New Ross Festival Pianists Perform In Front Of Live Audience





What has been the musical highlight of the past 18 months?
It was so incredibly crazy and stimulating this time. Our perception of this whole period has been so different from normal circumstances. It is difficult to name a musical moment. The opportunity to enjoy music again after months of hiatus was in itself something of a highlight. And play again in front of an audience. I played at the North Yorkshire Festival in August 2020. It was almost impossible at that time to organize events with an audience. Festival director Jamie Walton found people who let him build a large marquee in the middle of their field, so it could be counted as an outdoor concert, with the sides of the marquee open. I just remember this amazing feeling of energy from everyone. Finally, life made more sense.

The musical low point?
Do not play. Just forgetting what it’s like to be creative, not feeling creative. I feel like half of me is dead when nothing happens. It was very difficult.

What is the first piano music album or CD that you have purchased?
I don’t remember the very first one. I had a pretty standard collection of stuff, listening to great pianists like Horowitz, Rubinstein and Rachmaninoff. My parents are both professional pianists. Music and records were such a normal environment for me.

Katya Apekisheva. Photography: Sam Canetty-Clarke

You have a time machine. Which pianist do you want to travel and hear live?
Liszt, probably, would be one. We read so much about him as an extraordinary human being, an extraordinary personality, but also an extraordinary pianist and performer. Maybe also Clara Schumann, because she was also quite revolutionary. And certainly Rachmaninoff because he is one of my favorite pianists.

What is the biggest challenge of being a concert pianist?
First of all, just endurance. For pianists it is so difficult, because our repertoire is so vast and most of us have to memorize so much music, so complex textures. Keeping it in our heads and our hands is very difficult. And obviously, you need incredible drive, dedication, and commitment. You have to make sacrifices in life.

Which of the songs you play in New Ross do you like the most, and why?
Well, Sally Beamish’s new track that we haven’t even rehearsed yet. So probably the Poulenc that I play with Charles Owen. L’Élégie is the most beautiful and sensual piece.



Cedric Pescia.  Photography: Uwe Neuman

Cedric Pescia. Photography: Uwe Neuman

Musical highlight? I couldn’t go to concerts so it’s a personal experience. I decided to learn new things that I probably will never do. One of them was to learn the Scriabin sonatas, of which I had only learned one in ten. It was completely fascinating. And I probably wouldn’t have done it any other way. I never would have had the time.

Musical low point?
All the lessons I had to give – I teach at the University of Geneva – via Skype or Zoom, and dealing with terrible instruments, terrible sounds. It had nothing to do with the game, but it was so frustrating.

First piano music album?
One of the very first was certainly Clara Haskil in Schubert’s last sonata. I also had the Beethoven concertos with Maurizio Pollini. I don’t know which one came first. I was actually much more interested in orchestral music and opera. It was my passion when I was eight, nine, ten. I listened to Mozart operas and tried to play them on the piano.

Time travel for which pianist?
Ludwig van Beethoven. I am so constantly busy with him. I always try to imagine how Chopin or Bach played. But with Beethoven I have the impression that it was so free in the way of treating the instrument, and so extreme … unconventional.

The biggest challenge?
Don’t repeat yourself. Always seek the deepest meaning. Even if something was right, don’t do the same at the next gig. To keep your curiosity. It’s easy to slip into a routine.

What’s your favorite new Ross piece?
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the version for two pianos by Franz Liszt. It is one of the greatest works of art ever created. And then Liszt did something so awesome, the transcription is so perfect. I find everything I am looking for in music.



Musical highlight?
Before the pandemic, I had organized a project to celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday involving 11 Irish pianists and 11 composers from around the world. We were going to get together for a big premiere of the new pieces. It didn’t work out as expected, but we turned it into an online series, with a premiere every week.

Musical low point?
Not being able to play with other musicians live. It is such a special experience. Online it’s not the same.

First piano music album?
I think it was a Martha Argerich CD with Chopin’s Studies and his Sonata in B minor. I was struck by the power of his performances, especially his Etude, Op 10 No 4.

Time travel for which pianist?
I would love to hear Horowitz play. I saw a lot of his performances just on YouTube. Of course, they are quite old. But the public reaction … The live performances and the recordings are so different. I would like to hear it.

The biggest challenge?
I have to think about how to communicate my own interpretations of music to an audience. When I really like a piece of music, I want to share that same love with everyone.

What’s your favorite new Ross piece?
I really like playing Debussy. I’m also very interested in art, so I love the different tones and colors of Debussy’s music, and the possibilities it offers. I play two of the Preludes, Les Collines d’Anacapri and Minstrels.



Philippe Cassard

Philippe Cassard

Musical highlight?
In France, from October, we could not play concerts for eight months. With Cédric Pescia I did TV concerts at the end of January. We rehearsed Beethoven / Liszt’s Ninth Symphony and performed it live on The nervousness, the adrenaline, the concentration … It was as if we were discovering our world. Everything seemed new. We have lost our habits, our routines so quickly. To me it was like a nuclear bomb. I have never felt this kind of fear since I was a child. I was completely panicked – before the concert, not while I was playing.

Musical low point?
My loss of energy. I could not believe it. I am a very positive person, very optimistic, always enthusiastic about playing music, listening to music. I really couldn’t believe the last four months in lockdown would have been like this – I don’t mean the word depressing, but it was not far from it. We couldn’t see any end because we couldn’t see any beginning of new activity.

First piano music album?
When I was seven, I went with my mother to buy an LP. It was Rubinstein’s Chopin Poles for RCA. I still have the vinyl. It’s completely worn out. And also Chopin Études et Valses by our French pianist, Samson François.

Time travel for which pianist?
Rachmaninoff. He is the tallest, well above the rest. I listened to most of what he recorded. It’s an Everest for me. The style, the imagination, the color, the technique of course. Completely the opposite of what the younger generation is now doing in their music. And also a concert that I would like to attend again, Horowitz in Paris in October 1985, the most moving … the rage, the fire of Horowitz after a disastrous tour in Tokyo two years earlier, the first European concert was in Paris. With each note he would say: “I am the king”. Unbelievable.

The biggest challenge?
For me to keep, if possible – unfortunately this rarely happens – to keep on stage, on the platform, at 200%. Not 100 percent – 200 percent.

What’s your favorite new Ross piece?
Schumann’s Study in Form of Canon arranged by Debussy. Incredibly beautiful. Small, but the concentration of pure music, pure poetry, refinement … but with a simple material.



Charles Owen.  Photography: Erik Emanuel

Charles Owen. Photography: Erik Emanuel

Musical highlight?
For me as a performer, it was spending this beautiful spring confinement to immerse myself in Chopin, Liszt and Schumann. And then in the fall I recorded Liszt’s Years of Pilgrimage – the Swiss book – and the Blessing of God in Solitude. . You could see and feel the tears and the emotion all over the room.

Musical low point?
Endless cancellations. The constant movement of the goal posts.

First piano music album?
I think it was Arthur Rubinstein who played all of Chopin’s nocturnes and waltzes. Another one of my favorite recordings. So, so awesome. So personal.

Time travel for which pianist?
Rachmaninoff. No question. I know there are recordings. But it’s something about hearing the sound of him actually in a room. One of the cruelest things about anything happening online during the lockdown is that there wasn’t that visceral connection.

The biggest challenge?
Maintain a large repertoire. Stay fit, healthy and motivated. And stay constantly curious.

Which new Ross pieces do you like the most?
I can’t comment on Sally Beamish’s new piece as we haven’t put it together yet. Thus, Élégie pour deux pianos by Poulenc. The two pianos dialogue throughout the piece. It was written in memory of one of Poulenc’s dear friends, Marie-Blanche [de Polignac]. Despite being beautifully constructed, the piece captures the feeling of improvisation. In the opening of the score it says that you have to play this as if you have a cigar hanging from your mouth and a glass of brandy on the piano. You can never use enough pedal. And it should be as if the pianists are improvising.

The New Ross Piano Festival takes place September 23-26



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