Kathryn Stott is a gifted concert classical pianist from the UK. She also teaches at The Royal Academy of Music as well as Chetham's School of Music. As a young girl, Kathryn took notice of the family upright piano - and with her mother being a piano teacher - she began playing at the age of 5. As she progressed, it was clear that she was a natural for the instrument, so she enrolled in the Yehudi Menuhin School where she studied with Nadia Boulanger, Marcel Caimpi, Vlado Perlemuter and more. She would continue her studies at The Royal College of Music with Kendall Taylor. With this solid education behind her, Kathryn would begin to enter piano competitions, and it didn't take long for her to succeed. After finishing 5th at the Leeds International piano competition, she took on an agent and began to perform close to a hundred shows a year. Kathryn specializes with the English and French masters repertoire, as well as contemporary classical music. She showcases this on her large output of recorded works. After a chance meeting with Yo-Yo Ma at her apartment, Kathryn developed a strong working relationship with him and they have continued this collaboration for over 30 years now. Kathryn performs all over the world in the finest concert halls. I recently had the chance to ask Kathryn some questions about her outstanding career.
R.V.B. - How were you originally exposed to music? Did you come from a musical family?
K.S. - My mother was a part time piano teacher at home and we had an upright piano which I used to mess around on at the age of five.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy your years at the Yehudi Menuhin school? Did you bring anything into your playing of today that was directly influenced by world class teachers such as Nadia Boulanger, Vlado Perlemuter and Marcel Ciampi?
K.S. - The Menuhin school had many positive aspects and without question, helped shape me into the person I am today. When you go away to boarding school at the age of 8 and in this respect, one with a strong focus of music, it would be almost impossible not to be influenced in some way. I took many things from all of my teachers there – good and not so great. These were formative years. I think being exposed to French teachers with direct links back to composers like Fauré and Ravel has always stayed with me, but that was just a part of the general picture. In the end it's not who you know, but what you do with that knowledge and how you pass it on.
K.S. - I had no plan but at the age of 15, took a diploma exam during which Kendall Taylor was on the panel. That day, I instinctively decided I would go and study with him at the Royal College of Music. That's exactly what I did at the age of 16 and it was one of the best decisions of my life.
R.V.B. - How did you make your transition into the professional world? Did you network yourself into ensembles or try starting as a soloist?
K.S. - My transition was rather overnight in the days when competitions had that effect. At the age of 19, I won 5th prize in the Leeds International Piano competition and immediately had an agent who dealt with my concert life. I basically went from 2 concerts a year to 90. Probably at that time, chamber music didn't feature quite so highly but this wasn't by design, simply there was no time!
K.S. - I didn't concentrate on any particular composers as I was simply learning mountains of repertoire to meet the demand following the competition. At Menuhin School, I had learnt only a handful of pieces and at RCM, Kendall had done his best to speed things up, but I was still underprepared for entering the profession.
R.V.B. - How do you enjoy performing lesser known contemporary music? Is this more of a challenge as far as selling the audience of the performance?
K.S. - Learning contemporary music can be a challenge because our starting point of reference is not the same. However, I think any good piece will eventually show itself to be worthwhile and of real value. I think most of us love what feels familiar, even if we don't think we do, so communicating the unknown to any audience, takes belief, commitment and perhaps some explanation to set the scene. Let's not forget that all music has been contemporary at some stage or another!
R.V.B. - What are some of your performances that stick out in your mind as special? Maybe a piece of music that you really enjoyed or a special venue?
R.V.B. - I see that you developed an interest in Tango music. How did this come about?
K.S. - I discovered Tango after my great friend and colleague Yo-Yo Ma went to Argentina for the first time. He spoke very passionately about Piazzolla and from that day, I found myself looking into traditional Tango, falling in love with the bandoneon and feeling as if I'd suddenly discovered a whole new language. After this, it was a real joy to explore music in general from South America.
R.V.B. - Your long time relationship with Yo-Yo Ma had an auspicious start when you first met him at your apartment. How does working with him enhance your music?
K.S. - Yes, we met completely by chance in 1978 and if I say that in life, there are some moments of fate which change the course of events, that was one. We have now been performing together for 32 years and so just like any long collaboration, we have a vast collective experience but importantly our own independent interests both with and without music. I think enhancement comes from this.
K.S. - I'm not sure administrative role is the right wording. I've been Artistic Director on several occasions and most recently invited by the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsvile to take over in 2018. I don't think of this as talent scouting but a way to be creative with programming and to bring musicians together who will not only complement each other but inspire and challenge. Each festival has to start with a fresh canvas. What suits an audience in let's say Manchester, UK, does not necessarily work for Australia or any other country. I try to think of the environment I'm creating for and the people I'm working with.
R.V.B. - Does your practice regimen differ due to workload or do you maintain a schedule?
K.S. - This is not a life for schedules! I know what I need to achieve with my practice and just accommodate with the time available. Being a pianist has its challenges simply because we aren't able to have access to an instrument exactly when we want it. I make the most of my practice time at home for that reason.
R.V.B. - How do you enjoy sharing what you've learned in your career as a musician, with students who will carry the torch of musical traditions?
K.S. - I very much enjoy this aspect of my life. I'm now a professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo so there, I see my role as encouraging the development of young pianists over a period of some years. In the end I'm really excited when their own ideas are what count and the courage to become independent takes over. I share what I can and try to adapt to the person I'm working with.
R.V.B. - What are you proud of so far as your place in music?
K.S. - Simply that after playing the piano for 53 years, it's still my friend!
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Kathryn Stott visit her website www.kathrynstott.com
Photo credits include Nikolaj Lund - Jonathan Wilkinson - Lorenzo Cicconi Massi
Special thanks to Jane Ward
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