Tim Horton, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I took recorder lessons at school when I was four or five but quickly became bored. I pestered my parents for a year to have piano lessons and so I started aged six. I have never wanted to do anything else since. My brother, (musicologist Julian Horton) who is four years older than me, was already learning the piano so it’s possible I just wanted to do what he was doing.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There are too many to mention in full. I am very lucky to play with some wonderful musicians in Ensemble 360 and the Leonore Trio, who are a constant source of inspiration and I have many musician friends and colleagues who influence my musical thinking profoundly.

In terms of the piano, Maurizio Pollini was my first musical inspiration as a child. My parents bought me his recording of the Chopin Études when I was seven and I will never forget the feeling of astonishment that the piano could be played like that. I then discovered Schoenberg, Boulez, and other twentieth-century composers through his recordings and concerts, for which I am eternally grateful.

Alfred Brendel is probably the most consistent influence on me. I played the Schoenberg Concerto to him when I was 17 and have played to him regularly (but nowhere near enough) ever since. His insistence on every note and every phrase having a meaning and a character, and the importance of a sound that is relevant for the context, opened my ears to a world that I hadn’t realised existed before.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I struggled with my confidence in the late 90s and early 00s. Joining Ensemble 360 changed everything. Playing a lot in public is the only real cure for a lack of confidence, for me at least.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I don’t really listen to my recordings after they are released as I find it impossible not to be frustrated by the bits that I find prosaic. I have been pleased with the odd movement.

I was pleased with my solo Wigmore Hall debut in 2016 because I proved to myself that I could play freely in that environment.

Playing Schoenberg with Sir Simon Rattle and CBSO was an incredible experience but I have no memory of how well I played.

Many concerts at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield with Ensemble 360 and the Leonore Trio have been very rewarding experiences. We are in the privileged position of being able to play pieces many times over a number of years, which results in a great understanding of each other’s musical character. This can create some special moments.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I feel a particular affinity for certain composers, but it’s hard to say how well I play them. I am in the middle of a Schubert Sonata cycle at the moment, which is a fascinating experience. I have always struggled to play his music even though I love it, so I am determined to find a way of coming to terms with it. I find Beethoven easier in many ways.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

The choice of repertoire is a collaborative process in the chamber groups I play with. As a soloist I have concentrated on cycles. I played all of the Beethoven Sonatas a few years ago and now I am in the middle of a cycle of Schubert Sonatas, programmed with other composers who were influenced by him and I would like to do the same with Chopin next. For individual programmes I like to find links between composers of different eras.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Crucible Studio in Sheffield is one of the best places in which to hear and play music. It is entirely in the round and the nearest audience members are a couple of feet away from you. The experience is particularly intense for performers and listeners and I think that the feeling of “them and us,” which is noticeable in many traditional venues, is completely eradicated I hope.

The Wigmore Hall is very special for different reasons. The sound is unique in there and I have never played in a hall that feels friendlier and more ideal for chamber music. Oddly though, I am always intensely nervous for the performers when I am in the audience.

Plush in Dorset has been a mainstay of my life for twenty years or so and it is as perfect an environment for music-making as I can imagine.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Alfred Brendel playing the last three Beethoven Sonatas at Royal Festival Hall in London in about 1996. Andras Schiff playing the second book of 48 in the same hall in 2000. I heard Michelangeli twice in the late 80s, which was memorable of course, and Bernstein and Concertgebouw in London playing Schubert 5 and Mahler 4. Pollini playing Petrushka and Boulez Second Sonata in the early 90s were unforgettable. Daniel Harding and Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna in 2007 performing Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde will always stay with me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Apart from the people that I have already mentioned, Carlos Kleiber, Alfred Cortot, Imogen Cooper, Edwin Fischer, Claudio Abbado, Peter Cropper, Paul Lewis – the list of influences is endless! I have loved the Lindsays and Amadeus Quartet for many years and have been listening to the Busch Quartet with wonder in recent years. Boulez, Birtwistle and Ligeti have been the composers of more recent years to whom I feel especially close.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

If I play a concert that convinces peers and people whose musical judgement I particularly respect, then that feels like a sort of success, no matter how short-lived. In terms of my career I want to play with people who inspire me.

I have been playing more as a soloist recently, which has been hugely rewarding, and I suppose that I would feel a sort of personal success if that side of my career were to develop further.

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

Never think purely in terms of your own instrument. If you are learning music by a particular composer listen to as much of their music as you can (Symphonies, Lieder, Opera, Chamber music), and then listen to the music that influenced them.

Possibly the most important thing, not least for the continuance of the art form, is to support new music as much as possible.

Tim Horton studied at Chetham’s School of Music, and Trinity College, Cambridge.

In 1995 he replaced Alfred Brendel at short notice in two performances of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle at Symphony Hall, Birmingham and the Royal Festival Hall, London. Since then he has played with the RLPO, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Trondheim Symphony Orchestra.

In 2005 Tim was chosen as the scholar of the Klavier Festival Ruhr at the recommendation of Alfred Brendel.

With the Leonore Piano Trio, Tim has given concerts in Italy and throughout the UK and toured New Zealand. They have performed a cycle of the complete Beethoven Trios at King’s Place, London and will tour it over the coming seasons. Their debut CD of the Arensky Trios on Hyperion has been choice of the month in Gramophone magazine and International Record Review. Their second disc for Hyperion of the Lalo Trios was released early in 2016 to great acclaim. Both CDs were chosen as disc of the week by BBC Radio 3’s Record Review. They have also recorded the complete Trios of David Matthews. Future plans include concerts at the Wigmore Hall, in Denmark, Istanbul and throughout the UK.

Tim is the pianist with Ensemble 360. Since then they have performed to great acclaim throughout the UK and abroad and released four CDs.

With Adrian Brendel Tim has given tours of Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK, including concerts at the Wigmore Hall, London. In 2011 they made their debut at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest.

He has also played regularly at the Plush, Aldeburgh, Bath, Elverum and North Norfolk festivals and has collaborated with many leading chamber musicians including Paul Lewis, Peter Cropper, the Elias Quartet, the Vertavo Quartet, and the members of the Kungsbacka Piano Trio. Tim has also performed many times as guest pianist with the Nash Ensemble.

He made his Wigmore Hall solo debut during the 2015-16 season .In 2015 Tim completed a four-year cycle of the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas at the Crucible, Sheffield where he will commence a cycle of Schubert Sonatas this Autumn. He is deeply committed to the performance of new music with a repertoire that includes pieces by Boulez, Ligeti, Birtwistle, Kurtag, Berio, Huw Watkins, Thomas Ades and Stockhausen, amongst others.


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