A master class with Andrei Gavrilov

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. As we say goodbye to 2015, I’m posting this master class given by Russian pianist Andrei Gavrilov. I interviewed Gavrilov in 2013 and his interview is one of the most fascinating of all my 40 filmed interviews with eminent classical pianists (you can view them all here).

This master class was recorded in Glasgow at the Piano Festival in 2014 and I hope you find it interesting.

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.



Barry Douglas in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

The thirty-ninth interview in my Classical Conversations Series features Irish concert pianist Barry Douglas. We met for a chat in London recently, where he talked about his life and career.

Barry Douglas has established a major international career since winning the Gold Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, Moscow. As Artistic Director of Camerata Ireland and the Clandeboye Festival, he continues to celebrate his Irish heritage whilst also maintaining a busy international touring schedule.

Barry has recently embarked on a monumental recording project with Chandos Records – to record the complete works for solo piano of Brahms within five years. Having developed a wealth of musical experience in his 35-year career, Barry now feels the time is right to undertake this colossal project. The first disc of works by Brahms was released to critical acclaim in March 2012. The interesting programming of each disc, which has already garnered much critical praise, presents each album as a stand-alone recital, providing a varied and engaging listening experience. March 2014 will also see the release of his first recording of Schubert solo piano works.

Barry founded Camerata Ireland in 1999 to celebrate and nurture the cream of young Irish talent. The ensemble is made up of musicians from both Northern and the Republic of Ireland and has acquired a reputation for excellence. Camerata Ireland tours regularly throughout Europe, North and South America, and China. In addition to its busy schedule of concerts, the orchestra will perform a new cantata commissioned by The Honourable The Irish Society, “At Sixes and Sevens”, alongside the London Symphony Orchestra to celebrate Derry-Londonderry becoming City of Culture 2013. Barry Douglas is joint Artistic Director of this project.

Highlights of this season include returns to the London Symphony Orchestra, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Ulster Orchestra, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Tonkünstler Orchestra both in Vienna and on tour in the UK, and the Macau Orchestra.  He has previously given concerts with the London Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Russian National, Cincinnati Symphony, Singapore Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Hallé, Berlin Radio Symphony, Melbourne Symphony, Czech National Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, Brussels Philharmonic, Shanghai Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Houston Symphony, and Helsinki Philharmonic orchestras, among others. Barry regularly plays in recital throughout the world, with upcoming performances in Switzerland, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, the USA, and the UK, including a series of lunchtime recitals at LSO St Luke’s. He also performed the Penderecki Sextet at the 2013 Krzysztof Penderecki Festival in honour of the composer’s 80th birthday.

Barry’s reputation as a play/conductor has grown since forming Camerata Ireland, this season seeing him return to direct the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. In recent seasons, he has made successful debuts with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Indianapolis Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Chamber Orchestra of the Romanian National Radio Orchestra at the Enescu Festival, Bangkok Symphony, I Pommerigi di Milano and Moscow Philharmonic orchestras.

Barry Douglas received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2002 New Year’s Honours List for services to music.

Barry in action:

The transcript for those who prefer to read my interviews:

Melanie: Irish concert pianist, Barry Douglas, won the gold medal at the 1986 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, and he’s won many awards and accolades throughout his fantastic career. I’m thrilled he’s taken the time ahead of a very busy schedule to join me here in London for a Classical Conversation. Welcome.

Barry: Thank you Melanie.

Melanie: Lovely to chat to you today.

Barry: Good to chat to you, too.

Melanie: I’d like to start by asking all about your musical education, how you started, why you started, and whether you come from a musical family.

Barry: I don’t come from a musical family although my parents appreciated music. We went to concerts. I was very lucky, because growing up in Belfast it was very tough with the conflict at the time in the 60s and 70s. There was a lot of scope for learning different instruments. In my school and the school of music in Belfast, you were able to do whatever you wanted in fact and it was very reasonable for people who didn’t have a lot of money. It was a very democratic kind of situation. And I was able to learn. I studied the piano, of course. I did clarinet, cello, played the organ, timpani, conducted, and did all sorts of things. So all of that was kind of contributed to a very rich background and it really did fit into all of my musical activities later on. That took me right up to my mid-teens. That was roughly when I decided to be a pianist.

Melanie: Quite late, isn’t it?

Barry: I had to finally choose. It’s very late, very late.

Melanie: Yes. It’s very late. It’s amazing.

Barry: Because normally everybody was playing Transcendental Studies at the age of 2.

Melanie: So which teacher, then, do you think kind of was most important, would you say, in your development? Or you’ve got several teachers that have really helped you along the way?

Barry: All of my teachers, I’ve been very fortunate, gave me something, and that’s what teachers should do. They all give something different. But, why I decided to be a pianist. Because I was rather hoping to be a clarinetist at the time, was that I met through a chance meeting with my father meeting with a friend of his, I met this woman who was coming to visit her folks in Ireland, North and South, and she had been a pupil of Emil von Sauer, who was a pupil of Liszt. And so Felicitas LeWinter was her name and she was a Jewish refugee from Vienna at the time, in that terrible time just before the Second World War, and she was an amazing pianist and an amazing teacher. She gave me a whole series of lessons. First of all, she told me that I couldn’t play the piano, and then she gave me a whole series of lessons saying, “Well, this is how you do play the piano.” And she had an amazing sound at the piano and in fact her hero, apart from Sauer, her teacher, and of course Liszt, was a guy called Arthur Friedheim who had the most beautiful sound on the piano. And she said, “If you can achieve this one day then you’ll truly be a pianist.” And then many years later she came to hear me on the South Bank when I was in my late-twenties, mid-twenties and she said, “Finally, Barry, I think you have the Arthur Friedheim sound.” So, I thought, “Well, finally I’ve arrived!” [Laughter] But she was marvelous and she inspired me to be a pianist. I’ll be forever grateful to her. I also had a wonderful teacher at the Royal College of Music, John Barstow. And then had lessons, a lot of lessons with Maria Curcio privately in London. And she was a huge inspiration as well. She’d been a pupil of Schnabel, and so a whole mileage of tradition and an integrity and a sincerity about music making, about technique, about literature.

Melanie: I was going to ask, how did you develop your technique? Were you one of those pianists that practiced a lot of scales and studies or were you on learning the techniques within each work, do you think?

Barry: I did a bit of both because sometimes when I was very young, I tackled pieces that were really beyond me, but then that was good because Horowitz once said that he learned all his technique from playing music. So, I thought, I think the important thing is that you have to see the reason for a particular technical thing is it has a musical foundation and it’s not something in isolation. Yes, of course scales and arpeggios and exercises are very important, but they should be played in a musical way. Otherwise, if you divorce the technique from the musical expression, then somehow it’s very difficult to pair it up again. So, you should always make music even with an exercise, even with a scale. I remember when I was trying to make money when I was an 18-year-old in London, and I taught these kids the piano, and there was this one little girl who played the most beautiful C major scales. Her hand was incredible and it was just perfect. It was making music, and I used to get her to play it over and over again [Laughter] C major scale.

Melanie: Interesting. So, you won the Tchaikovsky. It must have had a tremendous impact on your career. How did it change?

Barry: Well, overnight, of course, it was a huge thing for me. Everything opened, you know, record contracts, agencies, concerts, festivals, orchestras, conductors, because in those days it was – I mean, Valery Gergiev has transformed the competition. The last edition was 2011. So it is really very interesting, but in those days just before the fall of the Soviet Union, it had a kind of mystery to it. I think everybody is kind of fascinated by what the Russians were doing behind the iron curtain. And of course it was a hugely important Piano School in the Moscow Conservatory, with great teachers and of course we knew these wonderful, and we love these Russian pianists. And so, for me, it was actually incredible to manage to win this, and I’m eternally grateful to my friends in Russia.

Melanie: Do you believe competition is still the best way of establishing a career for young pianists today or do you think we’ve got so many of them that they’ve become less important?

Barry: I think there are too many and they are less important. But that doesn’t mean that a young musician can’t come to a competition with the right frame of mind, with the right motivation. It’s not about running around the world and entering different competitions just for the sake of it. It’s about playing well, making music, and if some day you win, that’s great. If you don’t, it doesn’t really mean too much. It means, you know, you didn’t win on that particular day, but another day you might win. So, it’s not about the winning, Yes, it is about the winning. Well, I mean, you have to enter competitions and I really do want to win, because it is a competition. But, at the same time, I think you must have prepared yourself over the years so that music is the most important thing. I used to hear people talk about how they would change the technique or how they play the piece to suit the jury. I don’t know how they knew what the jury was going to like or not like, but that’s really the wrong way to do it. You have to love the music. You have to love the piano, and that should come first.

Melanie: Which composers do you love to play?

Barry: I don’t have any favourites, though I’ve been playing a lot of Brahms and Schubert at the moment.

Melanie: [Laughter] That was my next question, yes, because you’ve embarked on this 5 year project to record all of Brahms solo piano music. That’s incredible. What was the inspiration behind that? What’s so special about his music for you?

Barry: Well, I’ve always played Brahms. I’ve known most of his music for a very long time. Schubert a little bit less, but I’m playing more and more Schubert now. Brahms seemed the logical choice when Chandos asked me to do a series of a complete thing. I said, “Well, Brahms I think is-” and Beethoven, of course, would be also, but maybe that’s not for now for me, but Brahms has been a great voyage of discovery because I’ve learned pieces that I haven’t played before, and that’s interesting, but we’ve got another year and a half to go and then Brahms will be done and after that the Schubert. We’ve released one Schubert record. We’re going to do a second the next year and then we’ll get into a series.

Melanie: I was going to say, are you going to do a complete Schubert Cycle? What is the music-?

Barry: Yes, yes. I don’t know if it’s going to be complete, complete, complete. But it’s going to be certainly all the main, important works and some of the small pieces as well. But I’m not sure if I’m going to get every last thing wiped up.

Melanie: Yes. Quite a difference between Brahms and Schubert. Different completely styles.

Barry: Absolutely. And in fact with the Brahms, I wanted to make each disc a kind of piano recital. So, you know, you would come home from work tired, have a glass of wine or coffee, and listen to a recital. So, you don’t have to buy the whole thing. You can buy the whole thing if you want. I’m sure the guys at Chandos would be very happy and so would I. But I want each disc to be kind of self-contained, too, and have a little bit from the beginning, middle, and end of his life. So you can see the contrast and the different techniques and how he developed just in one disc. But the Schubert I’m going to do quite seriously with the sonatas, and then I’m also going to include in most of the discs the Liszt transcriptions of his songs just to have a little kind of different flavour and how another great composer commented and admired Schubert’s work.

Melanie: You set up Camerata Ireland in 1999 and you direct and conduct this orchestra. What made you go into that, into conducting? Because that’s quite a departure.

Barry: Well I was conducting choirs and orchestras in my teens so it was always kind of there. The whole thing with Camerata was not really to start conducting. It was a moment in history of the island, which was transformative. We had peace. We had parliament and there were a lot of things about to happen. I think we artists should make a contribution to that, too. Excuse me. [Coughs] So, I wanted – I guess the mission of the orchestra is really a free flow, one is to show the international audience that Ireland can do some beautiful orchestra and play beautifully and Camerata has being touring ever since 1999, all over the world. Another one was to build in the peace process and make those connections North and South and say, well, actually – we get on with people and here’s the positive side of Ireland, what it has to offer. And also then to create a kind of a nurturing place for young musicians in the first few steps of their careers. It’s not a youth orchestra, but it has a strong element of young people in it. Maybe from the ages of 23 to 35, something like that, which is about maybe 50-60% of the orchestra. But I think it’s very important that they should play with their older colleagues and their established colleagues should be able to play with the younger people. I think it’s a very nice mix. And so, I’ve directed most of the concerts, but we do have guest artists. We’ve had Sarah Chang to come and direct. The orchestra is 15 years old and is doing very well, and we’ve made records and we have our own festival. So, it’s very exciting.

Melanie: You’re Artistic Director of a couple of festivals in Ireland. Tell us of your involvement in most festivals and how they’ve progressed over the years.

Barry: Being an all-island orchestra, all-Ireland orchestra, we have kind of two of everything. We have two offices. We have two companies. We have two concert series. We have two education hubs, one in Derry, one in Cork. We had two festivals. We had Clandeboye in the North near Belfast and we had Castletown in Kildare near Dublin in the South. The Castletown thing was sort of magnificent Stately Home, but we decided that after maybe five or six festivals, that we would move on. I think we’re going to find another festival somewhere else. The building is not, it is difficult for chamber orchestras because a lot of it is very well protected because anything could happen to it. For instance, bringing the piano in, you can’t bring the piano up the stairs, because these are steps which are – there’s no support. And so you can see a standard concert grand going up the stairs, and you’d think, “My goodness! What’s going to happen to the stairs?” And so we have to bring them by crane. So, it turned out to be quite costly, but certainly it’s a venue for any concert. And they have their own series of concerts, which they do on the ground floor, because the big concerts are on the first floor. Anyway, so to cut a long story short, we’ll be finding another festival in the South of Ireland. But we have Clandeboye, and Clandeboye is 12 years old this year. We’ve had 160 young musicians go through. We invite international guest artists and they work with the young ones. They play chamber music, give masterclasses, and the Camerata plays. We have theatre. We have cooking master classes. We have a fashion show. So, it’s all of our young people, young designers, young chefs, young actors, young poets. And so it’s all about creating a forum for people to be able to try things like that.

Melanie: So, what are your plans for the future? Concerts? Recordings?

Barry: The recordings are set obviously with the Brahms and Schubert. I might do the two Brahms concertos also. As regards to concerts and continuing my travels around the world, this year I’m going to some new places or places I haven’t been for a while, like Israel. It was my first time in Mexico a couple of years ago and we went with Camerata last year. I went again this year. So, there’s some countries where I’ve been playing a lot in recently. Of course around Europe, I was at the Proms this year. There are new pieces being written for me. Kevin Volans who wrote a concerto for me at the Proms a couple of years ago, is writing another piece for the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group that has piano, a piano solo. So, working with composers is very important, too. What else? The festival, I went to grow the festival because I think it’s very important to reach as many young people as possible. It’s the same as the other festival and I really want to get education in Ireland up and running where kids and schools can really experience the greatest of music and understand and be, in a sense, energized and inspired to probe further and learn more.

Melanie: That’s so important.

Barry: It’s a tough time for education in Ireland and in many countries. With cutbacks and everything, music always seems to be the first one to suffer. So I’m determined to say, “Well we have to really concentrate. This is a priority.”

Melanie: Absolutely. So, what does playing the piano mean to you?

Barry: Well, it’s, you know, it’s all enveloping. I bought a new Steinway grand or concert grand recently and I’m so – I’m finding new sounds. I find most artists who are serious will say ‘I’m learning all the time’. It is really like that! You do learn all the time, and you learn different ways of playing. You discover things about pieces that you’ve known all your life. I think that’s fascinating. It’s exciting. So, it is my life, but it’s part of my life, too. Because I have my own life. My life away from the piano, but the piano – I feel very fortunate. It’s a great instrument, great music.

Melanie: Thanks so much for joining me today.

Barry: Thank you.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Andrei Gavrilov in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

My twenty-sixth interview is with the Russian concert pianist Andrei Gavrilov, who I met at Monkton Combe School near Bath (in the UK) a couple of weeks ago, before he gave a series of master classes in the West Country.

Andrei Gavrilov was born in Moscow in 1955 into an artistic family.  His father Vladimir Gavrilov was a great painter, his mother a pupil of Henrich Neuhaus, was his first teacher. He graduated from the central music school in Moscow in 1973 where he studied with Tatiana Kestner. Later that year he entered Moscow conservatory where his teacher was Lev Naumov.

Andrei won first prize in the 1974 International Tchaikovsky Competition at the age of 18 and in the same year made a triumphant international debut at the Salzburg Festival, substituting for Sviatoslav Richter. He has subsequently enjoyed a distinguished international career which has included performances with many of the world’s greatest orchestras.

He made his London debut in 1976 with Paavo Berglund and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. In 1978 he performed with the Berlin Philharmonic in a major European concert tour of 30 concerts. By 1980 he had performed in all the major cultural centers in the world.

Andrei made a triumphant return to the British concert platform in 1984, after a politically enforced absence, giving recitals at the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall. He successfully petitioned Mikhail Gorbachev for his freedom, and became the first Soviet artist to be granted permission to stay in the West without having to file for political asylum.

Following his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985, Andrei was proclaimed as a major artist by the New York Times’ Donal Henahan. He has since performed with orchestras in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto, London, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Moscow, St-Petersburg and many other major orchestras with conductors including Abbado, Haitink, Muti, Ozawa, Svetlanov,Tennstedt, Rattle and  Sir Neville Mariner among numerous others.

Between 1976 and 1990, Andrei was an exclusive artist with EMI, winning several international prizes including a Gramophone award in 1979, Deutscher Schallplattenpreis in 1981, Grand Prix International du Disque de L’Academie Charles Crois in 1985 and 1986, and International Record Critics Award (IRCA) in 1985. Among his other awards are the 1989 Premio Internazionale Accademia Musicale Chigiana (the jury of music critics proclaiming him as the greatest pianist in the world). In 1998 Andrei Gavrilov was selected as one of the pianists to be featured in Philips Music Group’s Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century collection.

In October 1990 Andrei signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Gramophone, leading to acclaimed recordings of Chopin, Prokofiev, Schubert, Bach and  Grieg. From 1994 until 2001, Andrei had a 7 year pause in his career and virtually ceased performing. He studied philosophy and religion and was searching for new ideas in his approach to music.

In 2001 he made his triumphant comeback to Russia after 16 years, playing four piano concertos in one evening in the Moscow Conservatory. Since then he has played more and more regularly around the world with great success.  In 2008 he came back for a concert in the United States and in 2009 he undertook a world tour which included a four month long all Russian tour with enormous success. In February 2010 he was invited to the Vienna Philharmonic Golden Hall to play four concerts in a row after a 14 year break. The concerts were received with great critical acclaim. Gavrilov is planning numerous CDs and DVD recordings for the first time since 1993 with works by Bach, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and others. Forthcoming engagements include performances throughout the world.

And Andrei in action:


And for those who prefer to read the interview, the transcript:

Melanie Spanswick: “My classical conversation today is with Russian concert pianist Andrei Gavrilov. Andrei came to the public’s attention in 1974 when he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and he’s been playing to great acclaim ever since. I’m delighted that he’s joining me here at Monkton Combe School in Bath. Welcome.”

Andrei Gavrilov: “Thank you very much.”

Melanie: “Lovely to be here talking to you. I’m going to start by asking: How old were you when you began? What was the catalyst? Whether you come from a musical family?”

Andrei: “Yes, that’s very trivial, err the musical mum, she was a pupil of Neuhaus, a very famous teacher in Moscow Conservatory, and I constantly was surrounded by music, but it happened accidentally. I heard a live radio transmission of Mozart’s Requiem and was absolutely shattered. I was three-years-old. I was scared by “Confutatis” and absolutely crushed by “Lacrimosa”. I cried and cried and cried and cried. Really, a very sensitive kid was I. Then next day I just came to the piano and started to play “Lacrimosa” and “Confutatis” to a great surprise to my Mum, and I had never touched the piano. She was – I had an older brother and he was already in the Central Music School and my Mum was very busy with him because Central Special Music School is the very school from where all big Russians came and so it’s very difficult to learn there from the very beginning, from the first day, it’s a very hard programme.”

Melanie: “Yeah, sure.”

Andrei: “Hard training. They – All mothers and all families are involved when their kids are at Central Music School. Those days, now it’s different, and so, I was still mostly having a fun time, with my toys! but since I played these couple of numbers from the “Requiem” and my Mum said can you go, can look forward, can continue and I started to continue. Well, of course, it was not the full scale two handed playing, but it was still quite impressive and that’s how I started. Next day I was already there.”

Melanie: “Which teachers then? There must have been a teacher or teachers. What teachers are crucial in your development?”

Andrei: “You know, there were several because I mean there are many paths, many dimensions of developing a musician. It’s – there’s pianistic mastership, this is – there’s also their musicianship which is totally different. I mean, the pianist is mostly, it’s training. It’s about training; it’s about pedology and things like this. And, for that, irreplaceable was Central Music School because they are based on the best combined traditions of German, French, and Russian schools in the 19th century. This school was created by Goldenweiser, a very important teacher, friend of Tolstoy, beautiful, beautiful pianist of the 19th century. He lived a long life and even I reached him when he was in the conservatory. He was in his 80’s or 90’s or so but he grounded the Central Music School. In 1928 as a new era of those days, new soviet free state. There were a lot of ideas invested in there. There were a lot of hopes in the beginning of the Soviet Union, which all unfortunately went down it was too  – The idea was good but it was still too early. It needed to wait a couple thousand years for such a state where there was no money, everybody’s honest, everybody’s respecting each other, everybody’s loving each other, everybody’s giving. A total giving society. Maybe one day. So this school was combining the best of the best, and it was crucial for – in the developing as the pianist. After finishing this school, you can play everything, I mean you can play like this. You can play like this. You can play like this. You can play with your legs, feet, whatever.”

Melanie: “Yeah, I can imagine.”

Andrei: “We were trained like monkeys. Then, the rest of the Russians they hated us, because when– the team from Central Music School was going to the conservatory, ‘they came from central’ They’re going to take 99% of the places, no chances. And it’s true, it was true.”

Melanie: “But how did you develop your technique?”

Andrei: “You know, it’s difficult to explain because – well, it is not difficult to explain, but for that you have to go through the whole process which is – the process of education at Central Music School was 12 years. They were putting in all these 12 years. It’s a very special programme which was developed during almost a hundred years. It’s the position of the body, the position of the hands, training your nerves, with very special tricks and there are so many- millions of different dimensions of preparing. The best athlete if you wish. The best of the best, who could stand any pressure, playing in space. So, it’s really difficult to tell in the interview. So half a year was dedicated to finger technique, half a year was dedicated to elbow technique, shoulders technique. Then it was every quarter of the year we had a special exam for a special technique. Let’s say in the 7th grade, 7th class as they say, 7th year of our education we had a – and after each exam a filtration like 20 people would be taking the exam, the next day 10 people would be out of the school. It was brutal, brutal.”

Melanie: “Wow that’s interesting.”

Andrei: “Yes, very brutal. Then it would be another 10 entering from next year and then – the filtration was really – and no mercy.”

Melanie: “And hours and hours a day I presume?”

Andrei: “Yes.”

Melanie:  “Exactly how much?”      

Andrei: “We were in school since the very first class from 8 o’clock in the morning until 7 in the evening. It was all in one building, and it all about all kinds of education.”

Melanie: “Amazing.”

Andrei: “Yes, very special. It was – and the school was built in the backyard of the Moscow conservatory. It was also done on purpose so we, the little kids, could be inspired seeing – let’s say – people like Shostakovich or shaking their hands. They were coming to us, into our backyards having cigarettes. In those days they all smoked. So we constantly were seeing Rostropovich chatting with Shostakovich. All these kinds of people and it was becoming normal for us being among those Gods. So, when we were in our early teens we were already kind of a part of this family. There is also the psychological thing which worked very well.”

Melanie: “So, you won the Tchaikovsky prize, what impact did this have on your career, because this must have-“

Andrei: “Jumped. Next week I was in Salzburg replacing Richter, who couldn’t go there and I had a fantastic success and it all started I was invited everywhere.”

Melanie: “So, do you believe the competitions are still good for youngsters today? Or do you think – yes- do you think – do you think we’ve moved on from that now?”

Andrei: “Yeah, I think that was a different era, those days. It was just the beginning of competitions I mean you cannot run thousands of competitions and producing all the time geniuses. I mean for example look at the history of the Tchaikovsky competition, there were only 5 competitions that survived on the level which was established in the first competition in ’58 when Van Cliburn won the first prize, then it was John Ogdon, Ashkenazy and – then my competition in ‘74 where Andras Schiff was only fourth and hardly survived until the third round. It was so strong. Really. But we were all post Second World War generation and a lot of the moral and psychological, metaphysical forces related to the great suffering of the whole planet. And that produced as well in street culture like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and all these stuff, hippie movement. It was a very creative time. But then, when it became regular and the number of competitions grew enormously in the space of 10-12 years. It turned to be very corruptive. Instead of promoting the real talents, it just became an industry, a part of the so called music industry, which I hate. People say music industry not understanding that it’s a contradiction. I mean, the industry and music does not go together. I mean music – the industry goes with the tracks or tanks or whatsoever, but industrialization of music making – it’s just absolutely crazy. This is still a very rare product. And it’s still done by unknown forces and an unknown combination of circumstances, but definitely not on the belt. And in our days it’s just a running belt, like the cheap Ford productions. Doesn’t go. I think in the 21st century we need a total rebranding of music. First of all we have to get rid of music industry, of all this stupid combination of senseless words. We have to get rid of music-money connection, because there are a lot of musicians who are just going to this business for well, living and not understanding what they actually ought to do. What they have actually – to my opinion, the beginning musicians, they have to play for years for free. Like a priest, sort of.”

Melanie: “Absolutely.”

Andrei: “And when they will acquire the love and need from people, people will be needing them. Then, they can be paid for their services, just a little. Instead, we have completely priceless crazy situation. The teenager who is running fast passages, paid enormous fees all over the world, travelling around and spoiling and corrupting all the young audiences, because they all think that’s all about music. Just to play fast and precise. And if music is industry or at least nice entertainment. We have to come back to the values of music is, in fact, a secular  religion. If after the concert, my philosophy is, after the concert of people who came together as union and you’re transmitting the geniuses to them. If they’re not changing for good after the concert, during the concert, if it’s not a lifetime event for the audience, every concert, it’s a bad concert. It’s a charlatan, nothing else.”

Melanie: “Do you have a particular practice routine?”

Andrei: “Yes I do, as much as possible.”

Melanie: “What do you do? Do you have a specific way of warming up or do you just go straight to-“

Andrei: “I’m always warm, hot hot hot! You know, it says in the Bible, one of the beautiful passages. I think it is from Apocalypse, yeah. There is a verse which says ‘because you’re warm I hate and reject you. If you are cold or hot I would, I would have loved you. But, because you are only warm, I rejected you.’ “

Melanie: “Which composers do you love to play?”

Andrei: “You know, there’s so few.”

Melanie: “Really?”

Andrei: “Geniuses, really few, a handful. Since Bach, I mean how many we could really call geniuses? We all know Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin. And, well it would be- I don’t want to give numbers but there are every few for three hundred years”

Melanie: “You retired from the concert platform for a while, and then you came back. What prompted your return and why did you decide to stop performing”

Andrei: “ Because it was a very important decision and a crucial decision of my life. And in the beginning of 90’s I started realizing that I’m becoming a part of the music industry and I became a perfect industrial boy. Having what I always – loving it  – as the big and important agents like to say that you have a solid and steady career. That’s what I had, a solid and steady career, the regular recordings, regular tours, and no development at all. And you’re just getting older, you’re just getting more and more experience, you’re slightly developing in the way of being master of manipulating and pleasing audiences. But it has nothing to do with art. And in this phase of being part of music industry you cannot move. First of all, you can’t be free with your spirit and your ideas because you have to follow certain rules, and there are many.

Secondly, you cannot move forward the music itself. If you look back for the performing arts, we have been doing the same for 200 years. It’s rattling and rattling and rattling again, and it doesn’t go forward, therefore I decided that I have to do something radical, say goodbye to wellbeing, start my life from the scratch and die or find a new way of developing music, developing performing arts. And I knew that I would be alone. Bye bye wealthy life, hello poverty. But it was difficult, I was suffering, I was suffering a lot because I spoilt a lot – for a certain life style for a couple of decades. Then, I got accustomed to it, my new situation, and I was starting to search and listen to myself and I didn’t find much interesting.”

Melanie: “But you found a way back, you came back.”

Andrei: “Oh yeah, it was also decided those days in the beginning of the 90’s that I come back only when I will be so rich in a different way.”

Melanie: “In a different way.”

Andrei: “In a different way.”

Melanie: “Yes, of course.”

Andrei: “Then, I could share with the rest of the world for a thousand of years. The ideas, the new things, new sounds and turn every single meeting with an audience into a lifetime event. Only when I am feeling confident that I can do it then I’ll come back. So I had to work hard to achieve that, I didn’t though for a long time. In ’93 I quit. The first try I’ve done in 2001 already the 21st century, but I started only really working only in the well, last couple of years.”

Melanie: “That’s interesting. You’re giving master classes here today. What do you love about teaching?”

Andrei: “Oh, that’s the same, part of the sharing, sharing. Sharing what I learnt. Being able to share, knowing that what I’m sharing – sharing with guys and students – nobody can. Nobody went through this, really. I mean the guys from the music industry, they can share different things. And therefore me, who was always rejecting the idea of teaching, I do it only 2 years. I do it only 2 years and do only master classes, and do it no more than – let’s say – four or five times a year. But this is kind of different a dimensional space flight, what I try to achieve during our gathering together with these youngsters. It’s not like you have to play this like this and this and this and that. I mean, this is all scholarship. What I try to share is – first of all, give the keys to the guys to be able to read the texts, because nobody can read the texts. Reading the text is the crucial thing. We all know the word interpretation and this is a very tricky one, because interpretation is mostly appealing to your intuition. One is feeling like this. Another is feeling like this. Another is feeling like this. To where we have thousands of interpretations that have nothing to do with the piece, but – they’re all expressing themselves in different ways, which is wrong. It’s the wrong perception. What I’m positive, and I’ve proven that it’s possible to do, it’s to grab from the text the real meaning of the composer. The composer, when he put something on paper – the genius composers, the real composer, who are rich, those kind of composers – from those composers, you know, every note has a meaning and content and from text- if you’re able to read the text – enormous amount of information and knowing how to read the text and knowing what composer is using a special – which technique to express a particular thing. Every composer has different tools for expressing themselves. Beethoven or Chopin or Rachmaninoff – but for reading Rachmaninoff for example, you ought to know the Orthodox culture. If you don’t know the religious culture of an orthodox believer – I mean forget about Rachmaninoff, because Rachmaninoff himself and all his music is a Russian religious song.  Nothing else. With all the quotations from the church services from the Russian nature and also filtered through the Christian mind, through the Christian conscious, but a very special one, the mixtures byzantine – the Russian, Eastern, Mongolian mixture of what is a very strange phenomenon as a Russian Orthodox church. And he was actually himself he was representing the church and that’s what the 99% percent of his music is. Except of some jokey or jazzy stuff, which is, would be 1% of the entire literature of Rachmaninoff. The rest would be this, and they have to know that. How would they have to know that? First of all, they have to study this. Second, you have to go to Russia and live there. Then you can, then you’re able to. If you don’t do this, forget about Rachmaninoff. Same with any other composer. If you are not drinking beer with a German Bauer in the German village, you wouldn’t know what Wagner’s written about. Half of Wagner is German songs. Still living, still singing, still being sang. And also, you have to know the protestant approach and all the things which are connected with the Lutheran and the time, and going deep in the Bach mind through the prism of being rejecting Catholicism on the German soil. That’s the environment where it was all created, but you have to know where the seeds are to be able to read the text. Again, this is a very very, very complex task. And that’s what I share.

Melanie: “What does playing the piano mean to you?”

Andrei: “Sharing love.”

Melanie: “Thanks so much for joining me today. Thank you.”

Andrei: “My pleasure.”

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


A Master Class with Andrei Gavrilov


Master class opportunities are usually plentiful and they can be useful on many levels, but coaching sessions with outstanding artists are indeed rare, especially those encouraging the inclusion of pianists who essentially play for their own pleasure. Andrei Gavrilov is a pianist of the highest calibre, with a once stratospheric career. This week he has been giving master classes to both amateur and young professional pianists in the West Country here in the UK. It’s hardly surprising that many of the classes were over-subscribed, but I attended one on Monday near Bath, featuring just four lucky participants who all benefitted from Andrei’s undivided attention.

Monkton Combe School provided a fabulous backdrop for this event. The stunningly beautiful wood panelled concert hall, is complete with Steinway Model B and perfect acoustics.

Since winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1974, Andrei has enjoyed an outstanding career; performing around the world with major conductors and orchestras. He has taken several sabbaticals from the concert platform, returning more recently with renewed vigour, energy and particularly, sharing his love of music, which was evident right from the start of this class.

The first young pianist, a student at the school, presented Chopin’s Nocturne No. 20 in C sharp minor (Op.Posth.). Andrei has recently recorded the complete Chopin Nocturnes (his first recording for many years) and offered copious demonstrations, whilst seated at a second piano. The young pianist gave a competent, musical account, but under Gavrilov’s tutelage, many aspects of her performance changed instantaneously; a credit to her flexibility and perception, as well as Andrei’s expert guidance. The importance of sound quality, varying dynamic shades and rhythmic stability were discussed at length. The right hand scalic passages, which close this work, improved dramatically, and were eventually executed with gossamer-like conviction.

Scriabin’s Poème Op. 69 No. 2 was played enthusiastically by the second young pianist. For me, this was possibly the most interesting part of the afternoon. Not perhaps from a performance view-point, but rather from Andrei’s ideas about this great composer’s music. Scriabin, whose often complex style exudes exotic mysticism, was glimpsed in all its glory, though the eyes of a fellow Russian. This quirky, capricious piece was suddenly brought to life through explanations of Scriabin’s fascination with Mysticism, Theosophy and the ‘mystic’ chord. The young performer’s sound (a crucial component in this miniature) changed markedly as she was exposed to Andrei’s descriptions and illustrations at the piano.

The final participants were both music conservatoire students. The first presented the last movement of Beethoven’s ever popular Pathétique Sonata (No 8 in C minor Op. 13). Andrei highlighted rhythmic precision and lightness of touch as priorities. He also stressed the importance of pedal control, and the significance of producing an orchestral sound.

The master class ended with Schumann’s heroic Symphonic Etudes Op.13 and one of Rachmaninov’s impressive Etudes Tableaux Op. 39. Gavrilov’s views regarding colour, touch, melodic line in the Schumann, and technical fastidiousness in the Rachmaninov, were compelling, insisting the only way to approach the latter composer convincingly is to a acquire a total understanding of the Russian Orthodox faith.

The high point undoubtedly came at the end of the class, when we were treated to a performance by the Maestro himself, consisting of Chopin’s C sharp minor Nocturne Op. Posth., swiftly followed by  Prokofiev’s extraordinary Suggestion Diabolique Op. 4, ably illuminating the technique and musical prowess that have earned Gavrilov his reputation. Master classes are important for participants and observers because they proffer an excellent vehicle for sharing interpretations and ideas.

You can view my interview with Andrei Gavrilov next week as part of the Classical Conversations Series here on this blog.

Image: Andrei Gavrilov performing at the end of his master class.

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.