Of course – my mum! She is also a pianist and when I was little, I loved playing in the same room while she was practising. Music was always part of life; I didn’t have a sudden moment when I realised that I wanted to be a professional musician – it was a path that gradually became clear and felt the most natural.
What most recently has had an impact on you as a musician?
Taking my son to his first violin lesson recently. It reminded me how fun and magical those first moments with an instrument are, and how lucky I am to ‘play’ for a living.
You’ve championed Cheryl’s music for many years, recently recording her Homages for her album Stolen Rhythm. What draws you to her work?
Whenever I had heard Cheryl’s music in the past, I would have a smile on my face as the pieces ended. She seems to have such fun writing music, that it becomes infectious to the player and listener too. The big draw for me is the raw emotion in her music. And, though It might sound strange, I really love that she knows exactly when the right moment to end a piece is. She never overstays her welcome and it just leaves the listener wanting more.
You will be joining us to give the world premiere of Cheryl’s piano concerto Between the Skies, the River and the Hills. How do you go about learning a piece which has only ever existed in the mind of the composer?
I have never had such a large work written for me before, and It was both an absolute honour but also quite frightening, I must admit! I didn’t know what to expect! I gave Cheryl a few ideas of what I might like, but I didn’t wish to see ‘work in progress’ so it was a complete surprise when I received the score. It took me a few days before I opened it. I wanted to completely immerse myself in the Concerto, and I needed to clear a few things before I could do this. Then, after I played through it a few times, I simply started to learn it like I would any other piece. Some parts came quickly, others took a surprisingly long time. It has been very useful to be able to rehearse the piece on two pianos with the composer Edward Rushton who is a fantastic repetiteur.
What involvement do you have with the composer in preparation for a premiere?
Ahead of this premiere, and other pieces Cheryl has written for me, Cheryl and I would have regular conversations once I had received the score and learnt the pieces. It’s so useful to hear what she was thinking of when writing a particular part of the piece; even hearing a simple adjective can completely change how I interpret a particular section. It’s also just so nice to be able to speak to a composer - for so much of my repertoire the composers are dead so you have to fill in the gaps yourself.
In Cheryl’s piano concerto each movement has a quotation from the book The Bridge over the Drina which has acted as the inspiration for this piece. How do you interpret these passages into your performance?
I gave Cheryl the book – it was one of a few ideas I had for ‘flavouring the piece’ but I had no idea she would actually read the book (it’s quite dense) and not only that, but also draw so much from it! It is a book that is very dear to me, so I find the quotations poignant.
If you could relive any of your own performances again which would you choose?
When I was 6 years old, walking onto the stage for the first time without any nerves, and just playing to the audience because it was fun, even though I had no idea what it was that was playing or who it was by. It would be nice to feel that carefreeness that one feels as a child again.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
We are taking Cheryl’s Concerto to Berlin in August, before recording it, and then I’ll be playing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto at the Royal Albert Hall in September!