Meet the Artist: 07 by The Cross-Eyed Pianist
Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
Conducting felt inevitable for me as a teenager: a natural evolution despite my oblivion at the time to everything it would eventually entail! The realisation was unceremonious- not really a dream or desire but a moment of clarity. I was lucky to find my two conducting teachers in the years that followed and both continue to mentor me almost 18 years on.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I think my tastes and philosophies are largely the result of producing my own work. When you find yourself responsible for every detail you start to reconsider the possibilities. If your self and sanity are malnourished by the freelance world you create your own opportunities to fill the void. We need to constantly find ways to feed our appetites, grow our hearts, explode our minds. The energy, money, years we pour into these projects is lost if we’re not completely wild about the music and causes we champion. When you’re the one writing up the budget it really recalibrates your values.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I spend most of my hours managing and financing my projects. I could easily give every day to score study alone and it’s hard not to mourn this time which might otherwise have been spent getting the music into my bloodstream. I’ve grown to understand that the luxury of being able to control the environment my performances inhabit is not to be taken lightly. For me the experiential aspects of music for our audience: physically, aurally, visually, emotionally- are the determining factors for the success of a piece or project. The more powerfully we can impact at a physiological level, the greater potential for our performance to evolve and develop in the mind and memory of the listener in the days, months, years that follow.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
My 2013 Maralinga programme with my ensemble Ruthless Jabiru really clarified my purpose as a musician and my vision for the group. The story of Maralinga is a complex web of socio-environmental crimes and conspiracies—so damaging that it would have been negligent to programme the piece [Matthew Hindson’s 2009 violin concerto Maralinga] without giving this tragedy the exposure I felt it was due after so many years of embargo. I enlisted cultural Activists from the worlds of theatre, literature and the visual arts who had made Maralinga their own passion project—primarily to help me understand the many layers of this complicated history. I have long believed musical marketing to be an underutilised mouthpiece for social commentary and really believe in using this platform to create a frame for the music beyond the compositional context alone. The internet age is our opportunity to educate and inspire our public with new ideas and provocations. For me the preparation of the audience through the marketing of a project should be as rich, complex and creative as the performance itself and this project laid out a way to do that.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
My passions are originality and currency. I think the nonverbal arts have a bridging power that eludes some of the more literal artforms. We need to use this grace in every way possible to defend democracy, the marginalised, and to hold our leaders accountable. I’m openminded about the best works to inspire listeners and Activists to direct action. Compositions borne directly of human issues and narratives are a great place to start and a body of repertoire to which I feel deeply connected—but I think there’s scope for association and humanity in all music once we sweep away expectations and set the imagination rolling.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I try to challenge the universe to inspire me. Things I hear progress to research, research sprouts its own new leads and so on down the rabbithole of the internet. Social media is such a kaleidoscope—I try to find time everyday to clickthrough the images, playlists, podcasts, editorials that pique my attention and see where they take me.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
It’s hard to reconcile the years and resources that go into the development of a project with the reality that it’s all over with 60 or so minutes of music. Within this trajectory so many groups don’t have the luxury of being in the performance space until the final hours of the process. At this point I usually have much more on my mind than making peace with the space! It’s such a rush to the finish line but as professionals we quickly adapt. Maybe if the scheduling limitations were different I would feel a stronger connection to one venue or another but in the meantime I try to experience the space options London has on offer through concerts and site visits when my heartrate is a bit more manageable. It works well for me to choose the right space for the unique energy of each programme.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I love the serendipity of radio and the more eclectic the better! I think it’s healthy to give up control of our listening. We need to be consciously working to expand our awareness of the possibilities of our medium and how we can incorporate more currency and diversity into our programming to better reflect our times.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I’m interested in the longform possibilities of the concert experience: bold programming which reaches across individual movements to exceed the sum of its parts. The great symphonic programmers for me right now are Rattle, Jurowski, Volkov.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I was at the picketed Israel Philharmonic prom in 2011 and doubt anyone there has forgotten the Albert Hall that night. It was hard to see strangers brawling in full formalwear and the heckling each time Mehta brought up his hands to begin. We’re so accustomed to our rituals of reverence that it was physically nauseating. I was overwhelmed by the work and expense lost to a sabotaged international tour of such epic proportions. That said, it was invigorating to witness political passions at work and everyday people standing up for what they believe in. It was impossible for the music itself not to absorb and respond to the energy of the room.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
The balance between conviction and humility is not taught and not easy. For me our confidence as musicians should be the outward face first and foremost of a deep score study but equally of our openness to each other and the universe.