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Julian Toha

“Julian reflects a new generation of performers”  Michael Edwards (NFMC)

‪I believe that a renaissance is on the verge of happening in the classical music world and it is just a matter of collecting the right group of star-quality artists to lead the way… Julian Toha

When and how did your interest in music and the piano start?

‪Lessons were setup for my brother to learn and at the time I was just becoming a teenager. I thought that I’d also like to make an attempt at learning piano.

Recent work …

‪Most recently I completed a US tour consisting of about 80 concerts and events. On tour, our team and I presented a one-hour multimedia concert that included dance video, installations, soundscapes and newly commissioned piano works that were wrapped in a loose narrative.

Below – Immersion Tour 2013-14 Teaser | Pianist Julian Toha 

‪Challenges faced …

‪As a pianist there are many challenges especially in the world we live in: cultural impact, tour logistics, life/work balance and creative development. I wouldn’t say that there was a single event that towers over the steady stream of challenges, but instead there is difficulty in dealing with substantial issues like life/work balance at the same time as setting up a tour and flourishing creatively. This profession, just like any other, is at the highest levels extremely demanding.

‪Influences …

‪Other pianists are always interesting to listen to and learn from, but I find most inspiration in artists, dance companies and composers. People who I especially enjoy would be Gerhard Richter,The Hofesh Shechter Company, Dale Chihuly,  and Carl Vine among others.

‪Any advice to young pianists who wish to pursue careers as concert pianists?


Julian Toha Credit - http://www.juliantoha.com/about/

Julian Toha
Credit – http://www.juliantoha.com/about/


‪I believe that a renaissance is on the verge of happening in the classical music world and it is just a matter of collecting the right group of star-quality artists to lead the way. At the moment, there is an abundance of non-artist performers who aspire to climb the ranks, but those who create a truly compelling voice will be brought in as the leaders of the industry.

‪Do what you’re passionate about and blend it with your love for music. Only when you are being yourself can you become a standout among thousands of virtuosi.

Hopes for the future …

‪At the moment, I have shifted my focus towards music education and I’d like to tackle some of the major issues in the field. I feel that right now is the time for technology to alter the music education industry and improve upon many of the traditions of the past. As we approach the technological singularity, music education is more important than any other time in history – it is shaping the creative minds that will determine the future.

Julian Toha Inspira – This image is from one of many children workshops that Julian Toha does on tour.

W: www.juliantoha.com

Y: http://www.yelp.com/biz/pacific-piano-school-san-jose

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pianistjuliantoha


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Chenyin Li

Chenyin LiMotivation…

I think there was a time when I realised that playing piano was the best thing I cold do. It is also what fulfils me to the fullest extent. And let’s be honest, with all  brilliant and wonderful piano repertoire it is easy to be tempted. I guess that another aspect is what the stage brings, though sometimes it can be terrifying, it also gives you that rare opportunity to connect with people whom you would never have the chance to interact otherwise. This mutual appreciation makes you feel that you are a part of something great. Finally it is the music itself, as obvious as it sounds, this is what attracts me the most in life.

Do you have a career highlight? 

I hope there is one still yet to come! However few years back playing a solo recital at the Royal Festival Hall in London was a pretty special occasion. And I’m soon to be engaged to play with the Chinese National Symphony Orchestra at the National Grand Theatre located in Tiananmen Square later this year. As a native Chinese living abroad for many years, that is very exciting.

 How did you discover music? 

I think it must have been a gradual realisation over the years, though I was fortunate enough to be admitted to study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing from a very early age. From there I received the best possible training I could have at the time and working with very inspiring music teachers (Bi Gang Chen, Zhong Hui) who influenced me a lot in deciding to become a pianist.


I owe every success to my professors, Tamas Vesmas and Joan Havill, are both fantastic musicians and teachers who came from lineage of eminent music icons: Nadia Boulanger; Louis Kentner; Florica Musicescu (Dinu Lipatti’s teacher) to name a few.

Has Chinese culture and education played a role in your development as a pianist?

Generally Chinese people have a deep-rooted sense of discipline and great working ethos, both qualities paramount to early piano training. And to define what is the Chinese culture it seems a too difficult and large topic. One must not forget, China has a long history of cultural diversity, religions and the fact that several dynasties ruling parties were not Chinese. So it is perhaps not a complete surprise that contrary to what many western people think, there are many thriving Chinese artists working in  the field of traditional Western music nowadays.


What are your plans for 2013?

I will keep enjoying my collaboration as soloist recording for the music publication ‘Pianist Magazine’; a tour in my home country at the end of the year with other concert activities as usual; and learn more Rachmaninov pieces!

Any advice for young pianists?

Don’t change teachers too quickly or frequently, as it often can be more damaging to a young pianists development. Be persistent, hard-working and always try to better yourself, and be grateful that we are able to pursue what we love to do.



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David Ianni

  The Composer – Part2

Are there any issues in the world of music composition that you feel strongly about?

In my early teens I used to be frustrated that contemporary music apparently had to be atonal and cacophonous to be taken seriously. At first I thought that the musicians and critics who seem to enjoy this kind of music are crazy. Or are they fooling the world? Later I assumed that something was wrong with me, since I simply could not understand the “art” of Stockhausen or Boulez for example. But then I realised that it is not my job to “judge” other people’s music or tastes, but to develop my own style and express my musical, emotional and spiritual values through my music, regardless of the styles that are en vogue.

I remember that getting to know the work of Arvo Pärt was a liberating experience for me during that period. His music helped me to understand that a diversity of musical styles is the new reality of contemporary music. There is still a place and a need for tonal beauty in music. David Ianni – Afterthought – SoundCloud – Listen to David’s work!

Can you tell us more about your new album “Prayers of Silence” that will be released in 2013?

My new album will include 15 piano pieces that I have composed over the last five years. As the title suggests, these are mostly quiet and meditative compositions, which revolve around the notion that the mother of all music is silence. The opening piece is called “Obsculta”, the Latin word for “listen”. Didn’t you once twitter about Alfred Brendel’s astute observation that “listen” and “silent” contain the same letters? Even if it is a coincidence, I feel that there is a strong connection between listening and silence, and they are the foremost requirements for music to exist. My music attempts to offer the listener a moment of inner silence and clarity. At its centre, my “Prayers of Silence” are a musical reflection of the evanescence and preciousness of life. 

Whose work do you admire as a composer and why?

I could name a hundred influential personalities that shaped my musical path, but I will limit myself to three outstanding musicians of our time. Being a composer-pianist, Leonard Bernstein has been a great inspiration for me. His music is complex, well crafted and accessible at the same time. As a performer and teacher, he brought the gift of music to millions of people. Then there is John Williams, who even at age eighty draws one immortal melody after the other from the aether as if he were picking cherries from a tree. I have always loved his music. Third on today’s list is Eric Whitacre. His way to reach out to his audience is quite amazing. Whitacre has done a lot for choral music, one of the purest and most beautiful art forms. Classical music will never be mainstreamed, but it is very important to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

It always makes me happy to see young people being moved by beautiful music. Isn’t it wonderful that music can change a life? Every time a musician touches a soul, there must be an angel in heaven rejoicing and praising God’s glory.

Click here to read Part One of interview 

Want to listen to his music? Check out his YouTube channel here

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Ivo Varbanov


Ivo Varbanov

Ivo Varbanov

What motivates you to play Piano?

I love music and arts in general.

Piano is simply a medium for expressing artistic values and ideas. First of all you have to be a all-round human being, then a fine musician, and finally a good pianist to express all. Of course I am fascinated by the instrument – piano, but it is less important than music itself.

Can you tell us more about your work supporting and promoting Bulgarian Art and Culture in the UK, why is this work important to you?

I am very happy that I am able to popularize the so often neglected culture of Bulgaria. I am always happy if I première a Bulgarian contemporary composer in an important concert in New York or London.

Who has influenced you as a pianist the most? (could be a teacher, friend, another pianist or family member)

 The teacher that has influenced me most is Ilonka Deckers with whom I have studied for 6 years in Milan, Italy. She was a student of Prof. István Thomán, one of Liszt favourite students.

An important figures in my life of course is my mother, who is a retired cellist, and she was my first music educator. My wife, Fiammetta Tarli, is also a pianist and she is an extremely intelligent musician and she is of great help in shaping many musical ideas.

Earliest memory involving piano playing? 

When I was 7-8, I did want to play football not the piano, so I was not very consistent with practicing at that time.

Proudest career moment / to date?  The biggest challenge you have overcome (in piano playing). 

The proudest moment of my career is my return to the big stage after a long time due to a very serious illness: Leukemia.

After spending one year in hospital and a bone marrow transplant I was very happy that I managed to recover.

In September 2012 I played an important concert in King’s Place, which was a challenge for me. A 2 hours programme including only Johannes Brahms works like the Sonata Op.1, the Scherzo Op.4, the Paganini Variations and the 6 Chorals Op.122 (transc. Busoni). It was psyco-physically very demanding.

In your opinion, what are the most important qualities in a great pianist? Any tips to young people who want to become concert pianists?

The most important qualities for a pianist are related to his human nature I believe. Most pianists are able to play the piano very well, very few are real artists that are able to understand  the full meaning of the extraordinarily rich musical language that the composers are using. I would suggest to young pianists not to be obsessed with the mechanical aspect of the piano playing, but to work in parallel the real secrets of the musical language and the piano.

What are your favourite pianos to play?

I have been playing mainly so far on Steinways, Bösendorfer, Fazioli, Yamaha and Kawai. Recently I started using Steingraeber from Bayreuth, which is a small artisan manufacturer and the instruments are amazing – incredible pleasure to play and infinite possibilities for colours and dynamics.


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Michael McHale – The Irish Piano

Can you tell us more about your first solo CD “The Irish Piano” ? 
This is a project that I’ve wanted to do for a number of years, so I’m delighted that it has finally come to fruition! When I gave my Wigmore Hall début recital in 2010 I performed my own arrangement of ‘My Lagan Love’ as an encore. A member of the audience, Stephen Johns (who had just left his position as Vice President of A&R for EMI Classics) wrote me a note afterwards asking me if I had recorded my arrangements, and suggested that if not, it would be a great idea to do so. So I figured if a record executive thinks I should record something, then it might not be a bad idea! The recording took place in July 2012 for the RTÉ lyric fm label in Ireland).
I thought it would be interesting to take the listener on a journey through Ireland’s musical heritage, with particular reference to the piano, hence the title “The Irish Piano”.
So as well as my own arrangements, there are works by Irish composers from John Field through to Bill Whelan and Donnacha Dennehy, as well as some pieces by other composers who were strongly influenced by Ireland and its culture, such as Samuel Barber and Arnold Bax (photo credit below – Leon Gerald)
How long did The Irish Piano take to produce and do you have highlights?
The recording session was scheduled to last two and a half days, but we worked very hard and got it all completed ahead of time! The location was a beautiful church in Drogheda, Ireland which has the most fabulous acoustic for recording, and I knew the space well as I had previously made two albums there. A highlight for me was listening back for the first time once the balance and set-up had been fine-tuned, and feeling really comfortable with how everything sounded – it gave me complete confidence to then play naturally and with total freedom, knowing that everything I played would be captured so effectively.
Can you tell us a bit about the music recorded on it? Why choose to play works by those composers?
I was really keen to show how much wonderful piano music has been written by Irish composers, first and foremost.
John Field’s nocturnes are probably the most famous of the repertoire featured, and I have included my two favourites, No.4 in A major and No.10 in E minor. A lesser-known contemporary of Field, William Vincent Wallace, is probably best known for his opera Maritana, but he also wrote some great showpieces for piano, so I’ve included his Mazurka-Etudeand a ‘fantaisie de salon’, Roslyn Castle.All of the contemporary composers featured on the disc I know well and have worked with in the past – they range from Bill Whelan (of Riverdance fame) to Donnacha Dennehy and Garrett Sholdice, and two composers from my home city of Belfast, Philip Hammond and Ian Wilson. There is such a diversity of approach between all five, and each of the pieces here I think are real gems!The final strand of Irish-influenced composers include Arnold Bax, Samuel Barber and Percy Grainger. Bax’s music in particular I really enjoy playing, and I have previously recorded his Clarinet Sonata (with Michael Collins for Chandos) and Piano Trio (with Ensemble Avalon for RTÉ lyric fm), so I was delighted to be able to include a first ever recording of his youthful Nocturne, which he wrote before becoming a student at the Royal Academy of Music, as well as his Country Tune, which demonstrates the rich harmonic language of his more mature compositional style.
Can you tell us more about your own arrangements of Irish melodies? Why choose those melodies?
I wanted to include a range of different melodies so that each arrangement would feel and sound quite unique.
In The Coulin, I wanted the beautiful diatonic melody to really speak for itself, so I kept things as simple and as pared-down as possible. For My Lagan Love, I explored some slightly richer harmonies, and in She Moved Through the Fair I experimented with a left hand ostinato over which the right hand alternates between statements of the melody and some freer, improvised passages.
The final arrangement is of the oldest known notated Irish melody, Cailín ó cois tSuire Mé (which literally means ‘I am the girl from the banks of the river Suir’). It dates from the sixteenth century, and in England was originally known as Callino Custurame (which is an approximate phonetic pronounciation) and thought to be Italian! At the time it was popular enough to merit a reference in Shakespeare’s Henry V, and William Byrd also made an arrangement for keyboard. It is a very short and simple melody, so I have loosely constructed a series of variations around it.
Future aspirations and plans?
 In terms of recording, I would love to make another solo disc exploring different repertoire – in the meantime, I’m delighted to continue my series of duo recital discs with Michael Collins for Chandos – the third album will be released in early 2013, and we record a fourth in May 2013.
On the concert platform, I’m delighted to give the opening concert of this year’s Belfast Festival at Queen’s with JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra performing the Gershwin Concerto (19th October) and I make my North American concerto début with the Minnesota Orchestra (in Minneapolis, 1st & 2nd November) under Courtney Lewis performing Mozart Concerto K.466 in D minor (one of my all-time favourites – and I’m going to play my own cadenzas too which is exciting!).Longer term, I hope I can keep exploring new repertoire and meeting and collaborating with a range of inspiring and talented musicians, and continue to share the results with audiences around the world.
CD Reviews
Norman Lebrecht (chosen as ‘CD of the Week’)
“…’The Irish Piano’ is a scintillating and sometimes whimsical recital that takes John Field as its starting point and spreads out across the whole of the island’s music… McHale strikes just the right tone of contemplative wonderment and mischievous mythology… Fascinating from start to stop…”
Terry Blain: Culture NI
“It’s a triumph of outstandingly alert and sensitive artistry, and should be in every piano lover’s stocking this Christmas.”
Michael Dungan, Sunday Times
“McHale, who penned his own programme notes and includes his own tasteful arrangements of folk songs, is engaging and colourful throughout”
Buy the CD on Amazon

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Greg Maskalick‏

Greg Maskalick‏


My love for music and to communicate my innermost personal thoughts to others and not only give them an aesthetic experience but get them to possibly think and feel new things.

‘Knowledge and wisdom’

The biggest influence in my career as a pianist is Nelson Whitaker who was Professor of Piano and my piano teacher for 6 years when I studied at Carnegie Mellon University from 1978-84. He was very honest with his students and always imparted musical knowledge and wisdom at each and every lesson.

Nelson was also an incredibly gifted pianist and performer specialising in the works of Bach and Faure. It was through Nelson that I found my love for Bach and to this day play some Bach each and every morning.

It is worth pointing out that some of Nelson’s students won several Bach International piano competitions over the years.

Nelson was such a big influence that to this day I can remember each and every lesson I had with him like it was yesterday. That’s how powerful of a teacher he was.

Sadly, Nelson passed away about 10 years ago. His passing left a big void in my musical life but at the same time I am very pleased to carry on his legacy to my students. If I teach piano half as well as Nelson did then I’ll know I have done a good job.

When I was 6 years old (that’s when I started) my father got an old upright piano for free that was involved in a house fire down the road. This wood blistered piano came into our house and had ivory keys (that’s how old the piano was – had ivory keys) with about 6 pieces of ivory missing. I remember playing the piano learning from the Michael Aaron books and feeling some keys as nice and smooth and others rough wood.

But, my favourite early memory was at the age of 8 when my mother took me to see Van Cliburn in concert at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, PA USA. I knew right then and there that I wanted to do what Cliburn was doing. I went home that evening and well, the rest is history. Practiced all the time and did lots of little concerts to myself pretending I was Van Cliburn

Proudest career moment?

This is a tough question as there have been many, but I would have to say it would be when I was driving through the prairie state of Nebraska and on the car radio (which was tuned to the classical music station) they were playing my “Mozart Early Works” CD. I couldn’t believe it – that my CD was being played in the middle of nowhere. Sort of a two edged signal; does this mean this is the only place in the world that will play my CD? Or, wow, they even play my CD out here. I’ve sort of made it.

I prefer to think the latter as I was on tour at the time doing lots of recitals throughout the USA.

In your opinion, what are the most important qualities in a great pianist?

A great pianist will practice smart. A great pianist never gives up. A great pianist will know when to put a piece down and come back to it maybe a year later. A great pianist will teach.

Any tips to young people who want to become concert pianists?

As soon as you think you know it all and/or think you are playing well, take a step back and look at what reality is.

Never give up. You will always have something musically worthwhile to share with others.

 Do you have a favourite venue?

All venues have their up and down sides. It is difficult to say which is my favourite, but I could easily say which is the worse but I won’t as one doesn’t want to upset anyone in the music biz.

You have performed with jazz musicians and Vegas acts such as Charo, Lucie Arnez, Marvin Hamlish, Cab Calloway, Tim Eyermann, Randy Purcell and many other well known jazz musicians -­ can you tell us about your experience playing piano with one of these musicians?

Randy Purcell sticks out the most as he was always on fire in every performance. He was always well prepared, gave it all he got and then some! He also made every gig fun and a real pleasure to be a part of no matter how big or small the venue.

Musical Spaces

I have a CD on iTunes called Musical Spaces which combines both classical and jazz into a crossover mix.

I will be releasing a CD of Baroque Keyboard Works soon and a CD of Beethoven featuring a few of his Theme and Variations.

My jazz quartet Greg Maskalick & The Midland Express will be releasing a new CD this Autumn. So stay tuned.


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Carol Comune

Carol Comune


I have been attracted to the piano since I was 3 years old.  I am still mesmerized by the sounds, touch, repertoire and the ability to express one’s sentiments, passions and love all in one.

The piano has been my vocation…when I play all is well…I love the everlasting involvement of endless possibilities, and striving for the best I can be.  At the age of 8, I discovered I had the ability to compose.  It was then that I had experienced great pain through my father’s eyes when his Uncle died.  I didn’t know how to deal with this emotion and in a spontaneous way I composed a piece intuitively and my father was very comforted by its effect.

Music is continuously playing in my head, and I find myself up late at night finding music to read through and thinking about striving for beautiful sounds…evoking emotions…nuances…and how the music transcends and affects me.


 Who has influenced you as a pianist the most? (could be a teacher, friend, another pianist or family member)


There are so many people that have been involved in my journey.  First and utmost, my mother and father.  I am from an Italian background so music was in our lives all the time, from the Met Opera House that played on the radio every Saturday morning to Neapolitan songs, classical piano, records of Toscanni conducting Beethoven symphonies, Sousa Marches, Ray Charles, the Beatles, Broadway shows and even scores from Disney.

My father always played “Clair de Lune” in the evening when my mother was pregnant with me and to this day it still has a peaceful effect on me, whether I am playing or listening to it.

My piano teacher Mme. Yvonne Combe from The French School of Music, Plainfield, NJ was a very prominent person in the development of me as a pianist.  She was always very meticulous and detail oriented.  She would have such lovely stories and presentations on the music I would learn to play, and she would always reward me with incentives to practice for consistent perfect lessons.  We were always reminded that we came from great teachers that included Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy.

I continued my studies at New England Conservatory with many talented teachers/musicians, especially my mentor and concert pianist Anthony di Bonaventura, a master teacher of international stature and a pupil of the celebrated Russian teacher Madame Isabelle Vengerova.   I was always in awe of his stories about his studies with her at Curtis Institute.  For 2 years I relearned how to approach the piano through the teachings of Vengerova.  I remember when I finally understood the concept that this technique Anthony was teaching me would have a rippling effect in my life through my performances, teaching, students, and relationships in a profound way.  I was more than willing to accept this intriguing process and through discipline and Anthony’s patience I have thrived in every possible way with my playing and areas in my life.

I will always be grateful in hearing recitals of phenomenal pianists like Horowitz, Alicia de Larrocha, and great jazz musicians like George Shearing and saxophonist Grover Washington.  The one thing they all had in common, was there artistic ability to perform with great expression in their special beautiful voice that was compelling, musical and moving. Other great mentors in my life include: Jean Stackhouse, piano pedagogy; Lorna Cooke DeVaron, choir conductor; Donald Waxman and Dianne Rahbee, composition; David McCord, poetry.


Earliest memory involving piano playing?


-Performing John Thompson’s arrangement of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody at a church recital with enthusiasm (the popular one used in Looney Tunes with Sylvester the Cat).

-At Christmas time, I would accompany our large Italian family while they sang Christmas carols around the piano.

-Being accepted at The French School of Music with a scholarship for Piano and Solfege.


Proudest career moments? 

There have been many proud moments in my career as a performer, composer, teacher, and entrepreneur.

Some of my most memorable ones were: receiving 1st place in “agility competitions” at the French School of Music as a child; performing piano concerto “Aubade” by Poulenc with the New England Conservatory’s Wind Ensemble and Carl Atkins conducting in Jordan Hall, Boston; purchasing my very own Steinway piano; my recordings aired on National and Commercial Radio with worldly distribution; my classical solo recitals being aired on NPR; performing at Lincoln Center; my original composition “Suite from Sleeping Beauty” featured at River’s 30th Contemporary Seminar, MA; Presentation at NEC’s Intensive Pedagogy weekend and performing our compositions “Gealyn and Me” with my daughter, Gealyn, when she was just six years old; my students becoming winners of competitions; performing in Steinway Hall, NYC; having my music played on the NBC Today Show; and becoming a Steinway Artist .


In your opinion, what are the most important qualities in a great pianist?


When I listen to a pianist I am in awe of the ones who take me on a journey that is full of excitement, drama, inspiration and evoking emotions.  I love to loose myself in the music.  Instead of hearing a piano, it should be an extension of the performer that communicates with depth and perception for the listener to hear and feel.  A great pianist not only has great technique but is convincing with their intentions and intelligence of the music. I want to hear a beautiful tone through sensitive expression with breath and a great sense of rhythm.


The biggest challenge you have overcome (in piano playing)?

For me, the biggest challenge that I have overcome has been learning to control my nerves before a performance, which seems to be an ongoing process, and yet there are always so many more that just happen and need to be redefined.

Any tips to aspiring concert pianists?

Perform and accompany singers, instrumentalists and learn to breathe with your music.  Find your own voice and study as much repertoire as possible including chamber music and concertos. Go to all kinds of concerts from orchestral to broadway and experience life in different places.

(Also, any extra comments are greatly welcomed – about anything in piano playing you feel strongly about!! )

I can’t imagine living life without music, I hear it, sleep it, and live it.  I can honestly say that my enthusiasm and passion for it never ends and I continue wanting to learn all I can.  It brings me such joy and I am grateful when I know that I have made a difference and touched someone with my compositions and performances.


“Carol Comune an American composer, pianist and teacher, has recently written a six movement piano suite based on the enchanting Sleeping Beauty tale and doubly gratifying in that the work is so imaginative and colorful.” 

Donald Waxman, composer and pianist 

Galaxy Music Corporation a division of ECS Publishing




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