Tagg-Petersen Duo are pianists Kathleen Tagg and Andre Petersen
Who or what inspired you to take up piano and pursue a career in music?
KT: I just always really loved it- my grandmother played the piano and sang old songs from the 40s and 50s and she would let me stand and bash away on the high notes as a toddler. She wasn’t an advanced pianist, but it was my favourite thing! My first teacher, Mrs Claudine van Breda was an absolute wonder with children and the psychology of teaching children, and I loved it from the first day.
AP: My first memories and exposure to the piano was from hearing my mom and dad playing in the home. I was fortunate to come from a very musical family, my parents were music teachers, church organists, choir directors, etc .Everyone in the family play some form of piano so I think it was a very natural progression!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
KT: My first teacher was such a huge inspiration- it was truly fun. I had a quartet, a trio and a duo partner within weeks of starting to play, and I have always loved collaborating more than being on my own. My later teachers, Lamar Crowson, Graham Fitch and Nina Svetlanova all left major imprints on my playing as well. Growing up, I always played in orchestra and big bands, as well as being a church organist, gig cellist and street musician from a young age. These experiences all contributed to my omnivorous musical appetite, as did my time at the University of Cape Town in the mid 1990s- an incredible time where I learnt so much from my colleagues, new friends and from teachers and mentors in fields I didn’t even know I wanted to know about! There was a huge abundance of talent, and people doing all sorts of interesting projects. And lastly, New York City- the incredible range of music and musicians that I have been listening to, watching and learning from for the past 16 years- and the wonderful friendships with great musicians that have taught me so much. The city has been an incredible teacher.
AP: At different stages of my musical development, there have been so many beautiful, nurturing and caring people to numerous to mention! Some of them have had a direct/personal impact, and others from an inspirational perspective. These include an eclectic group of artists/thinkers like iconic South African greats like Abdullah Ibrahim, Bheki Mseleku, Feya Faku, Winston Mankunu, Robbie Jansen, Sviatoslav Richter and many many others.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
KT: Figuring out what I most wanted to do in and with music, and overcoming my worry that I was doing something frivolous with my time. I had to find a way to make the music that I was making personal enough to my life as well as tapping into stories larger than myself. The other thing is being ok with letting my life take me in unexpected directions, not always being in control, and allowing myself making music that I didn’t necessarily expect to be making! I know these are abstract answers, but actually my biggest challenges have always been overcoming my own internal struggles.
AP: I think being honest enough to give myself permission to explore different musical landscapes, without fear or insecurity (or in spite of), as I continue to grow as a person.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
KT: I am extremely proud of this recording (Where Worlds Collide) – especially as it was recorded and produced in extremely daunting situation with an incredibly quick turn-around time. I loved working on this project with Andre, and am proud of both of us for bringing ourselves fully to the table, making ourselves vulnerable, and being willing to learn from each other to create a cohesive sound world. This is my third album as a producer, and I am also extremely proud of this aspect, as it is something I learnt how to do out of necessity. I am also very proud of my Breath & Hammer duo project with clarinettist David Krakauer, as it forced me to really codify my way of working with extended techniques in a “chamber music/world music context, as well as to create new works for large-scale forces. But really every recording has brought lessons and challenges, and I am proud of all of them for different reasons.
AP: Besides this one!? LOL.I am proud of every recording I’ve played on, because it’s a small snapshot of my life at that moment or period, and development both personally and musically. There have been so many memorable performances, sharing the stage with my colleagues’ both locally and abroad, artists like Stefon Harris, Marcus Strickland, Feya Faku, Winston Mankunku and of course my friend Kathleen Tagg.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
KT: Generally my own creations, and those where I am allowed freedom, such s the works on this album where we got to make our own choices. And works where I feel I am able to connect with the audience on an emotional level.
AP: The ones that I have a spiritual and emotional connection with at the time of performance or study. This wouldn’t be genre specific of course, it could be repertoire from the Western Music classical genre, Afro-American jazz tradition, indigenous South African composers or original compositions that reflect my perspective of the world or beyond.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
KT: I work on a project-by-project basis. I find people I love to collaborate with, and then create the projects around that. The repertoire choices will grow out of that, and of how we want to grow the programme.
AP: It could be based on the particular project/group of focus at the particular time.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
KT: I love New York’s National Sawdust. Wonderful Bösendorfer, beautifully intimate space and insane technical capabilities for the size of the venue. I also really love my “home” hall in Cape Town- the Baxter Concert Hall- because it has an absolutely gorgeous Steinway looked after by the amazing Ian Burgess-Simpson- and it is where I grew up, having first played there when I was 8, and returning regularly through my student and adult life. I feel like it is a measuring stick.
AP: I have been blessed to perform in some lovely venues all over the world, and the best venues are the ones where the audience shows the artist respect, love and appreciation! It transforms the physical venue into a beautiful space of communication between the audience, the music and the artist.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
KT: Too many! Every time I get to play a program I love, or work with an amazing musician who inspires me, it makes me so happy- and moves the benchmark of my own capabilities.
AP: Again, there have been so many of them, its difficult to single out one experience. With Kathleen and this particular project, we have had some very memorable performances both in South Africa and the United States.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
KT: Feeling like I was enough in control of all technical aspects of the performance that they served the message I wanted to communicate. Feeling like the music is about something bigger than myself.
AP: A few things for me
1) To be content and happy with the music/project you are involved in.
2) To never to lose the love of sharing this beauty and privilege with an audience.
3) To never forget the privilege of the God given honour to communicate on this level beyond words.
4) To make a decent financial living with your art.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
KT: To constantly challenge yourself and keep moving the benchmark. Also to keep questioning yourself to see if you are still in line with what you most want to be doing and expressing. It is scary to keep questioning, as it means that you are constantly evaluating your own relationship to the music and role as an artist.
There are so many, but for me I would say beyond the obvious like being honest as to what your strengths and desires are in music, and working hard:
– Never underestimate your place in the musical world, and the world in general. There is more than enough room for your voice to be heard.
– Keep a healthy perspective.
– Never lose hope and confidence in your abilities/love of what you would like to achieve.
– Keep yourself inspired.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
KT: Having the luxury of continuing to make a living doing what I love- and really creating shows that I am happy with and that touch people.
AP: Still married to my beautiful and gifted wife, and at that stage our daughter would be 14 years old, so that would be an interesting period for me as a dad. Musically speaking to have played and collaborated with many of my heroes and peers that I admire.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
KT: A mixture of abandoning myself to great time of relaxation and fun with my friends and family and being disciplined with myself to really be producing the kind of work I feel I am capable of.
AP: I’m not sure if the idea of ‘perfect’ happiness exists, either as a destination or sense of finality. I think life presents many trials and tribulations, but my faith in Christ anchors me, and gives me hope.
What is your most treasured possession?
KT: The people I love and my photos of them. And my cello and my grandmother’s ring.
AP: LOVE – The knowledge that I am loved by God and my family, unconditionally.
What do you enjoy doing most?
KT: Either making new work I am proud of or totally relaxing with my best people over a meal or time on the beach.
What is your present state of mind?
KT: Extremely happy! I have just been realizing recently how very happy and lucky I feel. I know the most amazing people that I am lucky to call my friends and family, who are mostly healthy, and am in a really good place of pushing myself hard and continuing to grow, and feeling like things that I really want to be doing are happening. This is not to say that I am not worried about the state of the environment, and about intolerant behaviour across the globe. I am. But I am starting to find a good balance between being able to take good care of myself as well as fighting as hard as I can for what I believe in, and attempting to build bridges wherever possible with every tool at my disposal. I strongly feel that if we are all doing something each day that combats hatred and fear, then we are moving in a positive direction.
Kathleen Tagg & Andre Petersen’s new album Where Worlds Collide is available now. Further information
The Kathleen Tagg /Andre Petersen Piano Duo brings together two of South Africa’s most celebrated pianists, one eclectic classical and one jazz artist, in a unique collaboration.
Drawing from the rich sonic tapestries of classical music, and the nuances of South African jazz and indigenous musics from southern Africa, this duo explores diverse realms of possibilities within the sound world of the piano, with performances of original compositions and works by iconic South African jazz composers. After a successful run at the National Arts Festival, Vryfees and other sold out shows in 2015, the Duo launched their much anticipated CD in South Africa in 2016. The album will launch in early 2017 on Table Pounding Records in the USA.
Kathleen’s fifteen years spent living and performing in New York City’s contemporary music scene have inspired her to think of the piano in a totally different way, using the inside of the piano to create a unique sound world and creating music and shows that cross boundaries and genres effortlessly. A 2014 SAMA-nominee for best classical/instrumental album, she has performed on four continents with some of the world’s leading musicians, including Grammy-nominated duo partner David Krakauer. Venues include many appearances at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, where she gave her acclaimed solo debut. Her recorded work can be heard on NAXOS, Universal, Gallo Africa, Ossia Records and Table Pounding Records labels.
Andre’s years working with the finest South African and international jazz musicians are combined with his experience on the European and international jazz scene. In addition to performing with his own groups and iconic South African musicians such as Winston Mankunku, Feya Faku, Robbie Jansen and many others, being based in Belgium for a few years, Andre has also worked with a musically diverse group of artists such as Grammy award winning World music group Zap Mama, Jazz musicians Reggie Washington (Roy Hargrove/Branford Marsalis), Dre Pallemaerts (Joe Lovano/Toots Thielemans), Stefon Harris (Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Barron) and many others.