Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?
Since there’s no other musician in my family tree, as far as I know, this is a very good question. I’ve been told that from the age of two or three, I used to intently watch my sister during her piano lessons. After the lesson, I would walk over to the piano and try to reconstruct what I’d heard. A couple of years later I started taking lessons myself, but throughout the years I never thought it would become my profession, until my early twenties. I took up computer science at university, and before the end of the first year, during which I had absolutely no time for music for the first time in my life, I realised that music was almost a physical need for me, and that I didn’t really have a choice.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I feel that many people and experiences have influenced me both positively and negatively, but that I’ve always remained myself, if that makes sense. If I had to point out one person, I would say it was my second piano teacher, who taught me for about eight years of my childhood and adolescence, although I have a more vivid memory of her personality than of her musical approach.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I can only say that the musical challenges have generally filled me with energy, while the non-musical challenges, like that of self-promotion, often drain me of my energy.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
It’s easy to have glorified memories of live performances, especially when they haven’t been recorded, but so far I’ve been successful in maintaining an equally glorified memory of my recently-released Late Beethoven CD, thanks to a persistent avoidance of listening to it. On a more serious note though, the feeling of satisfaction after a good performance fades quickly, which is why I find it better to focus on whatever is coming next.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques; Beethoven’s sonata Op. 109
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I have a seemingly endless list of works that I’d like to play, but I’ve noticed that without a deadline, they may stay in that list for a long time. So every season I try to schedule at least a few “new” works for the next couple of seasons. In terms of concert programming, I generally prefer programmes that have the potential to provide interesting, varied experiences to listeners, and that are composed entirely of music that I’m passionate about. However, sometimes it’s useful to have a ‘theme’, which helps thinking about the music from a certain angle.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Not really. But I would choose a responsive, authentic audience over a sophisticated and satiated one any day. And a decent piano, please.
Who are your favourite musicians?
This is not really fair because there are so many, but a few names that come to mind are Carlos Kleiber, Claudio Abbado, Arcadi Volodos, Ignaz Friedman, Adam Harasiewicz, Sviatoslav Richter… I know only one of them is alive, and I would include some younger, living colleagues but don’t want to upset anyone so I won’t.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
One of the most memorable concerts was for an audience of youngsters in Chile, with a less-than-marvellous piano. I expected the audience to be noisy and distracted, but they were extremely quiet until the end of each piece, at which point there was a huge burst of cheers and applause. After the recital, many of the children queued up for my signature. I think it was the only time I ever felt like a rock star.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
That’s an easy one: reaching the hearts and minds of other people, and moving something there. When someone tells me after a concert that they had heard that piece so many times, but that my performance gave them a new perspective of that work, I know I’ve had a little success right there.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
First, don’t pursue a music career unless you feel that your passion for music makes it an absolute must for you. Once you have chosen this path, realise that there is no ultimate goal, so you’d better enjoy the way as much as you can.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In a friendly area, warm temperatures, combining composition, performing and some teaching.
What is your most treasured possession?
A refurbished 1907 New York Steinway that I love.
Ishay Shaer’s recording of late Beethoven piano music is available now on the Orchid Classics label.