Stephen Hough plays classical piano as a soloist with orchestras all over Europe and the U.S. He also writes the classical music blog for the London Telegraph, and he composes. He obviously is not afraid of keyboards.
Nor is Hough afraid of getting paint on his multi-talented hands: He is an artist whose works have just been in a monthlong show at the Broadbent Gallery in London.
It's hard to catch Hough standing still. He has just released a CD of French works on Hyperion with a broad reach: It includes an Alfred Cortot transcription of the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor for piano, three Faure subjects, and pieces by Leo Delibes, Francis Poulenc and Cecile Chaminade, among others. He has been named to the board of governors of the Royal Ballet companies (the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet and their schools).
Just four days before he would perform the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, beginning tonight, at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, he was performing the same composer's second concerto in England.
Two weeks ago, he was in Vienna performing, trying to offer some interview windows when the suggestion of answering questions via email in his time zone of the moment was offered and accepted:
Naples Daily News: The Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, which is your scheduled work here, has a good deal of historical information around it, because it was written, or at least organized, as Brahms' mentor, Robert Schumann, lay close to death and Brahms was comforting his family.
I wonder whether any of that circumstance informs your approach to the work — or if not, whether you would play it differently if asked to perform an historically nuanced one.
Stephen Hough: It's an interesting question. Actually, I hardly ever think of extra-musical things when I'm playing, although it's nice to have the thought of Schumann hovering over the second movement of this concerto.
What strikes me more about this piece is the fierce independence Brahms shows and the boiling-over inspiration. He had confidence from the very start in his abilities and found his own style in the earliest works.
NDN: The Rachmaninoff Society has been featuring your blog and your performance of the Piano Concerto No. 2 opening. That society is planning its conference in our city next January.
Are you a member? Or have you appeared at any of the organization's conferences yourself?
As someone who performs classical music and is fairly active on the Internet, do you check into what the societies around famous composers are unearthing? Have you found any new or unheralded pieces that you have taken on?
If you go
What: Masterworks No. 1 concert with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, with guest artist Stephen Hough and guest conductor Daniel Hege, performing Hayden’s Symphony No. 90, Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1
Where: Philharmonic Center for the Arts, 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., Naples
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, Friday, Nov. 9 and Saturday, Nov. 10
Ticket prices: $35 to $70; limited rush tickets are available
How to buy: 239-597-1900 or www.thephil.com
More information: www.stephenhough.com
SH: I'm not a member of this society, although I'm delighted they are using my blog and my recording like this. It's wonderful that such societies exist to keep alive the memories and further the research on composers' lives and works.
I'm president or patron or on the board of a number of more obscure groups such as (those of) Granville Bantock and York Bowen. Obviously, they need even more help than Rachmaninoff!
NDN: You are an artist as well as a pianist. I admit I'm curious as to whether you have music playing when you're creating art, and if so, what kind.
Could you name a few works (or pieces — perhaps you'd rather compose to rock music) that you would have playing? Of course, I also wonder if you've ever tried to program a concert to your own paintings.
SH: If I had music playing when I wrote or painted I would not produce a single scratch! Even writing this email would be impossible with a recording playing in the background. I find that music draws my attention like the strongest magnet and that it's impossible not to be forced into listening. This makes certain restaurant situations difficult if either I want to talk to my companion or if I want to read my book. Easygoing jazz is the best for me.
Those of us who work professionally with music desperately need moments of complete silence in the day. It's a little like someone nibbling all the time at dishes of nuts or cakes ... by dinner time if the appetite is not ruined, it is certainly blunted and jaded.
As far as my painting is concerned, although there is a common source with my music (both playing and composing) I find the expressing of it comes from a completely different part of me. In fact, all my paintings, until the more recent ones, were signed with my middle names to reinforce that separation.
NDN: The culture blog you write for the Telegraph seems to have a devoted following, and I suspect brings some people to your concerts to meet the man because of his writings as much as his performance. What do you find your readers most likely to comment on — the music, the art, life on the road? And have they suggested to you some music that you have adopted in your repertoire?
SH: I love meeting people after a concert, which usually happens if I'm signing CDs in the lobby. We normally just exchange a few words but sometimes people give me scores or recordings, or even books, which they think may be of interest.
I can't really enter into long email exchanges for the most part (I'm already spending more than 2 hours a day with business correspondence and 'paperwork') but it's wonderful to be able to respond personally to people's warmth. In America particularly, I find audiences willing to be open and appreciative. It can be very touching.
NDN: Your interview for the BBC Music Magazine talked about moving from memorizing — or at least moving along with memorizing — to using a score when you perform. Is it working well for your commitment to a fresh rendition each time you perform? Will you be using a score for the Brahms concerto at the Naples Philharmonic Center?
SH: Ah, I was only floating that idea because it's one of those semi-taboo issues for the pianist ... not for other instruments, interestingly. So far, I never play from the score unless it's a contemporary piece, but I think it's good to leave that door open.
What bothers me is that some pianists who are fabulous artists with unreliable memories have had to stop playing for that reason alone. Being able to remember in a concert has nothing to do with musical ability or sensitivity.
NDN: If one wants to hear your own compositions, such the second Piano Sonata, "notturno luminoso," where are those available? Is there a recording of only Stephen Hough compositions out there?
SH: Well, the second sonata has only just been premiered. I believe that NPR is recording it when I play for the Schubert Club series in St. Paul, Minn., later in November, so that will probably be the first time it can be heard outside of the concert hall. I will record it in 2013.