Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?
I have always been inspired by Daniel Barenboim. His recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas were a great inspiration to me throughout my formative years. The integrity of his musicianship combined with his powerful sound are incredibly compelling. I fondly recall watching some of his videos over and over again as a child, desperately seeking every clue as to his wonderful technique. Inspired by this, I even tried to learn the Appassionata Sonata when I was only six with, of course, disastrous results. With time, I have learnt that one of the vital qualities to cultivate in learning music is… patience!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I am very grateful to my various teachers at the S. Pietro a Majella Conservatoire in Naples and the Santa Cecilia Conservatoire in Rome. Although they could be very strict, they imbued me with a respect for the musical score and the composer’s intentions. On coming to London, Yonty Solomon and Geoffrey Pratley greatly influenced me for very different reasons. The former gave me the confidence to perform challenging pieces that I had never tried to tackle before and to use my imagination to express myself freely, while the latter taught me the value of being a true musical collaborator and to explore unusual repertoire.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
As a freelance musician, juggling the various aspects of my work (practice, self-promotion, administration) can be very challenging at times. The profession has also taught me that it is essential to come up with a unique project that enhances your own individuality as an artist. Devising new programmes that resonate with audiences while balancing the associated demands of learning new repertoire can also be a fascinating task.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I am very excited by my series of recordings exploring twentieth-century Italian vocal chamber music. The latest of these recordings is Sera d’inverno: the world-première disc of songs by Ildebrando Pizzetti with mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, which followed my recording of Shakespeare Sonnets by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with baritone Ashley Riches. I have always felt that the impressive tradition of the chamber romanza has been overshadowed by the success of contemporary Italian opera. But there is a huge amount of first-rate music by composers such as Casella, Alfano and Malipiero that is still woefully unknown. I hope that this series will play a part in redressing this imbalance.
Other recordings that I am very proud of are the two volumes of complete keyboard duets by Mozart on original instruments with Julian Perkins. As a pianist, I have always been curious to explore the original sound worlds of the Classical composers, and the wonderful original pianos that we used for these recordings acted like sage teachers in revealing how the music of Mozart and his contemporaries can be played.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Those that are harmonically based and allow one to be in dialogue with other musicians. I try not to be too specialist as I think one keeps fresh by having a degree of musical versatility. For example, I cherish the intimacy of keyboard duets by Johann Christian Bach as much as the wry humour found in many chamber works by Stephen Dodgson.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I like to mix familiar pieces with those that are lesser-known – both musically and in terms of note learning!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
For me, a venue is as much about the unique chemistry of each audience as it is the fabric of the building. That said, it would of course be churlish not to mention the Wigmore Hall as its acoustic somehow allows for both intimacy and grandeur. Other UK venues that I have enjoyed performing in recently include Conway Hall and St George’s Bristol.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Those that put the music first and react to one’s playing in performance.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Giving a recital in the stunning Marble Hall in Salzburg during the celebrations for Mozart’s 250th anniversary was absolutely thrilling. On a different note, performing at the Montessori Nursery where my twin boys go to school was also very exciting: both of them were confused as to why I was there so decided to climb on me during the performance!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
A relatively full diary, and a good mixture of performing and teaching / coaching. Working primarily as a chamber musician, I greatly value the importance of collaborating with colleagues who both share my musical values and can challenge me with new ideas.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Take nothing for granted, keep open to new ideas and enjoy the discipline of creative musical practice.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being at one with the music in performance, and knowing that there is no overdue administration to deal with straight after a concert…
What is your most treasured possession?
My Blüthner grand piano. My husband and I were honoured to have been bequeathed this by the composer Stephen Dodgson.
Emma Abbate’s new discs are available on the Resonus Classics label
Sera d’inverno: Songs by Ildebrando Pizzetti
W. A. Mozart: Piano Duets, Volume 2
The Neapolitan pianist Emma Abbate enjoys a demanding career as a piano accompanist and chamber musician. Described as “an amazingly talented pianist” by the leading Italian magazine Musica, she has performed in duo recitals for international festivals and concert societies in Salzburg, Lisbon, Naples, Ischia, and Koscierzyna, and at many prestigious UK venues such as the Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre, Royal Opera House, St John’s Smith Square, St George’s, Bristol and at the Aldeburgh Festival, in addition to broadcasts on BBC Radio 3.
Emma is releasing a series of recordings devoted to 20th-century Italian vocal chamber music, the latest of which is Sera d’inverno: a disc of songs by Ildebrando Pizzetti with mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp for Resonus Classics, which has been praised by the Gramophone for its “considerable intensity”. She has previously recorded the world-première disc of Shakespeare Sonnets by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with the BBC New Generation Artist Ashley Riches, and two volumes of Mozart’s complete piano duets on original fortepianos with Julian Perkins. A keen advocate of contemporary music, Emma has also recently released two discs devoted to works by Stephen Dodgson for Toccata Classics: world-première recordings of his cello and piano music with Evva Mizerska, and his piano quintets with the Tippett Quartet. The latter disc was named a Musicweb International Recording Of The Year 2017.
Based in London, Emma is a professor at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and a staff coach at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Following her graduation from the S. Pietro a Majella Conservatoire in Naples and an Advanced Diploma from the S. Cecilia Conservatoire in Rome, Emma studied in London with Yonty Solomon. She completed her studies with Geoffrey Pratley as a scholar at the Royal Academy of Music, from where she graduated with distinction. She was also awarded an Italian Literature and Culture degree cum laude from the Federico II University in Naples.