Maria Marchant, pianist

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

For as long as I can recall, I’ve wanted to be a performer and I remember in my early years emerging from drawn curtains using a bay window as a stage to a pretend audience! Soon after, this desire to perform became centred on the piano and I was fortunate to have a supportive mum and to be taught by my maternal grandmother until I went to conservatoire.

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

Attending live performances has influenced and inspired me in my work greatly. Martha Argerich has to be one of the most exciting pianists in the field and I remember listening to her recordings and hearing her play live and drawing inspiration.

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

I attended a concert given by the late Yonty Solomon for the Alkan Society many years ago having just started lessons with Yonty at Trinity Laban. At the time, I’d been learning Alkan’s ‘Comme le vent’, a fiendish etude, for a couple of weeks and was delighted to see it was on the programme in the second half and was looking forward to hearing the great Yonty’s interpretation. In the interval, an usher asked me to speak to Yonty backstage who calmly asked me to play ‘Comme le vent’ instead of him in the second half! I had about 10 minutes to mentally prepare and no warm up – definitely one of my most challenging moments! Performing Elliott Carter’s Caténaires at the RCM was another milestone, aided by my wonderful professor at the time, Niel Immelman. The work is a perpetuum mobile – a continuous chain of single notes amidst a tapestry of performance markings creating taut tension and verve.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It’s great to be working with SOMM Recordings and to have recorded Roderick Williams’ solo piano works on my debut disc, ‘Echoes of Land & Sea’. One of his compositions, ‘Goodwood by the Sea’, I premiered in the Goodwood Ballroom to open the Shipley Arts Festival last year in addition to performing Mozart’s Piano Concerto K414. The event raised over £20,000 for The Friends of Sussex Hospices which mattered deeply to me and the wider community. Being part of the ‘John Ireland in Chelsea’ Festival in St Luke’s Chelsea, London was also a memorable occasion – performing Ireland’s solo works and songs with Roddy in a place that Ireland knew. As an ambassador for the Concordia Foundation, I play for stroke and dementia patients at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital – seeing patients’ reactions can be mind-blowing in such a unique concert space.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’m not sure if I’m the best judge of that! I feel an affinity with C20th and C21st repertoire and am a passionate advocate of British music, which I believe deserves much more prominence on the concert platform. I love performing contemporary music, working with composers and giving premieres.

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

Progamming is part of my work that I really enjoy and feel is a great responsibility – to select works and themes that audiences will relate to in a changing world in many different venues is challenging and exciting. In 2014, I toured the UK giving concerts entitled ‘Conflicts and Memories – the First World War’ to commemorate the centenary featuring piano works composed in the war years by Debussy, Ireland, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Ravel. I always listen to Festivals and Societies as well, as they often have specific repertoire requests for their audiences and venues. I also enjoy perusing scores in the British Library – it’s unbelievable what turns up there!

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

I love performing of course in the main venues and am a big fan of the Wigmore piano which feels a real ally in the space. However, in the Shipley Arts Festival where I’m pianist-in-residence, it’s been fascinating to create performance spaces, hiring pianos to place in the stately homes around Sussex, such as Knepp Castle and historic churches whilst exploring the great chamber music repertoire by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann and many others. Taking C19th repertoire back to salon style performances brings an intimacy and direct communication with the audience which I strive for.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing Messaien’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time ‘with LPO co-principal clarinettist Thomas Watmough earlier this year was memorable for me. We gave a pre-concert talk and demonstrated the varying bird songs and talked about the historic significance of this extraordinary experience for performers and audience alike.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I believe the role of a musician is in many ways akin to an interpreter. The piano is a monumental instrument, as Kathryn Stott once mentioned to me, and we are blessed with the ever growing huge canon of repertoire – solo, concerto and chamber. And we have and hopefully will always continue to have an audience! So my job is simply to interpret these genius works of art to convey each composer’s brilliance in a way that feels intrinsic and communicative; to take the audience on an enriching journey which experiences God’s gift of music to composers behind the creative process is success.

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

I believe it’s important to be true to yourself and explore repertoire that matters to you as an artist. Building online presence and devising concert programmes and themes is key to developing career at any stage.

What do you enjoy doing most?

I love the moments in performing when time feels completely stationary and the piano dissolves as an instrument to become a malleable palette of hues to explore, express and evoke emotion. Those moments and eating Fortnum & Mason chocolate are definite highs!

‘Echoes of Land & Sea’, Maria Marchant’s debut disc is released on 1 September 2017 on the SOMM label. The album of English piano music features three world premiere recordings including Goodwood by the Sea, a work composed by the composer and baritone Roderick Williams for Maria Marchant and premiered live at Shipley Arts Festival in 2016.

“…I am hugely grateful to Maria for her haunting, magical première of ‘Goodwood by the Sea’ – it was a great compliment to me and a sign of her dedicated professionalism…She brought my music alive with great sensitivity and made it glow in a way I had not imagined possible…”

Roderick Williams, commenting on the première of ‘Goodwood by the Sea’

British pianist Maria Marchant is active as recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician and gave her Wigmore Hall and Southbank debuts to critical acclaim. She has performed in many festivals including the Burford Festival, Cambridge Summer Music Festival, Cheltenham International Music Festival, ‘John Ireland in Chelsea’ Festival, King’s Lynn Festival, Proms Plus and Stratford-upon-Avon Festival. Maria has also performed for numerous music societies and at many leading venues in the UK and elsewhere. A passionate advocate of British music, Maria performs frequently for the John Ireland Trust and regularly features works by Bliss, Britten, Holst, Ireland and Roderick Williams in her concerts. Maria is delighted to be pianist-in-residence at the Shipley Arts Festival and many of her live performances have been broadcast on Radio 3. Her debut SOMM Recordings CD, ‘Echoes of Land & Sea’ features solo piano works composed for her by Roderick Williams and is available on:

Chamber music highlights include playing as a member of the Stradivarius Piano Trio and working with LPO co-principal clarinettist, Thomas Watmough, at the Shipley Arts Festival. She frequently performs contemporary music and gave the world premiere of ‘Goodwood by the Sea’ – a new solo piano work by Roderick Williams written for her and commissioned by the Shipley Arts Festival.

Her many competition successes include First Prize and Gold Medal in the International Hindemith Competition whilst studying for the MMus in Advanced Piano Performance at the Royal College of Music supported by the BBC Performing Arts Fund. She was also awarded the RCM Hilda Anderson Deane Scholarship and was selected as one of RCM’s ‘Rising Stars’ in addition to being a Concordia Foundation, Park Lane Group and Tillett Trust young artist. Maria gained First Class Honours for the BMus and the Silver Medal for Piano Performance at Trinity Laban and has studied with many professors including Alexander Ardakov, Philip Colman, Niel Immelman and Yonty Solomon. Maria believes in the significant role of music in health care and is honoured to be resident pianist at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital as an ambassador for the Concordia Foundation.

(Photograph of Maria Marchant by Steven Peskett at Steinway Hall, London)

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