify the strengths and weaknesses and guide me in the right direction. And I could not have asked for anyone other than Murray for that and he influenced and changed my playing and musicianship for the better and does so to this day. I wanted to carry on with Murray after finishing Chatham’s so I decided to do a Bachelors degree at the RNCM to carry on the work he was doing in Chatham’s.

6. In India you performed a “piano marathon” when you played at the age of 12 for a period of 12 hours to promote the issue of peace. How was this received and what sort of pieces did you play?

It was a concert organised by my father to highlight how important music is in our lives and how it can be a catalyst for peace in many ways. I played a variety of pieces including solo piano repertoire and piano reductions of orchestral works and chamber music with other performers as well. It was well received by the media in Trivandrum, my hometown where the performance took place.

7. In 2005 at the age of 14 you took part in the Mansfield Music Festival and won the trophy for the piano open class. Was this your first award and how did it feel like?

The Mansfield Music Festival trophy was the first award I received. Competitions are always nerve wracking but there was the added pressure of it being my first time travelling and performing outside India. So I was pleased and relieved at the same time.

8. You were the winner of the Royal Northern College of Music Gold Medal in 2011, graduating from RNCM with a B.Mus degree in 2012. Can you tell us more of your feelings and abiding memories of this award and time at the institution?

The gold medal was a great experience to be part of. The process not only involved preparing for a recital but I got the opportunity to premiere one work by a composer studying at the RNCM as well and it was nice to play the piece for them and getting comments directly from the composer which was a new experience for me. And of course I was very happy to have been awarded the the gold medal when the results were finally announced.

There are a lot of good memories during my time at the RNCM both musical and non musical. I fondly remember the performance and the rehearsals of Bartok's Piano Concerto no 2 with the RNCM Symphony Orchestra which is a rare opportunity especially for young pianists. I also remember the lessons from Murray and other classes and master classes which I played in as well as watched which shaped my musical life by being informing and inspirational. I always find myself referring back to those on a daily basis.

9. You went on to gain a Master’s Degree in Music under the guidance of Professor Dina Parakina from Russia. How are your memories of your time under the tutelage of this professor?

Dina taught me for two years for the Master’s degree which I also did at the RNCM. It was fascinating to see the different approach and perspective that she had which made me go back to many basic things in technique and musicality that I had overlooked and was not aware of. She made me realise how it is always important to keep working on our craft and find new ways to go about it.

10. You are currently for an Advanced Diploma in Performance at the Guildhall School of Music in London under the tuition of Ronan O’Hora and Martin Roscoe. Is this progressing well?

Whenever you have a different teacher you realise new aspects of music making because of their personal style and musical tastes. It brings out a different side of your own playing as well as makes you think outside the box. The experience of learning with Ronan and Martin was very rewarding because they taught me a lot of new things about performance and interpretation. They also encouraged me to be bolder and try my own ideas even more in addition to imparting their knowledge.

11. Can you share with us an abiding memory in connection with one of your performances or competitions?

One of the many unforgettable experiences from the last two years was the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no 1 with the Guildhall symphony orchestra at the Barbican. Other unforgettable opportunities during this course (but not directly related to it) were playing the piano part (obviously) of the Beethoven Triple concerto with the Philharmonic orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in January 2015 and being fortunate enough to be selected by Sir Andras Schiff to play for the ‘building bridges’ series of recitals in venues in New York, Berlin and Brussels.

12. How often do you practice?

I practice around 5-6 hours a day.

13. Would you consider teaching music in the future?

I have been teaching a little bit already but definitely would love to do more. It involves a lot of skills that are different from performance. And I am very much interested in improving those skills things that you learn as well from teaching as any good teacher would confirm. And I would also love to be involved in the future in some way in the musical scene in India and teach there as well.

14. What advice would you give fellow music students who are at the start of their journey?

Everyone is different so it is hard to generalise but my advice is find the right teachers and at the same time figure out things for yourself as well because they both are two sides of a coin.

15. Who is your favourite musician and why?

It is really hard to answer that because I admire different qualities in different musicians and they influence me in different ways. But maybe Beethoven because I admired his music and life from a very young age so there is a bit of bias towards him.

16. How do you balance your study, performance and leisure times? What are the biggest sacrifices?

That is perhaps the most difficult thing about being a musician and I am still figuring out how to successfully manage everything. Ironically I don’t think I’m good at multi-tasking. Hopefully there will be a different answer to this question sometime soon!

To return to Julian’s profile:

submission August 2016