This month for the Q&A Andrew Rumsey caught up with Stephen Hough at the Theme & Variations Piano Services showroom. Stephen also got to piano-chat with concert technician, Ara Vartoukian! The internationally acclaimed concert pianist is touring with Musica Viva 14th April to the 2nd of May. Stephen will be performing Schubert, Franck, Liszt and Hough’s own Sonata III (Trinitas) – a program not to be missed!
Make sure you visit the Musica Viva website for more information!
Q&A with Stephen Hough
What draws you to the piano more than any other instrument as a musician? Why is this instrument your ‘vehicle’?
“My aunt had a piano rather than a violin so that’s what I knew – but then I fell in love with the piano’s scope, its sound, its repertoire.”
In your next program, you will be playing your Piano Sonata III. The commission from the Catholic magazine The Tablet, how does this work differ from your previous two Sonatas?
“It’s a 12-note work so the harmonic language for the first two sections is different. It’s made up of a struggle/journey from atonality towards tonality whereas my 2nd sonata is a play between white notes, flats and sharps. The first sonata is much more introverted and fragmented, in 16 tiny movements.”
You were named by the Economist and Intelligent Life magazines as one of 20 living polymaths. Where do you think your passion for so many different interests comes from?
“I think it’s all part of the same hotpot but different ingredients. Art is all about reaching beyond the everyday and this can take many forms.”
Which composers do you find most rewarding and or challenging to play (technically, emotionally, spiritually)?
“Every composer is difficult in different ways. Recently I recorded the Dvorak concerto which is extremely awkward to play because he was not a pianist — but it doesn’t sound so difficult. Liszt often lies well under the hand even though it sounds extremely brilliant and virtuosic.”
Which pianists do you most enjoy listening to? Who would make your top three?
“I love the players from the past. My top three would be Cortot, Friedman and Rachmaninov.”
With a large percentage of classical music audiences being of a more mature demographic do you feel there will always be a place for ‘the piano recital’ in the future?
“The repertoire is so rich I’m sure there will always be a place. And music does not respect age. The great composers cover many hundreds of years of human experience which is too rich to put aside.”
What was the best advice ever given to you by a teacher? (Who was it from, where and when)?
“In practise a perfectionist, in performance a realist” – Gordon Green
Do you go to concerts? What kind of concert would most likely get your attendance?
“Not as much as I would like. Some crazy jazz concert might get my attention …”
How has your piano practice method changed over the years? Being on tour so much, time is obviously very precious. How has this influenced your practice?
“Yes, you just have to concentrate well and use time well.”
Do you have any pre-performance rituals or ‘lucky’ items of clothing?
“Absolutely not. I’m completely non-superstitious!”
Playing in so many different places and on so many different pianos, is it sometimes difficult to get the best out of each instrument? How crucial is the work of the piano technician in this?
“A good technician is essential. The instrument is my voice for the evening.”
How do you combat performance nerves? Is there a particular trick that you have found useful?
“Deep-breathing … and sometimes just remembering to breathe!”
What advice would you give to young aspiring concert pianists hoping to share their love of music with others?
“Be hard on yourself but be gentle with yourself too!”