Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I always played the piano. As my mother taught piano, the piano was always there and practising was just something one did, like brushing one’s teeth. I remember a moment though, at age 15, when I was practising, and I just knew that playing the piano was what I would do.
That playing music was the thing I found easiest in life probably had something to do with it as well.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Probably my first influence was my mother and the high value she placed on creating beauty, and on being disciplined enough to do so.
After that, getting involved in collaborating musically through playing piano duos with one of my best friends (although it was more about planning matching outfits for performances than actual rehearsing), playing violin in community orchestras, oboe in the school concert band and jazz keyboard in the school “stage band” showed me how fun and rewarding playing music with others could be.
Then there was also that angsty late-teenage-years friendship with another classical music lover…we listened to tons of Mahler and played lots of Brahms together. That seemed to seal the deal.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Truth be told, a long period of self-doubt and struggle to balance being an artist with having what I then thought was important: a “normal” life. I am happy to see that phase is long gone. Also very challenging was to balance being a pianist with being a single parent, starting when my kids were very small. I developed a lot of versatility and skills in many aspects of being a pianist in order to balance earning enough for my family with being present enough to them. Then during the intense first few years after my son died at age 18, I also struggled of course. However, through lots of deep work in balancing the personal with the professional, “real life” with career, the gift has been that I have now finally arrived at a point in life where I find myself with a clear “mission“, and a huge amount of drive and energy to create, research, practice, perform, and record – all in the name of shining light on undeservedly overlooked piano music of female composers. A new chapter of a new book.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I oscillate between being fairly pleased and completely ready to disown my four Grieg recordings. A few months ago, I was about to chuck every last copy of those discs in the trash, and yet a few weeks ago when I was invited to dinner, my friend Chris was playing my recordings throughout the meal, and I was so distracted by my enjoyment of them.
This is the most recent recording from 2017, of some very interesting little “late Grieg” pieces, quite unlike the pieces he is most famous for:
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
My new project, “en pleine lumière”, gives me great satisfaction. As these undeservedly overlooked pieces by 19th-century women come without the burden of tradition, I feel a great freedom in interpreting and performing them. I am very excited to release the first two albums later this year, and to share this gorgeous music with my listeners.
I also recently developed a recital program that was more akin to a meditation than a concert, known as “Solace”. I used several non-traditional ideas in presenting it in order to help the audience access a deeper-than-usual type of listening. That program, which includes a wide range of styles, feels particularly successful on many levels.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Now that I have begun my large scale “en pleine lumière” project, which will see me record six albums over the next two years, I have certain parameters for the recordings, which then will influence my concert programming as well. For each album, I feature a generation of women, beginning with those born in the mid 19th-century for volume one, late 19th-century for volume two, etc. until eventually young current composers are featured in volume six. In order to showcase many composers, I am choosing to play shorter works (under six minutes each). I look for repertoire that shows inventiveness, colour, mastery, and is pianistic.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I always enjoy returning to Stratford, Ontario to St. James Anglican. The 7 ft. Yamaha there is my piano soulmate, and the audience is always very attentive and supportive. I also love intimate salons or house concerts, where there is such a palpable connection with the audience.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Each concert I have played over the many years as a performer seems etched in my mind in some way. Performing a concert is always a heightened experience, so perhaps that is why no one concert stands out more than others.
In terms of memorable concerts for the wrong reasons one concert does stand out. It was a house concert on a gorgeous Bechstein which the hosts were proud to tell me had been tuned that morning. Tuned, you say? Yes. But tuned a half-tone low across the board. As someone with absolute pitch, this was a massive stressor, as I had to transpose in my head while playing from memory. I’m sure I was unsuccessful in hiding how close to tears I was throughout.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
For me, success comes in creating experiences of beauty, and hopefully thereby uplifting people.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
In my teaching, and in my own practicing, I am always working towards playing with ease, and in so doing being able to be open to responding to the energies of the moment. When the musical impulse is strong and the technique serves to express that musical impulse, things flow in a satisfying way.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In 10 years, I would love to be continuing to perform and record. I also love creating musical events, so my intention is to continue to have opportunities to connect with audiences in these ways.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Perfect happiness involves good connections with people, a life of creativity, beauty, laughter, health and prosperity.
What is your most treasured possession?
In my current nomadic life while I focus almost exclusively on creating my “en pleine lumière” project, my treasured material possessions are my iPad, iPhone and Iittala coffee mugs.
What is your present state of mind?
My present state of mind is super focused, excited, and optimistic. I am also quite curious about where I am headed, but in a somewhat detached way. I know that sometime in 2020 I will eventually settle somewhere again, but at this point I have no clue as to even which continent that will be on.
If there is anything that I am a little concerned about, that is regarding the funding of “en pleine lumière” in all of its phases. I encourage people to visit sandramogensen.com to pre-order the first album as a way of supporting the project.
Visit Sandra Mogensen’s crowdfunding page for “en pleine lumière”
Copenhagen-based pianist Sandra Mogensen is equally at home in two worlds: performing as a solo pianist and co-performing with singers in recital. She has played in concert in both capacities in Canada, the United States, Denmark, Latvia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Austria. Sandra is also well-known as a vocal coach and piano pedagogue.