1- You state you wanted to learn the piano at the age of 3, so was this the only instrument that has interested you?
The piano has always been the only instrument which interested me. During my days as soloist with the Leicestershire Schools orchestra I was given an oboe to keep me happy when I wasn’t playing piano concertos. It was wonderful being in the orchestra, but I was never given more than three rudimentary lessons, & my efforts at getting a decent sound out of the instrument led to my nickname of ‘tenth oboe’ & I was never allowed to blow an A! I found it terribly difficult & couldn’t bear not being able to play it well.
2- Is your family musical?
My family is musical in strange ways. My mother played the piano by ear & everything was in the key of E flat. My father who worked in a bank had perfect pitch & could play the piano a little despite never having had lessons. My mother’s father had a stroke & died whilst conducting an orchestra for which he’d written out all the parts with no formal training. My cousin Geoffrey became a professional musician having trained at the Royal College, London, on piano & cello. He became head of music for the city of Hull & had a career as a conductor, founding the Hull Youth orchestra who made recordings of British music in the 1960s & 70s. My father’s sister could ripple away at the piano, much of it by ear & had what we called in Yorkshire ‘a lovely touch’.
3- You went to your first piano teacher with compositions for piano which your mother had helped to write out. What was the teacher’s reaction to this offering?
My teacher’s reaction to my bringing him my compositions to my first lesson was to say to my mother “She’s a genius”. I had to ask mum what this was when we got home!
4- Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?
Pianists I admire are Cortot for his wonderful characterisation of music, & Lipatti for his poetry & beauty of sound. Solomon for his depth of interpretation & Martha Agerich for her enormous musicality artistry, & technical skill, & because she can do anything better than anybody most of the time. There are more & not just pianists but the above are my favourites.
5- Right from the age of 6 you started entering and winning many competitions. Who was the bigger support here, your mother or teachers? Any special recollections from these tender years apart from the ‘lights out moment’?
When I was entered for competitions by my teacher it was my mother who always went with me, never my teacher. I loved these occasions as I did playing to people from the very begining of my learning the piano, & no-one ever had to coerce me either to practice or to mount a concert platform.
6- You were a pupil of Dorothy Hesse in London for two years from the age of fifteen. Can you tell us how it was like to be mentored by this lady?
I loved Dorothy Hesse, who organized me in my practice methods & my technique (She had been a pupil of Tobias Matthay). I had never been given any technical help until I met her, & had abandoned the teacher I went to after I left Goole because he couldn’t play or advise me on the repertoire I wanted to learn such as the Chopin Op. 10 studies. I had been without a teacher for several years & Dorothy, or Hessey as I used to call her, guided me out of the wilderness I was in. I was heartbroken when she died of cancer only 18 months after I met her.
7- In Edinburgh University you were studying under Colin Kingsley in a scholarship. What sort of person was he and how was it like to study in that city?
Studying in Edinburgh was marvellous & Colin Kingsley was a good teacher. I didn’t have regular lessons with him because of the pressure of academic work, but he was very practical and was a stickler for detail.
8- After graduating you went to Rome for two years on another scholarship from the university studying with Guido Agosti. Can you tell us about this period of your life?
Rome was a magical place in which to live, but I realised after a while that Agosti’s teaching was doing me harm. He spent most of our lessons playing to me, telling me what he thought I should be doing & singing loudly at the same time. He told me I had to think of how I should interpret, & I would therefore find a way to transfer this to the piano. It didn’t work & I heard him once play in public & was horrified at his stiff, nervous approach, not at all like the man who played so freely in my lessons. Without the singing, (which he couldn’t do in public), he was incapable of expressing himself, & with the lack of technical help & his overloading me with repertoire which I practised assiduously for more than six hours a day I became tense & lost my natural ability, but certainly not the will to change this situation which I hated.
9- After a clearly stressful time in Italy you were able to link up and develop with Maria Curcio in London. Can you tell us more about this clearly influential lady for you?
Maria Curcio knew how to create every sound & nuance that exists on the piano. A tiny lady, she could produce a massive sound without a trace of hardness, & gradually educated me in what I should know about the physical part of piano playing. She used to say to me often: “Darling, everything is possible”, & I owe any success I have had to her.
10- What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?
My fondest private memory was after having left Maria Curcio since she became very possessive & tried to take over my life. I hadn’t seen her for sixteen years & our parting had been somewhat acrimonious; but I went to one of her masterclasses at the Royal Academy & steeled myself to see her afterwards. She opened her arms to me, & I said “I love you Maria & I have never forgotten what you did for me”. She replied: “Darling I love you too & I’ve missed you. Come back & play to me”. I did, & it was the start of a much more mature relationship which lasted until she became ill several years ago, moving to Portugal where she died.
My fondest performing memory was walking into the Royal Festival Hall in London for the first time to play Tchaikovsky 1st with the Royal philharmonic orchestra.
11- If you could do a duet with anybody alive or dead, who would that dream partner be?
My would-be duet partner would be Martha Agerich.
12- How often and for how long do you practice?
I practice every day when not travelling or on holiday for three or more hours. I can’t bear it if I don’t.
13- In 2004 you recorded the complete piano works of the late Kenneth Leighton who was your professor of in harmony, counterpoint and composition at Edinburgh University. This homage to the man is clearly a meaningful gift from you to his legacy. Are you happy with the result and feedback?
It was a very emotional experience recording the complete works of Leighton in the concert hall of the faculty of music where I had performed often & had heard Leighton play his own works to us students. I am very happy with the result & was pleasantly surprised at the articles about this project to which I was asked to contribute & the reviews which followed.
14- How do you balance your music with other obligations? What are the biggest sacrifices?
The biggest sacrifices in my career have been to do with motherhood, & giving up the opportunity to tour for a number of weeks particularly at the begining of my career because of not wanting to leave my family. Now my family are my greatest supporters & come to many of my concerts & seem to be avid to listen to my stories when I return from having been away & any sacrifices I had to make in turning down engagements because of the time I would be away hasn’t made any difference to where I am now. My one regret is no longer being able to ride horses. I owned a horse as a teenager, but now I’m too busy & I miss it.
15- In a way right from childhood you have re-arranged pieces and composed your own. Does this still continue today?
I still rearrange pieces but no longer compose. There just isn’t the time, but sometimes at the end of a practice session I improvise something completely out of the blue, then immediately forget it, or ramble through some Frank Sinatra song or a piece of film music to see what I can do with it.
16- When did you first take an interest in jazz? How do the audiences react to you giving performances half in jazz, half-classical?
Two Gershwin songs were amongst the first music I can remember hearing before my piano lessons started, & I eventually played them by ear along with anything that took my fancy. I heard jazz for the first time played by my cousin Geoffrey, twenty years older than me, & I was onto it like a shot, & when we met once or twice a year we’d busk together at the piano & he would introduce me to lots of tunes from the twenties & thirties. Audiences seem to really enjoy my forays into jazz orientated pieces, & because I’m not solely a jazz musician I feel happiest linking a Gershwin first half, for instance, with a classical second half of a recital.
17- In addition to giving master-classes & lectures on piano technique & repertoire you help students who like you have suffered from injury or tension in their playing. Do you think the issue of ‘injury’, physical or psychological is taken seriously enough in classical music circles?
I think that there are very good treatments for injured musicians which one can find out about through the Musicians’ Union & EPTA, & the situation is taken seriously.
18- Do you think the ‘perfection’ sought in modern day music teaching can sometimes create a uniformity that dulls artistic individualism and creativity?
I have thought for a long time that the ‘perfection’ sought in modern day teaching, & particularly in the recording industry creates a lack of spoteneity. With today’s editing techniques, CDs. can be made to be perfect, producing something that an artist would find difficult & sometimes almost impossible to replicate in the concert hall. This can cause a chase after perfection at the sacrifice of sponteneity & a desire to put one’s personal interpretation & emotions first.
19- Do you have any projects in the pipeline?
I would love to record the complete Chopin Polonaises, & there are several countries I haven’t yet visited such as South America & Japan. I would also love to record the complete Mozart piano concertos, & whilst I can’t call these projects, there are ways I can employ to try to make these ideas a reality.