Martin Roscoe is one of the UK’s best loved pianists. He’ll perform with acclaimed violinist, Jennifer Pike, for Harrogate International Festivals’ Sunday Series.
You once said the power of a live concert dictated your path in life after experiencing the Proms as a young lad with your mum, how important is it to keep live music concerts alive?
There’s nothing quite like a live performance, the frisson of actually hearing music being produced in front of you can be very exciting and moving. Seeing a live concert shaped my direction. I’ve been in this business for a long time, no matter how many people turn up, you still feel you’re doing something important, and do your best for the audience.
Dame Fanny Waterman is the patron of Harrogate International Festivals, and piano has an amazing heritage in Yorkshire, as a piano teacher yourself was Dame Fanny an influence?
I’ve met Dame Fanny a few times, her books for young pianists are excellent, and I did use some when I used to teach younger students. Her work with the Leeds Piano Competition for almost 50 years, bringing young and talented pianists from all over the world to play in Yorkshire is such a big thing.
I’ve just been on the jury for the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition and there were 172 applicants from around the world, we heard 40, and the standard was amazing and a British pianist got to the final with the hall was completely sold out, so I think with the right approach and support a lot can happen. There’s passion for the piano.
Did you have a teacher who really inspired you?
I had two wonderful teachers, one from the age of 13 to 17 called Marjorie Clementi. I was almost self-taught until that point and she instilled discipline and musicianship into me. And from 17 to 22, Gordon Green, he was from Barnsley, a very distinguished Professor of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Royal Northern College of Music. He was a tremendous inspiration artistically, and as a person as well. He was a great human being interested in all sorts of things. If you went to his house sometimes you’d be there all day talking about everything from the latest scientific discoveries to history to cricket! He was amazing. He taught a lot of the top British concert pianists from the 1950s to his death in 1980.
Can you explain the power of classical music?
I can only speak personally, I think it can convey the whole of human experience and transcend it. The late works of Beethoven seem to be on another plain to reality somehow. Generally, you can convey anything through music if you’re a skilful composer as so many have done. And of course it affects your life, it’s obviously affected mine as a musician but even as a listener it brings great joy or comfort, and sometimes it can be grief stricken, it can move you in a certain way, it’s all there for everybody.
Harrogate Festival has a scheme, Library of Live, offering a number of free tickets to young people to try something new – what would you say to encourage them to give your concert a try?
One of the most important things is to debug the idea it’s an elitist thing and the formality of the event. I try and be very informal, I try and make audiences feel at ease and feel they can get to know me, but you’ve got to get people there in the first place. People can be unwilling to try something new or they think they don’t understand. But it’s amazing how it’s just that trigger that will get someone to sit up and think, gosh that’s really beautiful I want to explore that – and to have the curiosity – that’s the most important thing.
When I was in my teens I had a season ticket for the local philharmonic and I used to go on my own on the train to Runcorn and go to a concert and I’d look around and couldn’t see anyone of my age in the hall. But I just heard of a study that said there’s a growing number of under 35’s listing to classical, with almost half (45%) seeing it as an escape from the noise of modern life.
There seems to be endless research into classical music and its impact on the brain – reducing stress, anxiety etc. is it an antidote to our info-crazed age?
It can be. There’s scientific evidence to that effect. There was a project a few years back to pipe Mozart into the street where youngsters were behaving badly, and there’s also the idea it increases your intelligence if you listen while young. It certainly does have an impact on the brain. Having said that the life of a performing musician has a lot of performance anxiety involved! It’s quite stressful to get on stage and play for an audience, not that you let on to the audience!
You’re playing with one of the UK’s most acclaimed violinists, Jennifer Pike, in Harrogate – can you give us a teaser into the programme?
We’re starting off with some Bach. Audiences are used to hearing Bach solo violin without any keyboard, but there are six wonderful sonatas with keyboard, so we’re starting with that. Then we’re playing Elgar’s Violin Sonata, he’s known for his big choral work and symphonies but he did write some wonderful chamber music; it’s a great piece, the audience will love it – a big romantic work.
We’re playing a piece by Jennifer’s father, quite a short atmospheric piece that’s easy on the ear, and The Lark Ascending by Vaughn Williams, that’s one of the most famous pieces – about 100 people will buy tickets just for that on the programme!
What’s the best thing anyone has ever said about your music and playing, or a moment you’re most proud of?
As far as proud, playing at the Proms is a big deal for any British musician and I’ve done that a few times. It is an amazing feeling to walk out on the Albert Hall stage when the hall is full and play a concerto.
I’ve been fortunate to get lots of favourable reviews. I was on the train last Sunday at Lancaster on my way home to the Lake District, and a man came up to me and said, ‘I just want to say to you I was at your performance where you played the Elgar Sonata, it was absolutely wonderful and I was so excited I couldn’t get to sleep that night.’ That will do won’t it! That’s my most recent review. It does happen to me quite a lot on a train or walking down the street; that means a lot to me.
Jennifer Pike, violin, with Martin Roscoe, piano: Sunday 17 March, 11am at the Old Swan Hotel. Book online here. Box Office: 01423 562 303.