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Sara Davis Buechner

SD Buechner Photo









Buechner was awarded the first Beethoven Fellowship of the American Pianists Association in 1981. She was a prizewinner for piano at the 1983 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition. She was awarded the Gold Medal at the 1984 Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, and won a Bronze Medal in the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition.

Early interest in music

I grew up in a suburban household where my mother was greatly concerned — as were many American parents of the time — that my brother and I should attain a good education and cultural exposure to which she and my father did not have ready access. In addition to a pronounced emphasis on good schoolwork and study, we were both given piano lessons from a local teacher who, fortunately, was a marvellous young musician herself. Her name was Veronika Wolf (now Veronika Cohen), and later she made her mark as a pioneering composer of electronic music and Dean of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. At age 18, she was pursuing a degree at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and earning side money teaching piano to children. Miss Wolf brought me to — or should I say, brought to me — the world of rhythmic clapping exercises, “A Dozen a Day,” and Bartók’s Mikrokosmos. She did not want to teach me at first, as I was just 3 years old (my brother was 5), but when she tested me at the piano, I could read the notes without any instruction at all, and could play all of my brother’s pieces from the Leila Fletcher Book I. Many years later, she told me that my touch was “soft and sure.” I’m still proud of that quote.

I had another teacher in the form of our living room radio, which my mother set to the classical station in our house, every day. And I can recall learning to tell the time of 4:30 p.m. each weekday afternoon, when the radio tag for that time was Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro.”

My mother noticed that I would stand, glued to the spot in front of the radio at that time daily — the music just galvanized me so. Even today, when I hear the rustling string 16th notes of that Overture, my chest begins to palpitate with excitement. Call it the splendour of knowing that one is alive.


My main teacher as a youth (after Veronika) was the Filipino virtuoso Reynaldo Reyes, and from the age of 11 onwards he trained me to perform not only in student recitals but also by way of competitions — local, then national. After I left Baltimore for New York City and Juilliard (where I worked primarily with Rudolf Firkušný), I entered a fair number of international competitions. I was fortunate to gain some prizes, which spread my name and reputation, and eased my way to establishing a performance career.

I was the Gold Medalist of the 1984 Gina Bachauer International Competition, and got a Bronze Medal in the Tschaikowsky Competition in Moscow as the highest-ranking American pianist, in 1986.

There are too many music competitions overall, and these days it seems that everyone has a prize on their resumé from some place — so that the meaning of a competition prize is pretty much de-natured. Moreover, the way of attaining a prize is usually in a polar opposite way of establishing oneself as a unique artist.

So many pianists simply playing the same old same old repertoire (Beethoven Sonatas, Chopin Ballades, Prokofieff showpieces) in the same way, fearful of offending someone with an original approach. So many judges (many of them failed performers, I might add) expecting to hear that repertoire played in the same way, so they can easily opine on what they hear as validating their own thoughts about it. None of this is good for young musicians, and it is certainly not good for classical music in general.

One thing I used to do when I entered competitions, was to make myself learn new repertoire that was infrequently programmed. Consequently, I often found myself playing pieces in competitions that no one else was playing, and often the judges did not know — Bartók’s Etudes, Janacek’s Sonata, Busoni’s Toccata, Martinu’s Fantasy and Toccata, et al. If there was a recital component of free choice, I looked at that as a tremendous opportunity to expand my boundaries in terms of stage presentation.

Off the top of my head, I can surely name 10 fantastic composers (not including contemporary living ones) whose keyboard music is never played in competitions — Frescobaldi, Sweelinck, Byrd, Weber, Dussek, Dvorak, Szymanowski, Turina, Krenek, Yashiro — there are many, many more.

Giving sound to neglected masterpieces is one way of reaching your ultimate artistic goal — not be merely replicating that which has come before, but finding new ways of expression and creativity. If a competition can further this process, then it can be a good experience.

It is always good to learn how to perform on stage with pressure and control — this must be done all through a musician’s life, so to cope with it early is a good thing. Probably the best outcome of entering a competition, regardless of prizes won or lost, is to develop a feeling for the stage. Such experience is crucial.

But when a competition is entered just to make some money or get your name around, then the focus on the big picture — the calling of musical artistry — is lost.

New Music

I have played and recorded a fair amount of new music, because I do think it is important to know the new generation of rising voices, and to help promote those whose vision seems enlightened. Two years ago I commissioned the Japanese composer Yukiko Nishimura to write me a set of Études, and I am now playing that set (of ten) on many of my concerts. I’m also very keen on the young composer-pianists Jared Miller and Michael Brown, both of whose scores I have played in public.

Of the older American composers, to my mind John Corigliano towers over all — his Piano Concerto of 1967 is the greatest American work in that mold after Barber’s. And I think the piano music of Leon Kirchner is stunning, as well, and should be better known.

In my college days I was very aware of contemporary music, mostly in a negative way as the dominant attitude in 1970s-80s New York was simply, well, either you liked and handled hideously complex atonal scores, or you weren’t smart enough to play new music. It was a relief to me when Minimalism came of age and re-booted young composers to the idea that there’s one than one way to express things sonically.

Young composers today write in a wide variety of styles. So there’s really no excuse for pianists today to shrug off the obligation of promoting music of our time, with the phrase “I don’t like contemporary music because it’s atonal / too complex / ugly.” Anyone who says such a thing, hasn’t kept up with music responsibly.


I am nevertheless wary of new music “specialists,” who sometimes become so because their technical insufficiencies are easily exposed when they play Bach or Beethoven. Some of the least competent concerts I have heard, were of contemporary scores whose composers should have been incensed about what the inadequate performer did to their work.

And I don’t enjoy the feeling when I attend a new music concert, often surrounded by composers and new music fans, that I should display enthusiasm for everything performed. Like baseball games, a lot of new music concerts are dull, with music of little inspiration or feeling for audience connection. If you experience the hearing of a masterpiece in its first performance — as I did with the première Gyorgy Ligeti’s Piano Concerto in New York City — you will know it, I guarantee you.

In listening to new music, or in choosing new music to play or new composers to champion, I keep this dictum in mind: that the technique of expression is not important compared to the value of the message or emotions being expressed. If music does not speak and touch the heart as well as the mind, then it is not good music.

The connection of music across cultures and centuries is of utmost importance. Sometimes I fashion my own recitals with a curator’s mind, which is why I might pair works of Bach with those of Schoenberg due to the shared emphasis on polyphony; or late Beethoven with Fauré and Thomas Adès because of their spiritual natures; or play Rhapsodies by Tomasek, Liszt, Brahms, and Gershwin. It’s like going to the art museum — how wonderful to see the Virgin Mary as portrayed by El Greco, by Picasso, by Chris Ofili (of elephant dung fame!) — see the connections and contrasts. Hear the universal search of humankind.

So to say, I’m not interested in New Music. I’m interested in All Music.


I do feel uniquely blessed to have had a wide array of astounding teachers, and I could write for a very long time about them all. My technical approach is very much derived from the Busoni School through his pupils and grand-pupils that I worked with: Mieczyslaw Münz, Reynaldo Reyes, Ann Schein, Edward Weiss, Gunnar Johansen. In my adult years, my most influential teachers were Byron Janis and Rudolf Firkušný. The latter in particular, with whom I studied for four years at Juilliard — playing for this magnificent artist was simply the most inspiring and unforgettable experience of my entire musical life.

Firkušný taught in the way that I consider the most efficient and informative, by means of demonstration. When he sat at the second piano to show me something (he always played perfectly, at any given hour, and with the modest disclaimer “well, I do it like this”), my eyes and ears perked to maximum awareness, so that I might be able to effectively copy his beautiful sound and inimitable timing. Münz and Reyes taught in similar fashion. Byron Janis could not, because of his rheumatoid arthritis, but his gruntful singing accomplished almost as much! You must depend upon a teacher as a role model, and later fashion your own approach upon that sturdy foundation. I think it is crucial to study the piano with someone who knows well the experience of playing successfully in concert.

Research into the lives and musical careers of my own teachers led me to a lot of revelations about pedagogy and different schools of pianism. It amazed me, for example, to see film of the French virtuoso Jacques Février playing (the Poulenc Double Piano Concerto with the composer) — for his hands and fingers, and the way in which he used them on the keys, looked like mirror images of his pupil Reynaldo Reyes’ hands, and of course Reynaldo taught me to shape my hands the same way. The sense of apprenticeship in music teaching is fundamental. Whenever someone plays the piano, there are echoes of teachers and grand-teachers in the fingers, the body, the phrasing and sound.

Pianists today

I must admit that I rarely listen to piano concerts these days, as my own hours are so full of my own practicing, that my ears are already overworked! When I have some free time, I’d much rather take a long hike, visit the bookstore or art museum, see a movie, or go to a baseball game (I am a longtime fan of teams on both sides of the Pacific). I’m more likely to attend symphonic or choral concerts than piano recitals.

And it has been a long time since I went to concerts to study, copy or learn, as I did often in my Juilliard days. I feel like I have my own style of playing now, and when I listen to other pianists, regardless of how good they are, my critical teaching ears start to grind and churn. I truly hate that! — It’s a bar to true enjoyment. When I hear jazz pianists, I am much happier for I can relax and really listen the music, as an audience member should.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not aware or appreciative of other pianists’ work, of course. There are so many fine pianists performing publicly now, and of course the Internet is awash in them. For myself, I love the recordings of Dinu Lipatti and Clara Haskil in particular, in addition to those by my teachers Janis and Firkušný. The sounds they make are familiar and serendipitous to my ears.

And I still play for other pianists, too — for the legendary American pianist Reah Sadowsky who was a dear friend until her death two years ago, and most recently for the great Austrian pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, both in the USA and in Vienna. He’s an astounding inspiration to me, and I feel so grateful to learn from such an artist. I heard him play two recitals in Japan last year that I’ll never forget, so spiritually powerful they were.

SDB face cartoon

Sara Davis Buechner

Advice to Young Pianists 

Perhaps your toughest question. For we live in times of diminished appreciation of all culture, and blind veneration of technology — quite to the detriment of our minds, our hearts, our hands (I wonder if the next generation of humans will be able to do anything with their hands at all, besides swiping a screen and poking with their thumbs).

Young musicians today, in addition to working for 20+ years to master their craft, coping with social media, and finding money for rent and food, must fight the possibly unwinnable battle of survival for good music itself. They must be prepared to make enormous sacrifices, so that succeeding generations will have the desire to sit in contemplation for decent lengths of time, to concentrate, to appreciate messages of inward spiritual grace, to value the time and energy and commitment it takes to make personal discoveries in art.

The audience for great music is simply disappearing, and it must not. For the very worth of our society, in cultural terms, is at stake.

I’m not at all confident about this, by the way. But I know the rewards of struggling for quality, as opposed to shrugging shoulders and giving in to the ever-changing banal tastes of ones’ time. Bach, Mozart and Schubert knew that same struggle, very well.

Difficult experiences and challenges 

Every human being experiences the rough ride of existence, if they live long enough — personal relationships gone bad, deaths of friends and family, work difficulties, health issues. I have dealt with all of this, in addition to coming to grips with being transgender. I was 38 years old when I transitioned from male to female, stopped playing concerts as David Buechner and began to play the piano as myself, Sara Davis Buechner.

It would be impossible to understate how enormous that challenge was, and I would need a book to describe the inner journey of it all. For this interview, I’ll just say that the effect upon my performance career was horrendous — concerts dried up, invitations disappeared, lucrative teaching offers pulled off the table. At the lowest point of my life, I was dead broke at age 42, teaching little children in an upstate New York music school where my faculty colleagues had been my own students just a couple of years before.

And you know, I learned to love teaching, and teaching small children, at that time. Partially because I needed to do so, in order to survive and thrive. But also because all my previous expectations as a privileged white male musician with big time manager and orchestral concerts and a big conservatory job was just wrecked beyond fixing — well, it enabled me to start building a true house upon a real foundation. And into that new house came these wonderful, beautiful, sublimely untalented little kids whose piano lessons became for me the opportunity to teach them not to play an instrument they had mixed emotions about, but rather simply to love music. I played games with them at the piano, chased them around the room when they got a little bored, shared candy with them, got them to laugh and smile and clap and sing. And within the context of that job which many musicians would consider lowly, I learned all about what is most important in music — just as I learned from being transgender and outcast, what is most important in life — to live, to enjoy, to be true to yourself and to others, regardless of others’ judgments upon you.

Hopes for the future… 

That’s a long laundry list. Record more Bach-Busoni; record the complete Mozart Sonatas; record Japanese piano music of Nishimura, Nakada and Taku; record the three Brahms Violin Sonatas with Stephanie Chase (these are all in the planning stages now). Keep studying Japanese (I’m at intermediate level, struggling with the kanji at about 500 so far). Learn Spanish for my concerts in Latin and South America (I’ve started). Watch all the DVDs I’ve accumulated and never have time for. Take Latin ballroom dancing. Pick up my pencils and brushes again and draw and paint, not just doodle cartoons. Spend more time in Prague and Kyoto and Honolulu and El Barrio del Bronx and San Juan. Visit Indonesia and Vietnam and Cuba. Smoke fewer cigars, but better quality ones like the Trinidad (Fidel Castro’s fave). Learn how to make a reliable Gin Martini and Blue Hawaii. See the Osaka Hanshin Tigers win the Japan Series. I guess if I get to witness that, I can climb into my grave happily. That should be many, many years from now, if they keep playing like they are this season.


YouTube Channel: www.YouTube.com/SaraDavisBuechner


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Valentina Seferinova

Valentina Seferinova – One of only a handful of musicians worldwide to have been invited by the Trustees to play in the Yvonne Lefébure Auditorium at the Claude Debussy House & Museum, St. Germain-en-Laye, Paris on the Anniversary of the Composer’s birth.

Credit: Picture by Gio

Credit: Picture by Gio

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

Actually music played big part in my upbringing. My Mum & Dad never played a musical instrument but both loved music & adored singing. So from a very early age I was listening to classical music & I loved singing.

My older sister started playing the cello when she was 9 or 10 years old. Soon after my parents bought a piano as her teacher told my parents that she should start playing the piano as a second instrument.

When the ‘Riga’ (a Soviet union made piano) arrived, I fell in love with it & wanted to start playing it straight away! Although at that time I was only nearly 6 years old, inside me I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! Unfortunately at that time my Dad said that I couldn’t start piano lessons until I completed year 1 at school and I can read, write, spell, count, add & subtract… I had to wait almost 16 months!

But when I was allowed to start to learn the piano, nobody could stop me! After just under 2 years of playing the piano, I won a prize at a national competition, competing with children who have been playing the piano for 5 or 6 years! I was so happy.

Can you tell us a bit about your most recent work…? 

There are many projects that I’m currently working on. I’m still in the process of completing Rozycki’s solo piano works recordings, Wienawski – 2 pianos works with my piano duet partner Venera Bojkova. Reviving & promoting long forgotten music has been and is my passion! There is so much music out there that had an important role in its own time but for various reasons it was neglected or forgotten :-(.

It was such an amazing experience when I performed Salomon Jadassohn 1st piano concerto with the Karelia Symphony Orchestra in Petrozavodsk. Obviously Jewish composers’ works have suffered the most – many scores were destroyed. My music producer Gareth Vaughan found the 2 piano score in the Royal Academy library; the conductor’s score came from a library somewhere in Germany & orchestral parts came from a private collection from the Netherlands. It was a fantastic experience to bring all these bits of the ‘puzzle’ together & perform that beautiful music live in Petrozavodsk, Russia for the 1st time in more than 100 years after the composer’s death…

There is so much music out there that needs bringing to life. I don’t think anyone’s life is long enough to revive it all. But I know there are more people like me around the world & together we can fill in those gaps.

What is the most difficult thing you have had to overcome as a pianist? 

I guess the most difficult thing was the very beginning. As I wanted to be able to play as soon as possible, I had to cram in lots. I do remember practicing in the evening (it must have been in the first few weeks of my piano experience): there were power cuts at the time and I had to use a candle on the top of the piano; I was struggling – reading, finding the notes on the piano with the correct fingers… soon I was in tears. My Mum came to the room & said: “Valya (short for Valentina), if you are finding it too difficult, we can stop piano lessons.” But I was firm: “I want to play the piano, I want to be a concert pianist!”.

There are no impossible things – what you need is to really really want it & to put the hard work in. My Professor used to say: 1% talent & 99% very hard work! I would agree.

What makes a great concert pianist?

I guess the answer to that question is in the last sentence of the previous question’s answer.

Seriously, there are many qualities needed to become wonderful musician & brilliant instrumentalist, but the essentials are: talent plus lots and lots of very hard work for many years. But believe me – it’s worth it! I forgot about my tears within a week & I enjoyed (and I’m still enjoying) every second of my piano practice & playing. In fact it was my Mum who reminded me about my about the struggle at the beginning about two years ago, I had totally forgotten about it.

Which other living concert pianists influence you and why?

Do you know, that’s really hard to answer! There are so many of the living pianists that I admire and especially Martha Argerich – as a female role model of a pianist & musician.

However, most of the pianists whose playing I love & admire are dead. Sometimes I think to myself: I must have been born in the wrong time. I still listen to many old recordings of the 20th century – Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Richer, Myra Hess… the list is endless! And I adore their poetic playing, you can’t find nowadays the living and breathing and phrasing that speaks & touches you as much as that of the old masters! I do hope somehow we’ll be able to retrieve it & find it again – the new generation would benefit from that tremendously!

Any advice to young pianists out there who wish to pursue a career as concert pianists? 

I probably would repeat myself but as with anything in life, it requires very hard work, persistency (and maybe a bit of luck) and believing in music & in yourself. If you don’t, you won’t be able to make it. I know it’s very hard and sometimes it might feel like giving up but every time you hear the applause, you feel the affection, you see the excitement of the audience, wanting more, you know it’s worth it!

Your hopes for the future?

I do hope for lots of things as we all do. But I’ll say I hope for health, love & peace in the world, and then all our hopes & dreams can come true.



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Marianna Prjevalskaya

Praised by critics as “a grand pianist” (Il Cittadino, Italy) and a “master of piano” (Music Magazine ‘Auditorium’, Korea),  Marianna Prjevalskaya performs worldwide as a recitalist and concerto soloist.

Winner of the 2014 New Orleans Piano Competition, 2013 Cincinnati World Piano Competition, 2011 Jaen International Piano Competition.


Marianna Prjevalskaya – Photo credit: David Rafie


‘Deep musical background’ 

I come from a family with a deep musical background. My father is a violinist and my mother is a pianist, who taught me for the first eleven years. My parents never considered to ask me if I wanted to become a musician or if I had other interests. It was just assumed with no doubt that I will be a musician too. The only question that was raised was about instrument preference. For some reason I preferred the piano, probably because my older cousin was (and still is) a very accomplished pianist and I felt I wanted to become a pianist as well. I started my piano lessons at the age of six, and as a kid, I enjoyed them. I played concerts and made my first debut with a symphony orchestra at the age of nine, but I would probably say that my conscious realization of the fact that I want to devote my entire life to music and to the piano came several years later after I moved to Spain with my family in 1992. It was there where my interest in music started to seriously grow. I became so absorbed with it that there was no return. And I am very grateful for that, I cannot see my life without music.
Recent work …. 

My most recent work included several important performances: a solo recital at the Shriver Concert Hall Series in Baltimore, a solo recital at Carnegie’s Weill Hall in New York past February and a performance of Schumann piano concerto with Louisiana Philharmonic at the end of this month. Right after performing in Louisiana, I will return to Baltimore to give another recital at the Music in the Great Hall concert series. 

I have an important project coming up too. I will be recording both sets of variations by Rachmaninoff – on a theme by Corelli Op.42 and on a theme by Chopin Op.22 – for Fanfare Cincinnati label. It is a really exciting project for me, as I have been willing to record a CD entirely devoted to Rachmaninoff long time ago. There are not too many recordings of Rachmaninoff’s works out there. Both of these compositions are outstanding, twenty years separate them, and I think it’s fascinating to experience how composer’s harmonic language and sense of form evolved, but at the same time other traits remained intact. Variations on a theme by Chopin are very rarely performed. It is a gem of a piece that is unfortunately neglected and remains under the shadows of his other famous piano works such as the second sonata for example. 

also have another project in mind, hopefully I will be able to make it to life in the near future: I would like to record two books of Préludes by Debussy, this should be a 2CD set. This is in terms of recording projects. 

Future performances

As far as future performances: I will be returning to New Orleans to play with Louisiana Philharmonic, I also have several concert tours in Colorado and Germany this summer, and I will be also performing in London’s Wigmore Hall, I am waiting for the date to be confirmed. 


Marianna Prjevalskaya – Photo credit: Chi Xu.


The most difficult thing you have overcome as a pianist? 

This is not an easy question. In fact there are certain things that I prefer to keep private. However, out of those I can share, I would probably say that I learned how to remain who I am no matter what others think of me or expect from me. And that was not easy! I am very vulnerable, so it was hard, sometimes it’s a struggle, but I manage. 

To bring you an example: this applies to competition experiences as well. It is hard to go to compete without ever thinking how well other contestants will play and whether the impression you will leave on a jury will be positive or negative.  I guess it is natural these type of thoughts might cross your mind, but they are very distracting! They push you away from who you are and they close the door to express yourself in an authentic way. You start loosing your confidence and it becomes very obvious from the outside. To remain intact of influences (and I don’t only mean during competitions, but even in a daily life) and the surroundings is hard, but possible. 

Which other living concert pianists influence you and why?

I could name several, but there is only one name that really stands out for me: Grigory Sokolov. 

I don’t like to use the word genius, but this is the only case I would use it. His performances are transcendental experiences. He is a performer who speaks from his truest self. 

I attended one of his recitals in London’s Wigmore Hall while I was a student at the Royal College of Music in London. For the first two minutes I was not sure if I loved it or I hated it, but on the third minute I noticed tears in my eyes. The first half of the concert was entirely dedicated to Rameau and the second half included works by Schubert and Schumann. Then six encores followed. It was beyond any description! I went backstage to talk to him, as I wanted to express my gratitude and to congratulate him, but as soon as I approached him I broke into heavy tears and could not say a word for a while. He just touched my soul so deeply that I understood his performance made a very powerful impact on me, no one else made it at such a large scale. Years have passed, but he remains for me, probably, the only one. His artistry is the type that resonates with me most, each note has a meaning, each silence has a meaning, each note has its beginning and its end! This is what matters most! There is no single superficial note and there is no note or phrase that lacks feeling or emotion. His musicianship is so powerful that he hypnotizes you, he takes control over you, and that is extremely hard to find nowadays. He is not trying to impress you with anything, he is just authentic. 

Advice to young pianists … 

My advice would be: never give up, be who you are no matter what, keep growing as a person, that will help you to grow as a musician, be authentic and inspiring. Life will respond to you. 

Don’t think 10 hours of daily practice will change you as a musician. Sometimes life experiences are responsible for that biggest change. And I don’t only mean happy experiences, but those unhappy as well. 

Hopes for the future …

I want to keep performing as much as I can, I want to engage as much audiences as possible. I also enjoy teaching, and hope I can be helpful sharing my experiences and knowledge with young students. 


Photo taken during recital in Carnegie’s Weill Hall by Jeffrey Holmes.



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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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Robert Silverman

What motivates you to play Piano?

The same thing that motivates me to breathe.

You have worked with conductors such as Seiji Ozawa, John Eliot Gardiner, Gerard Schwarz, Neeme Järvi, and the late Kiril Kondrashin . Is there any particular conductor that you especially love working with/ why? 

The last two in particular. Plus Hiroyuki Iwaki in Melbourne, Raffi Armenian, Simon Streatfeild and Dwight Bennett in several Canadian locales, Sasha Dmitriev in St. Petersburg, Cristian Mandeal in Bucharest.  Never heard of them? Too bad.


Richard Goode.  At various other times, Rachmaninoff, Ivan Moravec and Solomon. I learned more about music from Leonard Shure than from any other teacher I’ve had.

Earliest memory involving piano playing? 

Making up a piece on the spot for a class assembly in Grade 1. 

Proudest career moment to date? 

Finishing the last chord of Op. 111 in my first Beethoven sonata cycle (at Vancouver’s Chan Centre)

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

Listening to a piece with your inner ear, developing a concept of how it goes, then conveying exactly that sonic image with urgency, passion, and profundity.  Quite simple, really.  (oh, plus running with the wolves, taking on a single career name mid-stream, and posing for fashion magazines).

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

The job of Lang Lang is already taken.  Be your own person.  If you don’t know who your own person is, try to find something else to do. 

The biggest challenge you have overcome…

Shitty hands.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Retaining my sanity in these times.  (Musically, the Schumann Quintet Op. 44, and late several Brahms pieces. Later this season, a lot of Brahms’ chamber music.)



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Samuel Yirga

Samuel Yirga Photography credit- York Tillyer

‘Love’ as motivation

Love motivates me to play the piano because for me, the sound of it is so much related to the feeling of love.


My two older brothers because they were so much into listening to instrumental music, especially the piano.

Earliest memory …

While I was playing in a reggae club called ‘Changes’ in Addis Ababa, the keyboard fell because the stand was not fixed well and it was a horrible sound that came out from the clash of the two keyboards. It was actually a unique sound for the reggae group and what’s worse, I had to play sitting on the floor until they fixed the stand.

Can you tell us more about life as a child and teenager growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – your dream to become a musician, and the many obstacles you faced?

When I was a very small kid, I had so many different interests. For example, I was very good in academic education which led me to the interest of being an engineer or a pilot. On the other hand, I was very good at playing football, I was good at acting, good at teaching, I was good at making a speech and presenting so that led me to the interest of becoming a president or a prime minister. In the later case, I had the chance to be the leader of different groups. However, the interest of being a musician was more than all the above interests.

Even though, I was very much interested in becoming a musician especially a pianist and a singer, my family didn’t want to send me to a music school. They told me that they would send me when I got to grade 10, but they didn’t and I was very much into the academic education.

Life as a child was not that comfortable for me and I don’t think that things were fulfilled for me. To get what you want will take ages and when the time comes you’ll be in a different life. I can’t say that I was in a high class school when I was in elementary and high school but I had a big passion in all of the courses I was taking. However those things didn’t stop me from being strong and accomplishing my aim.

The culture didn’t have that much respect for the music profession and those things were the big challenges for many of the interested ones. Actually it’s not only the music but Art in general that didn’t get the acknowledgment from the culture.

It’s getting better right now but again it’s not changed that much. My father was not happy when I joined the Yared school of music because he wanted me to be an engineer or doctor or something better than music.

He just let me do everything I was trying to do at that time because he thought that I would get a bachelor degree and not play my music. I can’t blame my father alone, but the whole culture. Right now, he’s so happy about my success and respects the arts in general. Now, he even knows many of the artists and he always discusses every details of music with me.

This will be a big lesson for other families and will really teach them how to help with the interests of their children. Because of all the problems that I mentioned above, most of us decide very late about what we have to be.

What are your plans and aspirations for the future?

My big plan is to change the production quality of Ethiopian music, helping to create as many good musicians as possible.

I believe that when the production of the music gets better and better, it will be possible to create good musicians because the music and everything will bring a challenge on the potential of the musician. If we are talking about the quality, the musicians will try to be as great as the record and if we are talking about the music arrangement, again the musicians will work hard to perform the same or better level of the arrangement which will make them good in performing as well as rearrangement.

On the other hand, when I think about my country, I don’t think that it’s promoted in a positive way.

I mean the other world knows about Ethiopia as a country of drought, famine, poverty and many other negative descriptions. However, I know my country better than the others because I see what we have and what we don’t have.

There’s poverty, drought, famine and some other problems, but i do believe that we have got much much better things and the country should be described in these great things.

I know that we Ethiopians have got the responsibility of showing the good side of the country and I am trying to do that.

Starting from the great culture of the country, there are many positive things about Ethiopia. We have great and unique music and it’s getting very good acknowledgment from the rest of the world. It proved that music is not only about theory but mainly feeling.

Our special mode called Anchi-Hoye proved this and people started understanding it. They started to see that people can sing those “weird” intervals that are found in the Mode or Scale.

I just mentioned part of our greatness but there is more to show. So as a cultural ambassador, I’m planning to change all these bad images about the country and bring out the positive side.

Proudest career moment (to date)?

For me I think every moment that I have had in my music life is great and I’m proud of all because I tried to show the real feeling about my music and about my country.

Cover image of the album – Guzo

Can you tell us more about ‘Guzo’ from a musicians point of view and composer – the musical influences behind it ?

GUZO is my debut album and it shows my different interests and potential in playing piano and composing. I have been experimenting with many different things in my music by fusing traditional Ethiopian music to classical and jazz, RnB and Latin, keeping the real identity of our culture. I have different interests and i am not restricted in one kind of creativity because I believe that there is no wrong thing to do with music. Anyone can say, this is my favourite or not my favorite but they can’t say that it’s wrong because it all depends on the interest and feeling that the music gives. It might be good to one and bad to the other. So I put my experiments on this album which gave a great impression to different people and gives this positive idea about creativity.

This album is a mix of different types of music from different parts of the country and the world. I divided it in 4 major parts:

1. Solo Piano– this part shows my piano playing and the influence of Jazz, Ethiopian, and classical music. I tried to put the different modes of the country in my own playing and tried to show the real description of those modes when an Ethiopian musician plays. I included some original and some cover songs in this part.

2. Traditional instruments of Ethiopia fused with Piano and some modern instruments – this part of the album was recorded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in Solomon studio which is owned by a legendary Ethiopian and great bass player Abiyou Solomon. Great and well known musicians of the country participated on this part. The songs Abet Abet and The blues of Wollo (which features the great female singer Genet Masresha) are some of these fused ones.

3.Ethio-Jazz– This is like a big description of me. Having all the fights with the school professors because of the rules which only allows the students to play classical music, I’ve accomplished my aim to be a jazz musician. Many people know me as an Ethio-jazz pianist and have been performing with different jazz and funk groups. This part of the album contains the songs that I wrote while I was in school and after graduating. songs like Tiwista are in this part of the album.

4. Funk, Pop and Latin fusion- is a collaboration with other great and well known musicians and singers from other countries. The songs African Diaspora and I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun are in this category which includes the Creole Choir of Cuba that is an amazing group touring all over the world, Nicolette a Nigerian-British and the ex-lead vocalist of the group Massive Attack and Mel Gara, a British singer whose origins are in Iraq.

In general, you can see a little bit of each influence from my different interests. I can say that I was very much interested in playing Ethiopian music, to sing RnB and to get a new sound from the experiments. The great Ethiopian pianist Elias Negash made me think of experimenting on Ethiopian music and i always want to thank him for that.

This album is the product of a lot of hard work from Nick Page, the producer. He gave me many big lessons like how to take a song and make it big. He’s an amazing musician and an all-rounder. He sees things in different directions. I don’t know how to describe him but he’s an inspiration to me. He cares about the artist that works with him. I really want to thank him all time.

From the beginning it has been getting a great response from all over the world, including Ethiopia.

Any tips for young and aspiring pianists?

First of all I don’t believe in luck and I don’t think I’m lucky. But I’m a dreamer and a hard worker with a positive mind.

I always dreamt of being a  singer and a pianist, even though in the middle of this I was so much into my academic education. But I knew that I would be a well known musician and that I would travel outside my country and I got all what I wanted.

When you work on something you like or are passionate about, you’ll invest a lot in  it. But you have to know what you’re doing and it’s always good to start from the basics.

Spending too much time doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be good. Sometimes it’s better to sit for a small amount of time and do the right and precise thing which will make you more effective than spending too much time without understanding what you’re doing. However it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to spend or practice for a long time. You can use it if you really know the right way and the right elements of that interest.

So Dream, Pray, be positive, practice, sacrifice. VALUE=great results and great feedback.


Samuel Yirga – Photography credit York Tillyer








Listen to Samuel Yirga play – http://vimeo.com/11804510

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Filed under Composers, Interviews, world music styles

Rekesh Chauhan

How has Indian culture and classical music shaped your technique and career?

Indian culture and music has had a huge impact on my playing and style.

My father is a vocalist, so I suppose having grown up with the influence of Indian Classical Music it eventually found its way reflected within my playing. I began my initial training by learning to play the harmonium (popular hand-pumped instrument played in India) and early on I studied western classical guitar, after I went on to learn the Piano – eventually I ended up amalgamating and adapting the style of Indian Classical Music onto the Piano.

You’ll find that my the majority of my recitals incorporate many of the fundamental elements of Indian Classical Music Ragas (Modes) and Taals (Rhythmic cycles) parallel with western harmonies- the Piano allows plenty of scope to explore Indian Classical Music.


I’ll try not to sound typical, but every artist I have come across has inspired me; I believe there is something unique that every person has to offer.

Appreciably, my father, who has been my teacher, has been a huge influence. I try to listen to and spend time with musicians from everywhere; there is always something inspiring to hear from each individual. I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown and performed with a variety of artists, this has had an influence on my listening palette too.

Earliest memory involving piano playing?

Learning to play a folk song on the harmonium and being put on the spot to play it on national radio!

Proudest career moment?

Performing as a solo concert pianist at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.

I remember growing up spending many weekends watching some of the world’s finest musicians performing concerts there. In particular I remember one night as a kid going to see Lang Lang perform there and daydream that I would have the opportunity to perform my own concert on that very same stage, little did I know it was around the corner!

Can you tell us about one of your favourite concert venues and why?

There’s so many, but if I had to pick one, Ronnie Scotts in Soho, London.

I played there with Tabla player Talvin Singh a few years back. There is an incredible energy in that space, it’s very intimate in a way that you immediately feel very much more connected with the audience.

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

There are so many important qualities to choose from, but if I had to pick one out, it would be for the individual to be themselves.

Focus and listening are definitely important too but it can be so easy to get engrossed in the technical aspects that sometimes you can forget to just let go! Letting the music reflect your personality is one of the beauties an instrument can offer. It’s central that the technical application is executed but also learning to let go and let your heart do the playing is just as important.

I would love to see more young pianists on the concert circuit exploring world music styles, I do always find that I’m playing to audiences older than me!

“Music of just absolute beauty” – Bobby Friction, BBC Asian Network



Filed under Interviews, world music styles