Håkon Skogstad, pianist

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

I grew up in a musical family. My father is an organist/harpsichordist and my mother is a singer. I listened to my father play when I was very young and that’s where my passion for the piano began. I took lessons with my father, but my parents never forced me into music, so although I always played now and then for fun, I began taking it seriously quite late. I learned pieces by ear and by imitating my father and didn’t bother to learn how to read music until I was around 13 years old. Although I knew I wanted to be a musician since the age of 12 or 13, it was very difficult to decide what kind of a musician. I had periods where I would play exclusively jazz, blues or rock music. I also took private lessons on the Hammond Organ for a year when I was 14 and I played a lot in different rock bands. I ended up focusing on a classical career because that was the music that was dearest to me (and still is).

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

I would say my father, my piano teachers, Leif Ove Andsnes, Jon Lord, Joey DeFrancesco, Astor Piazzolla and Pablo Ziegler. As for experiences, I have had the privilege of playing a lot of concerts both in Norway and internationally with great fellow musicians in different groups. That has shaped me a lot as a musician.

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

I always push myself a lot and have very high expectations, so it is difficult to choose something specific… but I spent three years before finally becoming a research fellow in the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme (which is a very sought-after position fully funded by the government to undertake performing artistic research on a doctoral level). My research project is about studying and recreating historical recordings by pianist Ricardo Viñes to explore and challenge several aspects of performance practice in the impressionist period.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The fourth one, which is my most recent album: Two Hands to Tango. This is my first solo album and I have done all the arrangements and compositions myself. The album is very much a reflection of me as a musician because although it is rooted in Argentine tango music, there are a vast number of influences from other genres such as classical music and jazz. It is a culmination of my artistic expression.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I would rather say composers than single works: Liszt, Grieg, Prokofiev, Ravel and Piazzolla.

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

They are usually made for me because I play a lot of chamber music and get asked to accompany certain works, but as a soloist I tend to tailor concert programmes that have certain themes or storylines such as “Piano Music and War” (preferably original and somewhat unexpected programmes since I enjoy talking between the music in my concerts).

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many, so let’s focus on pianists: Vladimir Horowitz, Ricardo Viñes, Leif Ove Andsnes, Arcadi Volodos, Arturo Michelangeli, Horacio Salgán, Herbie Hancock and Pablo Ziegler.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Impossible to choose one, but my very first solo recital at an arts museum when I was 15 years was probably very monumental for me because it was the beginning of my career (I even got paid!).

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Making a living through music and having family and friends around. It’s not so important how prestigious or not, so long as you feel what you are doing is meaningful – for yourself and for others.

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

I am a strong believer in diversity – studying several genres and styles will develop skills in all kinds of music (I am currently trying to prove how jazz-learning approaches can be beneficial in classical music through my doctoral research project). I am classically trained with a Master’s in performance from Norway and New York and I have gone through all the stuff that any other pro pianist has, but I still feel that modern classical performers (myself included) should be encouraged to reconquer skills from the golden romantic age such as improvisation, spontaneity and freedom of expression. That is the (retrospective) future of classical music in my humble opinion.

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

Performing exclusively my own music, both as a soloist and in groups with my favourite fellow musicians on an international scene.

Håkon Skogstad’s solo album Two Hands To Tango features some of the greatest tango songs of all time transcribed for solo piano by Skogstad. The digital album is available now on the Avantango Records label.



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