Meet the Artist – Mei-Ting Sun, pianist

Ahead of his concert at The Jazz Room on Sunday 4 November, we caught up with pianist Mei-Ting Sun to find out more about his musical life, his influences, inspirations and more…..

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I started piano when I was three, so the question wasn’t so much who inspired me to take it up but rather who started me on it, and the answer to that would be my parents. I always liked music – I remember marching on the bed when I was 2 or something to the march from Aida – so my parents thought it would be an interesting experiment to have a young child sit at the piano for hours. In terms of a career, it wasn’t anything other than music itself that inspired me. I decided at the age of 16 that I could not live without music in my life every day, and playing music made my happy.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There have been many, since different influences played important parts during different periods of my life. The most important influences during my formative years must have been my professor at the time, Dr. Edward Aldwell, who really taught me everything I know about how to study music among other things, and going to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for 13-15 performances every year from when I was 14 to 18.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The ups and downs of a career in music can be extremely challenging, mentally, physically, and financially. Finding a balance not to be too high or too down, and to focus on what I love to do without always having an end meant creating projects for myself, which turned out to be a major source of entertainment. One of the biggest challenges was to learn, perform, and record the complete works of Chopin published during his lifetime, and that is also the series of performances and recordings that I am most proud of.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

This is a most difficult question for me to answer! Of course I feel affinity towards certain composers and works, but I think one of the challenges for me is to get into the minds of every composer I want to play, and to truly – as much as I personally believe I can – understand the works I perform. When that happens, that work will be one that I feel I play best.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

This is a most easy question. I do that by thinking, what haven’t I played recently and what can make my life richer, more diverse, and more interesting?

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I can’t say that I do. I like all kinds of venues, ranging from the biggest halls to the smallest salons, but I would perform different kinds of repertoire in each. Acoustically, my favorite is the Auditorio of Zaragoza.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are too many, so I’ll just list a few of the dead pianists: Alfred Cortot, Walter Gieseking, Myra Hess, Artur Schnabel, Clara Haskil, Sergei Rachmaninoff, William Kapell.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A recital in Lazienki Park in Warsaw. I ended the recital with the Heroic Polonaise of Chopin, and an older gentleman wobbled to the stage, and told me about how he used to be a soldier, took part in the Warsaw Uprising, and how they played a record of the Heroic Polonaise during the uprising. Then he said, “when you played the Polonaise, it reminded me of the Uprising,” with tears flowing down his cheeks.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To love music, to share music, and to share that love of music with as many people as possible.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Work hard, and enjoy working hard. If you can’t enjoy working hard, then there’s no point in working hard, and no point in working in music. That being said, one must also enjoy life and work hard at it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness would involve too many things that’s not under my control, such as world peace, so perhaps a smaller and more achievable definition would be in order here. A moment of perfect happiness: sitting in a quiet bar with good company, a glass of Bruichladdich 40 in hand, 45 minutes after a perfectly satisfying performance of something by Bach or Schumann.

Mei-Ting plays music by J S Bach and Art Tatum at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, Barnes, on Sunday 4th November. Further details and tickets here


Critically acclaimed pianist Mei-Ting has been heard in many of the world’s greatest concert halls performing an extensive repertoire that includes the complete works for solo piano of Brahms, Chopin, and Debussy, in addition to all 32 Sonatas of Beethoven.

After winning several major competitions, including the first Piano-e competition and the National Chopin Competition of the US, Mei-Ting’s career has taken him throughout most of the US, Latin America, Asia, and Europe, at venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York, Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, Tonhalle in Zurich, and Obecni Dum in Prague.

He has collaborated with many major orchestras, including the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, the Prague Philharmonia, Orquesta Nacional de España, the Warsaw Philharmonic, and the National Symphony of Mexico, working with eminent conductors including Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Antoni Wit, Jakub Hrůša, Michał Nesterowicz, Lü Jia, Antoni Ros-Marbà and Pablo González.

While performing the complete works of other composers, Mei-Ting transcribed and arranged several orchestral and operatic works, expanding the technical and tonal possibilities of the modern piano. This project, which encompasses selections from R. Strauss’s Rosenkavalier and Salome, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite from 1919, and a brand new transcription of Ravel’s La valse, has already garnered rave reviews around the world.

Mei-Ting is a Yamaha artist. He is represented by Ibermusica in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, and Caecilia Artist Management Agency in worldwide.

 

 

Interview with Rick Simpson, jazz pianist

Award-winning jazz pianist and composed Rick Simpson makes his 7 Star Arts debut at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head on 26th June

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Hmm…that’s hard to say. I think by the time I knew I wanted to music I hadn’t really met anyone or seen any concerts – I just knew that I loved playing the piano and making up little tunes. It wasn’t really until I found Jazz that I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to be doing. Before that I was quite unfocused and split my time between doing the grades and playing music from musicals and coming up with my own arrangements of them. My old piano teacher used to give me hell for not playing what was on the page, but I think that I’d always enjoyed playing around with music made the transition into Jazz piano at the age of fifteen more comfortable.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

My classical piano teacher at Guildhall, Laura Roberts, has probably had the biggest influence on my musical life. She’s been a close friend and ally over the years and even though we rarely see each other now she still has a big influence over me. She pulled me out of so many bad habits at the piano – before I met her I really had very little idea of how to play the piano properly so she really turned my life around. I’m still trying to work on the simple ideas she presented me ten years ago.

For Jazz if I had to name one figure it would be Keith Jarrett. He was my first real love in music and the first pianist I ever heard. I’d never listened to any famous classical pianists before, or really even any piano music in general and when I first heard Jarrett it was mind-blowing and I devoured everything I could get my hands on. What can I say about Jarrett that hasn’t already been said! To me he’s the biggest musical genius of all time. 

Other than Jarrett there came a time in my life around the age of 21 where I felt like the African-American lineage of Jazz Piano had a greater pull for me. Before then I was quite into the Bill Evans – Brad Mehldau – ECM sound, and I still love that, but the Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock lineage really took over at some point. Its all beautiful and it ultimately all comes from the same place but I always want to keep on working on what is a Black American art form. Even though my own music comes from a lot of influences outside of Jazz I won’t ever stop trying to get together what Charlie Parker and Bud Powell were doing in the 1940s.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far? 

I think anxiety has held me back massively. Its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt happy on stage. I used to be a nervous wreck and it showed. That’s really held me back and I feel like I need to make up for lost time but I’m generally a lot happier and settled than I was in my early and mid-twenties.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that the music I’ve written over the last four or five years has come from not thinking of tonality or chords. None of the music from my new record has any chord symbols in it. I wanted to get away from the sound that I felt that I’d heard too much of in the London Jazz scene – music which has been clearly written with a single melody line over a set of sometimes quite bleak chords. Kenny Wheeler has been a huge influence on a lot of people in London but I had to get as far away from that sound as I could. When I write music these days the composition is first and the improvising is second. At some point I’ll go back to writing very small compositions that serve as vehicles for improvising but right now with my band Klammer the music is about the compositions.

How do you work?

I work very slowly, which is of great annoyance to me. I know some people who can write several tunes in one sitting, but I don’t think that works for me. I’ll write a couple of bars and then I’ll forget about it for days on end, and then come back to it and add a few more. I’d like to get things out faster but sometimes I think leaving things can cause you to come back afresh and take the music somewhere else. 

Often I think its helpful to know what you want to write before you start. That’s worked well for me in the past where I’ve wanted to write the fast tune/the ballad/the straight 8’s odd time tune, but these days I just sit and see what comes out.

Who are your favourite musicians/bands/composers?

Modern musicians/bands that pose a huge influence on me these days are Jason Moran, Django Bates, Matt Mitchell, Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, Radiohead, Animal Collective, Deerhoof, John Hollenbeck, Wayne Shorter, Steve Reich, Liam Noble, people like that. I love hip hop, techno, ambient, singer-songwriter music too and it all runs together.
And from the past – Thelonious Monk, Stravinsky, Ravel, Bach, Schubert, Billie Holiday, Mahler, Messiaen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Seeing the Wayne Shorter Quartet playing music from outer space in 2006 at the Barbican Centre. It was without doubt the most incredible music I’ve ever heard. People in the audience were screaming during the encore, it was so super-charged. There’s a recording of it out there somewhere…That band is on the farthest outer edge of what’s possible. No one is doing what they can.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Ronnie Scott’s. It took me a long time to make peace with the piano – that piano kicked my ass! I had to really learn how to play grand pianos and its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt comfortable playing one – but now I love playing there. The atmosphere and sound are perfect and I would play there every week if I could. I’ve had some great gigs there recently with Leo Richardson’s Quartet and it just feels like the perfect place for that music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be friendly. Get your social skills together. Never, ever rely on what you perceive to be as your talent, its not enough. When I was younger I didn’t feel confident in some social situations and used to hope that I could just get by on my playing. You can’t – you have to go out there and meet people and make friends.

For Jazz musicians I’d say get as much together as you can. Don’t just do one thing, get it ALL together. It’s all as equally important and the more you have in your tool box the more exciting your improvising will be. It’s not fun when you know how someone is always going to sound. Jazz should be the sound of surprise. Tape yourself. Play classical music too, its all in there.

Other than that just practice as much as you can, see as much of life as you can and don’t worry if things don’t happen straight away. Never get lazy or complacent. When I was younger I noticed that some older musicians who I used to worship had done so and I vowed I would never slack off. The only person who can help you get better is yourself.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Still practicing and trying to get better. I still feel like a beginner and I still don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything and I don’t really want that feeling to go away. It keeps you moving. That said, if I’m still doing what I’ve done over the last few years in ten years time I’ll be very happy. I’d just like to do more of it and eventually move into teaching at one of the music colleges. I love this life and I just want it to last a long, long time!

 

Rick Simpson’s latest album with his band Klammer is available now on the Two Rivers Records label


Rick Simpson is based in London playing a wide variety of music, and leads his own group playing original jazz music. Rick is a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s, the 606 Jazz Club, Pizza Express Dean Street, The Vortex, The Bull’s Head, and he has appeared at larger UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Purcell Room. In 2008 Rick won a Yamaha Scholarship Prize for Outstanding Jazz Musicians. A recording of Rick’s band was put on the front cover of Jazzwise Magazine.
Since graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2008 he has performed with musicians such as Christian Scott, Eric Harland, Joe Sanders, Michael Janisch, Ernesto Simpson, Martin Speake, Earl Burness Travis, Stan Sulzmann, Jeff Williams and Brandon Allen as well as younger musicians in London. Rick plays in the ensembles of Jay Phelps, Tim Thornton, Tommy Andrews, Leo Richardson, Paul Riley, and US Jazz Singer Hailey Tuck amongst others

This interview first appeared The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog

Meet the Artist – Natasha Hardy, singer-songwriter

I just love performing wherever I have an audience

We talked to Natasha Hardy about influences, inspirations and more ahead of her Lost in Love concert at The Jazz Room on 20 May…..

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

The thought of singing and acting appealed to me from a very early age. I was always the performer in my family and as the middle child, it was the best way to get attention! Singing was a part of normal family life. I enjoyed singing at home, (although most of the time my brothers wanted to shut me up!) My parents always had music playing and were always singing. We sang regularly at our church, so it always felt quite normal to sing. I started to write songs from the age of 13 and had piano lessons from around age 9.

Singing always made me feel good, although I hadn’t ever considered it a career choice.  When I started to pursue my acting career, I took up singing seriously. Singing was originally to add a feather to my bow as an actress. However, unexpectedly, I completely fell in love with the classical technique; I had found a medium that would let me fully express myself. I was able to use my body in a way that allowed me to channel my energy and emotions. I could pour my heart and soul into it. It felt inevitable that this was going to be my career.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

The most important influences on my career have to be my voice teacher Maryliese Happel, Mark Crayton and my mum.  Maryliese introduced me to classical repertoire and opera.  I had no idea about singing in this genre before I met her and to her I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude.  She taught me solid technique, taught me about my own voice and has always been an inspirational teacher.  She helped me ‘free the beauty of my voice’.

Mark Crayton (Roosevelt University, Chicago) who over the years helped me find my inner confidence through technique and performance master-classes. He has helped me find freedom of expression in my voice.

My wonderful mother, who calls me her little songbird, always wants to hear me sing. From the moment she wakes up, she is always singing around the house. My mother always made it feel really normal to just sing.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Self-belief and self-doubt. I have done lots of work to help myself through these challenges.  My top tips that have helped me include; meditation, positive affirmations, healthy diet & keeping fit.  I am a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind.

I always come back to a couple of sayings, allowing yourself to be both a work in progress and a masterpiece simultaneously, and my favourite quote from Martha Graham:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”  
― Martha Graham 

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Puccini; I love his songs, his operas, and his characters.  On the surface they can seem simple, but underneath there is a complexity and strength to them.  The way he writes is inspiring. There is always a leading melody, and long beautiful lines.  As a songwriter, I know how hard it is to make something sound ‘simple’ and that is what I love about his compositions.  I also think I perform my own compositions pretty well, because I have written them. I know every feeling and every memory that has gone into the writing of every line, lyric and melody.  I do hope one day that other singers will want to perform them.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

I try to choose pieces that are well known with the audience, combining them with unknown or rarely-performed works

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

Not really, I just love performing wherever I have an audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, Prince, George Michael, Faithless, Massive Attack, Andre Previn, Richard Rodney Bennet, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Hans Zimmer, Eric Serra, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and Maria Callas.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first ever concert.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Practice smart, know your words/notes, know yourself.  Get trained in the business side of things. This can take up a lot of your time!  Be determined. Don’t give up. Try to get a little bit better every day. Make time for family & friends, and most importantly, have fun!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

In my beach house in Bermuda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Any of the following: Summer barbecues, listening to old LPs on a Sunday afternoon with family and friends, roast dinners, long beach walks, my poodle every time I look at her, getting to sleep in a bed with my favourite pillow and a duvet, waking up to another sunny day, the sound of rain, the smell of a forest, the touch of my grandmother’s hand, skiing, ice-skating.

What is your most treasured possession? 

An 18th-century French dressing table which has been ‘dipped and stripped’ about three times, it was my mum’s dressing table from when my parents first got married, and it has finally been restored and I use it everyday.

What is your present state of mind? 

Excited – relaxed – grateful.

‘Lost in Love’ is on Sunday 20 May at 7.30pm in the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head. Tickets here

 

www.natashahardy.com