Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I never entertained the idea of a serious music career until quite late, at the age of 14 . I had a few influences. My Great Uncle Tony was a WW2 rear gunner in Lancaster Bombers. He was also a self-taught amateur pianist, entertaining his community in York most of his life, and I remember he played Liszt’s Liebesträume on our family piano.
My grandfather on my father’s side was a violinist and played the first violin in the Calderdale Orchestra for many years. My grandmother on my mother’s side had strong German Heritage and played the accordion, piano and the church organ for 50 years. She had dementia late in life but could still play from memory somehow.
I was completely persuaded after hearing the early piano music of Debussy and wanted to learn more ever since.
I realised that being self-taught would only get me so far and I wanted to learn how to read and understand music. Having good teachers from the start is crucial. So often those first few lessons can put people off for life. I was very lucky to have enthusiastic teachers: John Sandland, my teacher at school, and subsequently local teacher Dave Nelson (Hebden Bridge Piano Festival), with whom a neighbour put me in contact after a BBC interview.
More recently, I am very grateful for the support and tuition from Penelope Roskell, Dr Leslie Howard, Jonathan Fisher and Pascal Nemirovski.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think musicians need to help each other out more. Perhaps it is due to the competitive nature of the business, but in my experience very few musicians help emerging artists. It’s like they think you are after their work but in reality, you just need a bit of support. A harsh lesson I had to learn was you can’t trust everyone and not everyone wants to help you.
The pandemic could have ended my career before it began, like it has for so many emerging artists. I thought about changing career entirely at the start, but the online concerts have been a great discovery for me. I have found that it is easier to engage with people that would not normally go to a concert hall through social media.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I am hopeful of recording an album in the near future, but at present I am quite proud of my YouTube channel and recordings of Liszt and Debussy on my SoundCloud and website. I was also proud of my performance of Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata (Op 31, No. 2), and Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage Book 3 at St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich just before the pandemic.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I just love the late works by Liszt. They are quite metaphysical and push the boundaries of tonality for that time e.g., Czardas Macabre, Bagatelle sans tonalité, Valses Oubliées, the late Mephisto Waltzes, Années de Pèlerinage Book 3. Some late works have barely been performed or recorded.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I am currently enjoying my postgraduate degree studies at the University of Huddersfield. I am an active member of the Liszt Society UK and Halifax piano club. Before the pandemic, I used to love attending concerts regularly. I think it’s important for pianists to hear different classical repertoire too.
I also enjoy doing different things like playing football and volunteer work.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
It is very hard to narrow down the pieces to learn. I have to want to learn the repertoire – not just choose them for concert or competition purposes. I enjoy listening to lots of old recordings and discovering new ones. I like to have lots of variety in my current programme. Bach is usually chosen for counterpoint/polyphony and a Classical sonata. I look at different aspects of my technique which me and my teachers think need improvement. I seem to have a natural affinity and passion for works by Liszt and Debussy, so they are often included.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
St Mary’s Perivale is a favourite because the intimate 13th century church “is perfect for piano recitals”. I feel very welcomed by Dr Hugh Mather and co. It was one of the few places before the pandemic to already host livestream concerts.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I feel classical music needs to do more to engage new, diverse and younger audiences. Classical music has a reputation for being elitist. I can see why, so we need to do more to counteract this and level the playing field. This needs to begin at primary school level, more specifically state schools. By secondary school level it is almost too late to engage students by this point.
Perhaps more classical musicians can visit state schools and put on concerts or workshops because some students would never have heard classical music before. I know some initiatives already happen, but it needs to be on a national scale, not just in London.
I don’t know why we start students off with recorder lessons and singing because that instantly puts most students off. I feel we would need to teach students solfege in this country. It is one of the main reasons why French and Russians have the best musicians in the world. Endorsing the Kodaly method would be great too as the Hungarians are great pedagogues.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
In February 2009, aged 17, I made my debut at Huddersfield Town Hall as part of the Mrs Sunderland Festival Gala. My performance of Liszt’s Sposalizio was filmed by BBC News. I distinctly remember how hot it felt under the spotlight, but it was a high-pressure experience for me that I will never forget.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I would define success as experiencing failure, learning from it and still having the passion for what you do.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Having artistic integrity is very important to me. I would rather not be famous than be famous for the sake of it – this has to be secondary to being a good pianist. There are so many fame-hungry internet sensations these days that traditional pianism is in danger of dying out. A big social media presence is important now also, but not more important than the ability or standard of musicianship. Gimmicky musicians come and go.
You have to be unique. Have something individual about you that makes you stand out from everyone else. To have a drive and determination to improve constantly. Thick-skinned to handle criticisms; musicians need to be like politicians in that respect. But most importantly you need to love what you do and put the hours of practice in every day.
Where would you like to be in 10 years?
I would like to have a respectable preforming career along with a teaching position at a school, university or conservatoire. It would be great to own a Steinway as this is my favourite type of piano.
British-American Concert Pianist Stephen Gott (b 1991) has a growing reputation in the classical music world following his appearance on BBC News.
After attending Leeds and Trinity Laban Conservatoires, Stephen studies privately with Pascal Nemirovski. He is also enrolled on the master’s in music performance course at the University of Huddersfield and studies with the Head of Keyboard, Jonathan Fisher. Stephen has performed in various towns and cities across England including Halifax, Huddersfield, Oxford and London. He has performed in masterclasses and workshops with Dr Leslie Howard, Stephen Hough and Paul Roberts. In 2019, he was a finalist in the Liszt Society International Competition.
During the pandemic, Stephen has been giving recitals on his social media pages.