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15 Questions to Stephen Hough

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m on a Boeing 747-400 on my way to Sydney and actually looking forward to a 20 hour flight with guilt-free reading and relaxing time.

What’s on your schedule right now?
I’m about to do a month-long tour of Australia; mainly recitals, but some concertos appearances too.

If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?
Earlier in my life I think I would have become a Catholic priest, but I’m not sure they’d have me now!

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
My main teacher, Gordon Green. Many others who have taught me and with whom I have worked as a chamber musician have also had important influences: Heather Slade-Lipkin, Derrick Wyndham, Douglas Steele, Robert Mann, Steven Isserlis, Lowell Liebermann ...

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
Being a musician in the abstract and living the life of a musician are two very different things. Perhaps they meet though in the necessity to keep in balance both sensitivity and toughness.  An ability to dream is vital, but so is a total grasp of what needs to be done practically from moment to moment – onstage and offstage. That’s the hardest thing.

The best thing is the ability to spend one’s life doing something challenging and rewarding --- never reaching the end of the road, but finding that road fascinating in every moment.

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
There are always crises in everything. I don’t think there is a particularly serious one in the classical music scene, but I think perhaps we are being challenged to look at certain things differently. (If we left out sales there would be no crisis to report – numbers aren’t really essential to music in this way.) But the music remains ... and, like great paintings in a museum, it will be of importance to people in every generation. But we musicians need to be contemplatives first (perhaps even mystics) and business people very much second.

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?
There’s always something new to be said about familiar music which is of universal significance – and I myself have recorded dozens of works which had never been recorded before.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
‘Live’ is the word: there should be a spark, a ‘presence’ in what’s going on.  We can learn so much from great actors. The first step onto the stage has to ‘happen’, to inject something into the bloodstream of the audience, to ignite, to burst into life. And this not in an artificial way, but from the very soul of a performer who is tingling with vitiality. This is why we need to be contemplatives and mystics. Take no C major chord for granted.

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
This is a continuation from the previous question – honesty, repect for the composer combined with confidence as a performer. The courage to set off down a new path, but the humility to admit that that path might have been a mistake. To communicate as a form of love, even compassion for those listening.

How do you balance the need to to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer?
Ah, another continuation of a previous question. I think though that unless we feel that our personal emotions already have a connection with the composer of the piece we are playing then we should change repertoire.

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.
People can start without education, but in order to pursue classical music I think it’s better to know as much as possible. Similar to painting. We can stand in front of Rembrandt’s RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON with admiration, enjoying the colours and shapes, but when we know the story he is depicting our appreciation enters a whole new dimension.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
I’d have to look at my resources before making any decisions, I suppose. I’d like to have lots of variety, and I’d like to try concerts at different times – later and earlier than the norm.

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
I love the piano. The act of lifting my arms up to its keys and beginning to draw out sounds never fails to thrill me.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
Cello – very bad;  percussion – not bad;  organ – quite good;  flute ... well I can get a sound out of it!

Picture by Eric Richmond

Discography (excerpt):
Hummel: Piano Concertos (1987) Chandos
Liszt (1988) Virgin Classics
My Favorite Things: Virtuoso Encores (1988) Musicmasters,
Scharwenka: Piano Concerto No. 4, Sauer: Piano Concerto No.1 (1994) Hyperion
Piano Music by Federico Mompou (1997) Hyperion
Brahms Piano Concertos 1 and 2, BBC Symphony Orchestra (1998) Virgin Classics
Stephen Hough's New Piano Album (1999) Hyperion
Saint-Saëns, The Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra (2001) Hyperion,
Hummel: Piano Sonatas (2003) Hyperion
Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos No. 1, 2, 3 and 4; (2004) Hyperion
The Stephen Hough Piano Collection (2005) Hyperion
Liszt: Annees de pelerinage - Suisse (2005) Hyperion
Stephen Hough's Spanish Album (2006) Hyperion
Man of Sorrows for piano & orchestra - George Tsontakis (2007) Hyperion

Stephen Hough

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