Artist/Educator Archive Interview - Graham Scott
e regularly feature the personal experiences and insights of a noted artist/educator on various aspects of piano performance and education. You may not always agree with the opinions expressed, but we think you will find them interesting and informative. The opinions offered here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent those of the West Mesa Music Teachers Association, its officers, or members. (We have attorneys, too!). At the end of the interview, you'll find hypertext links to the interviewee's e-mail and Web sites (where available), so you can learn more if you're interested. Except where otherwise noted, the interviewer is Dr. John Zeigler.
Ed. Note: I first interviewed Mr. Scott in September of 1996. It seemed a good time to update that interview with new questions and a new focus after nine years. The new interview follows. I commend the September 1996 interview of Mr. Scott to you as well.
PEP: When we last interviewed you in September 1996, you were devoting most of your time to performing as a concert artist. What are you doing now?
I am still performing a great deal. In 2004 I played in the UK, USA, Australia, France and Finland and recently released a CD ‘Wild Fantasy’ that includes Earl Wilde’s Grand Fantasy on Porgy and Bess on the Deux Elles label. Soon after my last interview for PEP I took on a visiting teaching position at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama whilst I was still living in England from 1997-2000. Then in September 2003 I moved to Chicago and took on a professorship at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. I now commit my energies to playing recitals, concertos, chamber music, teaching, recording and giving master classes.
As chair I set up concerts and master classes, preside over performance classes when I’m not away playing, consult with students and faculty to ensure that everything is running smoothly and of course, teach. Both the piano program and CCPA are very much performance based - in that sense we are a true conservatory! We have a weekly piano performance class that is given over to student performances or an enrichment activity of some kind such as a master class, lecture-recital or video presentation. One of the college’s greatest assets is the wonderful location right in the heart of downtown Chicago and near the lakefront – a very urban campus. We are located just two blocks south of Symphony Center which hosts Chicago Symphony concerts, the Sara Lee Piano Series, visiting orchestras, chamber music and a wide variety of other classical and jazz concerts. This season there are solo recitals by Barenboim, Pollini, Pogorelich, Goode, Brendel and Uchida, to name a few. Next month Richard Goode will be coming to our college to give a master class the day after his Symphony Center recital. Earlier this month Daniel Barenboim gave some marvelous classes at Buntrock Hall (the small hall at Symphony Center), which will be televised and available for purchase on DVD next year. Having all these concerts within such a close proximity to the college gives the students the opportunity to regularly hear some of the most respected performers before the public today … it’s quite a feast!!
Above all I would advise those considering entering the music profession to be totally committed to what you do. You have to do it because you are passionate about your subject and have an overwhelming desire to play and/or teach. If performing is your ultimate goal then you should be prepared to put in long hours of focused and methodical practice, have a relentless desire to improve and to be constantly curious about new ways, approaches and repertoire.
As a performer I enjoy the whole ‘process’ from discovering a piece for the first time to practicing it up and then performing it. In performing I enjoy the fact that every performance is different. As performers we react differently to different audiences in different countries, halls, pianos, acoustics etc. - this always remains a constant source of inspiration together with the fact that our perceptions change. It is the aspect of communicating through this ‘universal’ language that we have that I think I like the most. As a teacher I enjoy realizing a student’s full potential and encouraging them to think for themselves. With this in mind I consider it of paramount importance that my students should know how to practice – as a teacher it is not sufficient just to point out shortcomings. It is important that what a student learns through the study of one piece can be related to other pieces that they play. There will be a time in their lives when they do not have the luxury of regular piano lessons though I hope that they will continue to play to someone on an occasional basis.
Going back to the time of my debuts (1989 in London and 1992 in New York) and the years that followed I was only playing and not teaching at all. I am extremely glad to have had this period of time when I was able to focus entirely on my own performances. It is as a result of having played so much combined with what I learnt in my student days and what I continue to learn through my current concert activity (chamber music activity in particular) that I now feel ‘qualified’ to teach. I single out chamber music, as this is an activity where I get to appreciate the viewpoints of my contemporaries, which in turn broadens my own musicianship.
I think ultimately I am eager that they should be able to inspire the next generation of aspiring musicians whether that be through teaching or playing. I would wish that they are adaptable to the ever-changing demands of the profession and that they lead fulfilling professional lives.
PEP: Are there significant differences in the way you performed some works eight years ago versus now? If so, can you give some specific examples?
It has now been a little over 10 years since I stopped playing in competitions with any kind of regularity. One of the nice things about getting older is not being allowed to enter competitions because most competitions have an age limit! Although competitions can play an important part early on in ones career, during my ‘competition years’ I felt that my playing had to conform to what I thought was going to be accepted as ‘good competition playing’. It made me feel rather inhibited and restricted artistically. I remember my teachers last words of advice before I went into the first round of the Chopin competition in Warsaw …."Remember, don’t play the etudes too fast and the nocturnes too slow." It was as if everything had to be played within set competition parameters. (Of course, tempo is related to touch, dynamics, colour, the texture of the piece etc. but that’s another issue…) I feel far less inhibited and self-conscious as a performer now than I did eight years ago. I think that my playing has much more variety and my musicianship is much more adventurous. A couple of months ago I played a recital at Goldsmith’s Hall in London that included some Scriabin pieces (Ninth Sonata and Op.74 Preludes). After the concert I listened to a recording of these pieces that I had made about 10 years prior – I certainly felt that my playing of the Ninth Sonata was much more manic and driven (as only Scriabin knows how to be!) than it was ten years ago and that I could find far greater introspection in the preludes. It’s all part of the maturing process.
One of the biggest differences between studying in a US conservatory compared with a European conservatory is that in the US the students are required to take more courses alongside their major, particularly as an undergraduate (not so much at Graduate level). Speaking as one who has studied and taught in a UK conservatory I certainly felt that more time was given over in the UK for ‘self-study’ and practice. There is certainly much more emphasis on who you study with in the US as opposed to where you study. In that sense I would certainly describe piano education within a conservatory in the US as more ‘faculty led’ than ‘institution led’.
I think it important that as teachers we instill in our students a healthy attitude towards practice. It is not necessarily a question of ‘how much’ you practice but ‘how’ you practice. There is rarely a quick fix to any problem and progress is only made by constant effort. They should always set themselves high standards and never be content with anything that falls short of those standards. Their work should be driven by an innate enthusiasm for what they do. I think it important that they are aware that what they do at the piano must feel physically comfortable and that they are essentially communicators.
Getting students to acquire a broader understanding of the piano literature and how it relates to other works – symphonies, operas etc. can sometimes be problematic. I certainly encourage my students to attend as many concerts as possible – both in and out of the college regardless of whether they are piano recitals or not and also to listen to recordings. Tension with some students can also be a problem and though the issue is a complex one it is important that students are aware of how they use their physique at times where tension is inhibiting progress.
PEP: How does performing regularly help your teaching and how does teaching help your performing?
As an artist-teacher you essentially know ‘what it takes’ to be a performing artist as you have witnessed all the preparatory processes first hand. Demonstration is also a very useful tool in teaching when used wisely. There is a saying that if you ever wish to learn how to do something you should teach it! There is, I think some truth in this saying. Teaching certainly keeps you thinking about how you approach repertoire. It is always interesting to hear a student play a piece that is new to them and familiar to me. They are coming to it with no preconceptions whatsoever and the results are often very interesting to say the least.
PEP: Is there something that you would particularly like to do in the future?
So far I have released 3 solo CD’s and have plans to record another this year with the French Cellist Henri Demarquette of the complete cello and piano music of James MacMillan for the Deux-Elles label. Recording interests me more now than it did in the past and I should like to build up a significant discography over time alongside my performances. I think that I have slightly lived in fear of the permanency of the medium before now!
PEP: What has been your favorite concert venue and why?
I think I would have to say the Wigmore Hall in London. The reasons are partly the wonderful acoustics and ambience and partly sentimental. Anyone’s debut in their home capital city is a very significant happening in their career and I have enjoyed returning there to play solo recitals and chamber music.
I’ve always enjoyed the Heinrich Neuhaus book "The Art of Piano Playing". One of my teachers, Ryszard Bakst studied with him for a while and this book appeals to me. I particularly like the chapters on ‘tone’ and ‘teacher and pupil.’ It is clear that his musicianship is always based on understanding and not on whim (that’s not to say that he doesn’t realize the importance of spontaneity and imagination). He comes across in his book as someone who was humorous, unpretentious and deeply committed to his work.
If you could change or alter one event or aspect of your
musical career so far, what would it be?
You can address E-mail to Mr. Scott at email@example.com or visit his website at http://www.grahamscott.co.uk
Last updated: 01/30/15