Simon Lepper, pianist

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

I’d played the piano since I was 5 and enjoyed playing “community songs” with my grandfather on the ukalele when I was young. It wasn’t until meeting Joseph Seiger (official accompanist to Mischa Elman) that I realised there was a career in “collaborative piano”.

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

My teachers Michael Dussek and later Ruben Lifschitz (a student of Cortot) were the biggest influences on my musical development. In terms of my career, the support given by The Royal Overseas League Competition, Tillett Trust, Making Music, Live Music Now and Ferrier Awards has been invaluable in establishing my concert work.

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

The biggest challenge is to continue on your own path and not panic when there’s a blank page in your diary. It does fill up! But I sometimes feel you have to have the attitude of a gambler to work as a freelance song pianist: one day a singer cancels but the next a singer might call.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Although I mainly work with singers, my favourite CD is one of contemporary music with the German violinist Carolin Widmann for ECM records. I’m most proud of my very first performance of Messiaen’s monumental song cycle “Harawi” which I performed with Gweneth Ann Rand at the Aldeburgh festival and consequently at the South Bank and for the BBC Proms.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The works I most enjoy playing are the Schubert song cycles. I’ll leave the audience to decide as to whether I play them the best!

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

I often get to programme with singers but sometimes I’m asked to give concerts that are already programmed. I enjoy the process of sifting through songs to create a programme like a musical crossword.

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

I recently played at the Park Armory, New York with Ilker Arcayurek for the first time. It has the most beautiful acoustic whilst being a smaller and more intimate venue. In general, my favourite places for song are those which replicate the feeling of a large living room.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Dame Felicity Palmer for her integrity and intensity, Graham Johnson for his knowledge and love of the song repertoire and Joseph Horowitz for his beauty of tone and apparent effortlessness.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Most recently it was opening the highest concert hall in the world in Shenzhen, China with Aida Garifullina. The only drawback was that I have a fear of heights!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being accepted and appreciated by colleagues.

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

Stay focused and try not to compare yourself to other musicians. Never stop practising and evolving your relationship with your instrument. Don’t ask for too much feedback as it can be confusing and don’t be in a hurry: work will come your way if it’s meant to.

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

I never know. As the truism goes “it’s the journey not the destination that’s important”. As a freelance musician you never know what each day will bring and where that will take you..

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Watching the birds in my city garden with a glass of wine, my dog and my husband. I love the juxtaposition of nature and an urban landscape.

What is your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring.

What is your present state of mind?

Strangely optimistic.

Simon Lepper performs with mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley on 11 October at Trinity United Reformed Church, Wimbledon as part of Bluthner’s Wimbledon Piano Classics 2019 series. Further information and tickets

Simon Lepper read music at King’s College Cambridge. He is a professor of collaborative piano at the Royal College of Music, London where he also co-ordinates the collaborative piano course. Since 2003 he has been an official accompanist for the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Recent performance highlights include an invitation from the Wigmore Hall, London to present a three concert project on the songs of Joseph Marx; a recital tour with baritone Stéphane Degout which included the Ravinia and Edinburgh Festivals; his debut at Carnegie Hall, New York with mezzo Karen Cargill; a recital with Christopher Purves at the Frick Collection, New York; a performance with Mark Padmore of Schubert Winterreise at the Schubertiade, Hohenhems, Austria; recitals with Angelika Kirchschlager at La Monnaie, Brussels and at the Wigmore Hall where appearances also have included recitals with Christopher Maltman, Elizabeth Watts, Stephan Loges, Sophie Bevan, Christopher Purves and Lawrence Zazzo.

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