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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.


The February 2005 artist/educator:

Graham Scott, Pianist, Educator and Performer, Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL, USA

Graham Scott has firmly established himself as one of Britain’s leading pianists.  He has been the recipient of numerous first prizes in national and international competitions notably the 1991 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York, the 1991 Jaén International Piano Competition in Spain, the 1989 Young Concert Artists Trust Auditions in London and the 1988 Dudley National Piano Competition.  In 1999 he was awarded a career grant from the Yvonne Léfébure foundation in Paris for the purchase of a Steinway grand piano.

He studied under the distinguished Polish pianist Ryszard Bakst (a student of Heinrich Neuhaus) at Chetham’s School of Music and at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, being awarded the Dayas Gold Medal in 1991, an award made quadrennially to a graduating pianist.  In 1990 he won the Stefania Niekrasz Prize, an inter-collegiate award made every five years to an outstanding exponent of Chopin. 

In October 1989, Graham Scott made his formal début at the Wigmore Hall and has since become known to London audiences, having re-appeared at the hall on numerous occasions as both recitalist and chamber musician.  He has established himself as a versatile pianist appearing regularly in major venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Barbican Centre in London, Symphony Hall in Birmingham, Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, Waterfront Hall in Belfast and Queen’s Hall and Festival Theatre in Edinburgh.

He made his débuts in New York at the 92nd St. Y and in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center under the auspices of Young Concert Artists in 1992 to critical acclaim.  He has gone on to perform recitals and concertos and to lead artist-in-residence activities throughout the United States.  Venues include the Ambassador Auditorium in Los Angeles, Princeton University, Washington State University, the Kravis Center, Western Michigan University, Madison Civic Center, Clemson University, University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, Potsdam College at SUNY, Xavier University Piano Series, South West Missouri State University, University of Athens, the Phillips Collection, UC Davis and the Riverside County Philharmonic among others.  Graham Scott gave his first performances in Japan through YCA playing in Suntory Hall, Tokyo and in Nagoya and Osaka.

Graham Scott received critical acclaim when he replaced Martha Argerich at short notice with the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinlandpfalz in Germany playing Haydn’s D major concerto and Richard Strauss’ Burleske.  He was invited back the following season to play Liszt’s second concerto in a tour of the Rhine region of Germany.

As a soloist, Graham Scott has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras, notably the London Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, St Louis Symphony Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony, Royal Scottish National, Belgium National Symphony, Monte Carlo Philharmonic, Ulster, Singapore Symphony, Radio Netherlands Chamber, Pusan Philharmonic in Korea, Santa Barbara Chamber, South African National Symphony and Cape Town Symphony Orchestras.  He has worked with such conductors as Marin Alsop, Carl St. Clare, Thomas Conlin, Paul Daniel, Sir Charles Groves, Bernhard Klee, Alexander Lazarev, Gregorz Nowak, Heiichiro Ohyama and Barry Wordsworth.

As a chamber musician, Graham Scott has performed at the Huntington Chamber Music Festival in Australia with members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.   He has also collaborated with the Vertavo String Quartet, Stamic Quartet of Prague, Galliard Wind Quintet, violinists Marat Bisengaliev and Rachel Isserlis, flautist Jean Ferrandis, cellist Henri Demarquette and oboist Owen Dennis and members of the BBC Philharmonic.

Graham Scott has appeared at numerous festivals worldwide including the Chopin Festival in Paris at Bagatelle, the Flanders Festival in Belgium, the Rutgers Summerfest in New York, and festivals in the UK in Bury St Edmonds, Brighton and Chester. He has given other recitals in all five continents.

He has given numerous broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, the BBC World Service and Classic FM in England and has appeared on networks in Australia (ABC), South Africa (SABC), Holland (AVRO TV), France (France 3) and Belgium. In the USA Graham Scott has appeared on National Public Radio including the Performance Today programme and on other regional networks.  Commercially, he has released a Scriabin CD on Gamut Classics, Live in Los Angeles on the Master Musicians label and a Gershwin CD on the Deux-Elles label in 2003.

Graham Scott is Associate Professor of Piano and Chair of the Piano Department at the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.  He has previously held the position of visiting lecturer in keyboard studies at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.  He has given masterclasses, adjudications, and taken part in other artist-in-residence activities at major conservatories and universities worldwide including the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, Estonian Academy of Music in Tallinn, Lithuanian Academy of Music in Vilnius, University of Chicago and the University of Melbourne.

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.

PEP: Please tell us a little about your position as Chair of the Piano Department at the Chicago College of the Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and the piano program there.

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!!

PEP: If, as both an educator and performing artist, you were to make a "short list" of tips for those considering entering music as a profession in some form, what would be on it?

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.

PEP: Most artists have both performing and educational parts in their careers. What do you enjoy most about each.

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.

PEP: Has the balance between the two changed for you and, if so, what factors influenced that change?

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.

PEP: Would you recommend that students of the piano play chamber music as part of their training or, even, for fun?
Most definitely yes. It is one of the most satisfying aspects of being a pianist and it is a wonderful way to expand your musicianship. The repertoire is so rich and varied I don't know of many pianists that don't play chamber music. Even Horowitz played the Romance from the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata with Rostropovich!

PEP: What educational goals do you most want to achieve for your piano students at Roosevelt University?

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.

PEP: What trends or changes do you foresee in piano education? Do teachers need to keep abreast of some particular developments or is it sufficient just to be generally aware of any changes that might be occurring?
I think it is quite difficult to see into the future as far as piano education or the evolution of anything of a creative nature is concerned. We would probably all agree that the recorded performance (most notably the compact disc) in the 20th century undoubtedly had a huge impact on live performance. There is certainly far less tolerance towards the smudged note or over-pedaled texture than in ‘days of old’ and it could be that teaching could continue to become even more geared to the pursuit of technical perfection and an altogether more scientific and analytical approach. I am not necessarily convinced that this will be for the better though. I am reminded of Neuhaus’ famous quote in reference to music being a tonal art - "Performers do not analyze music, or dismember it; they re-create it in its organic unity, its integrity materially concretized in sound." With that in mind perhaps we will go the other way and re-align ourselves with some of the traditions of the past. It is hard to tell.

PEP: What kinds of differences do you see in piano education in the U.S. versus that in Europe?

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’.

PEP: In your view, what are the most important general principles about piano that teachers should get across to their students?

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.

PEP: What issues of technique or interpretation do you find students have the most trouble with and how do you address these difficulties?

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.

PEP: Can you give us your sense of the differences between audiences in different countries around the world? Do you have any expectations for audiences in a given country or area?

It would be narrow-minded of me to stereotype any particular audience of any particular nation and I also don't think it is a good idea to have any preconception as to how an audience is going to be. However, it would certainly be fair to say that you never really know what to expect from any particular audience and that each concert enjoys a particular atmosphere of which the audience is an essential ingredient.

PEP: Are there any piano educators whose ideas and approaches particularly appeal to you for your own teaching? If so, why?

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.

PEP: If you could change or alter one event or aspect of your musical career so far, what would it be?

I think there is very little that I would change. I always feel very fortunate that I essentially got to do what I wanted to do and that I have much variety in my professional life. I didn't take my first piano lessons until the age of 13 - thinking back perhaps I should have started earlier. Having said that I always played because I wanted to and not because I was pushed into it.


You can address E-mail to Mr. Scott at or visit his website at

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Last updated: 01/30/15
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