Gavin Roberts, pianist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

A career in music is not really something I ever chose, but it seemed a natural continuation of what I have always done. Singing has always been a part of my life, and despite mainly being a keyboard player now, I have always been connected with the vocal music since I began singing classes age 4, followed by being a chorister at Magdalen College, Oxford, through University as an Organ Scholar for my college chapel choir, and finally now working as a pianist with singers of all kinds as well as choirs.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

Again, it all comes back to the voice, and the music written for it. For me all music has breath, in order for it to be human. That, combined with my love of poetry and language, and the way this magically combines to make music of the most extraordinary depth with a direct communicative power. I love theatre and opera perhaps more than going to concerts, so that always has an influence on the way I perform and devise projects and performances.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a pianist? And the most fulfilling aspect?

As I love to be the organiser, creator and curator of many different projects, the challenge is always finding enough time for personal piano practice. It’s always a bit like being an athlete – working regularly to keep ‘match-fit’. The most fulfilling aspect is that my work introduces me to so many different artists, from both musical and other artistic disciplines.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the choir?

We’re always under huge time pressures in the rehearsal room, so I am always interested in how to get to as deep an artistic level as possible in the time available – skills I have learned working with actors in particular as useful here, especially when it comes to engaging with the meaning of a text. The most important thing is that everyone feels they know the material well, so that we can do something spontaneous in performance.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

My role is to help the group be the best they can in the moment the music is made. What that takes!

Is there one work which you would love to play?

No – too difficult to choose.

As a pianist, how do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I love devising programmes for festivals such as the St Marylebone Festival where we theme everything along cultural history and our local community. This means I think about how to tell stories with the repertoire I choose, and how I combine them with spoken text or other media. The same is true of my small charity Song in the City, for whom I have devised more than 100 programmes, often along socially and politically engaging themes. It’s always fun to programme old favourites in new contexts.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Too many to list! As soon as I try, I will remember others. Schubert? Oh yes but I also love Debussy, and what about Ravel? Always back to Bach, and Haydn has a special place in my heart as well. I love working with contemporary composers too, and have had a lot of fun with the songs of my friend, composer Raymond Yiu.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Never stop learning how to do it better!

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

Be truthful

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Whenever anyone asks me that, I think back 10 years, and realise I would be surprised where I am now, compared to then. I just aspire to be open about my work, and take the direction it leads me. I hope I will cement some old artistic relationships, as well as form exciting new ones!

Gavin Robert is Artistic Director of the St Marylebone Festival which runs from 21-27 July 2018. Gavin Roberts accompanies tenor James Way in a performance of Schubert’s Winterreise to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Robert Falcon Scott of the Antarctic.

Full details of the Festival programme here

Gavin Roberts enjoys a varied career as a piano accompanist. He has partnered singers in recital at Wigmore Hall, the Barbican Hall and the Royal Festival Hall, and is Artistic Director of the recital series Song in the City, for whom he has devised more than 100 recital programmes. He has appeared at The Cheltenham Festival, Dartington International Summer School, The Ludlow Weekend of English Song, The Ryedale Festival, The Young Songmakers’ Almanac, and The Oxford Lieder Festival. He works most regularly with soprano Lucy Hall, with whom he was the winner of the Oxford Lieder Young Artist Platform, and actor Rosamund Shelley, with whom he performs her one-woman shows Novello & Son and War Songs.

He has played for The BBC Singers, The Joyful Company of Singers, Constanza Chorus, The Hanover Band, Tiffin Boys’ Choir, and as a repetiteur for Sir Roger Norrington and the late Richard Hickox. Gavin has appeared regularly on BBC Radio broadcasts as a soloist and accompanist, often giving premiere performances of new works. He has played on numerous recordings for the BBC, ASV, Guild and Priory Records. His most recent project is a CD recording of London-themed song commissions for Song in the City.Gavin studied piano with Andrew West and Eugene Asti at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he is now a Professor of Academic Studies and a Staff Pianist. He previously read Music at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he also held the organ scholarship. Following this, Gavin gained a Master’s degree from King’s College London. Gavin is Organist and Director of Music at St Marylebone Parish Church.

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