Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?
I honestly don’t remember not playing the piano – according to my parents, I always wanted to be at the piano! My father played me children’s songs and the like quite a lot when I was little, and also my grandfather played the organ in church, so that must be where the original spark came from. To pursue a career in music came much later obviously, but music was always my big interest so I guess it was clear quite early that I was going to be a musician in one way or the other.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
As I said, the initial interest would have come from within the family, but later listening to records (Barenboim, Horowitz, and an enormous amount of organ music as I did study the organ as well) was a big inspiration as were the phenomenal teachers I was lucky enough to study with in my youth.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
A career in music involves constant challenges – musical as well as career-related. Striking a balance between absolutely believing in your ability to offer something meaningful and original on the one hand, and being super critical of your playing at the same time is certainly challenging!
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I would say performing Stenhammar’s second piano concerto with legendary conductor Herbert Blomstedt is definitely up there, and I am quite pleased with my Hyperion CD of Stenhammar’s solo works too.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I am quite sure what I play best coincides with what I feel happiest playing (well, I hope that is the case!), and that definitely includes Stenhammar (again!) but often also Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann and Messiaen.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Repertoire choices and programming is extremely important to me, and I always feel that I play much better when I have managed to select a concert programme which tells a story or investigates a certain musical aspect rather than just being a random selection of pieces. I love discovering hidden gems in the piano repertoire and combining them with the great masterpieces by the great composers. A lot of the time the ideas come out of conversation with colleagues – a mention of a composer or a work, or reading that a composer studied with so and so and getting curious about what he or she might have composed, or suddenly becoming aware of a connection between two composers or similarity between a couple of compositions, or simply having dreamed of playing a piece for a long time and finally deciding to programme it! Either way, once the initial idea of a programme is there it is then usually quite easy to think of other works that fit the criteria and provides contrast.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I have got to say that I love the Stockholm Concert Hall, for the atmosphere and friendliness and beauty of the building itself, and it really feels like home too. I would also like to mention Bridgewater Hall in Manchester as a particular favourite: great acoustic, great pianos, great audience.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Depends on if you mean among my own concerts or among concerts I have been to? One extremely memorable concert I have been to was hearing Messiaen’s St. François d’Assise at Opéra Bastille in Paris ten years ago. Just mind-blowing on every level! In terms of my own performances, once again collaborating with Herbert Blomstedt, definitely.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
When the feeling of having played really well coincides with the audience being of a similar opinion!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
That music isn’t isolated from life in general, and that all art forms relate to one another; be curious about music and art, listen to all kinds of music and investigate how they communicate in similar ways, and believe in and be proud of the crucial importance of music in our world.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Out there making a strong case for Stenhammar’s wonderful music internationally.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Beautiful music, in tune pianos plus great food and drink in the company of friends, preferably in a beautiful countryside location.
What is your most treasured possession?
Probably my Blüthner piano…
What do you enjoy doing most?
Playing the piano is a strong contender! Harvesting and cooking home-grown vegetables is extremely enjoyable too.
Martin Sturfält performs at St John’s Smith Square on Tuesday 17th April as part of the Blüthner Piano Series. Further information and tickets
Swedish pianist Martin Sturfält enjoys an international career as a concerto soloist, recitalist, chamber musician and recording artist. His performs a large repertoire ranging from the baroque through to the present day, but increasingly it is his passion for the music of his native country that is earning him recognition internationally as well as in Sweden. His CD of the Adolf Wiklund Piano Concertos on the Hyperion label was named the second best release of the year in Sweden and also won an Outstanding Award in International Record Review, and he has previously recorded a critically acclaimed disc of Stenhammar’s solo music for the same label.
Born near Katrineholm in Sweden in 1979, Martin started to play the piano at the age of four. He studied at the Stockholm Royal College of Music and at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London. His principal teachers were Esther Bodin-Karpe and Stefan Bojsten in Stockholm, and Paul Roberts and Ronan O’Hora in London.
Martin began giving regular concerts at the age of 11, and has since performed extensively throughout Europe, as well as in Asia. Highlights have included solo and chamber music recitals at all major venues in Stockholm and the rest of Sweden as well as at London’s Purcell Room, Barbican Hall, Royal Festival Hall and Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Martin is regularly invited as a soloist with orchestras and has appeared with among others the Hallé Orchestra and all Swedish orchestras such as the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and the Swedish Radio Symphony, collaborating with conductors such as Herbert Blomstedt, Sir Mark Elder, Thomas Dausgaard, Andrew Manze, Peter Oundijan, Vassily Sinaisky and Alexander Vedernikov. His performances have been broadcast throughout Europe and the USA.
Martin won first prizes in both the 1999 Swedish and the 2002 UK Yamaha competitions as well as the 2002 Malmö Nordic ‘Blüthner’ Piano Competition, the 2004 John Ogdon Prize, and the 2005 Terence Judd Award. After 10 years in London, he now lives in the Swedish countryside, where his non-musical spare time activities include bee-keeping and gardening.