Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I’m from a large family where music was part of family life. My parents had five children, all of whom learnt music. Mum would play Radio 3 in the car (she still does) and my Dad used to play and talk me through his LP collection, many of which were piano concertos.
I was also raised in the Christian faith. When I was young, I remember my dad praying a prayer and blessing over me ‘that people would be touched by my music when I grew up’. That remains a poignant memory. I don’t remember a moment of deciding to be a musician though, it just seemed to be part of who I was.
Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career?
I have had some fabulous teachers and mentors in piano. They have helped me hone my craft, performance and pianism. But it’s working with chamber musicians, and conductors that has had a big influence on my musicianship. It’s important to play with different kinds of musicians so you can experience the different ways in which people approach music.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The scramble for time. Artistry takes time but every musician is their own business as well and that can’t be left unattended.
Which works/composers do you think you play best?
Bach and Liszt! Bach has a musical language that one never comes to the end of exploring. Playing Bach feels good for my mind, it is good for my fingers, and it is good for my soul. Liszt was the master of piano textures. I love the way Liszt feels under the fingers, even when it is technically challenging there are logical patterns in the finger work and the score. Liszt also provides great showstoppers for concert programming.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I watch and listen to other musicians and to artists of different fields. This is certainly not exclusive to the concert hall. A couple of years ago I remember studio rehearsals for the Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty. The production was being directed by Dame Monica Mason and I got to sit in on the rehearsals. As Mason directed it was as if she embodied the ballet. The way she spoke, the way she stepped, the way she moved and even the way she sang. Every dance step and every musical phrase had depth, meaning and magic through her. Its inspiring when a person has lived with and carried a piece of art so well, that when they retell it everyone in the room is drawn to them.
You are also a composer. How would you characterize your compositional language/musical style?
Often contemplative, sometimes narrative, mostly looking for beauty.
Who/what are your main influences, as a composer?
I wouldn’t say I draw on a particular composer or style as an influence. Rather, there are specific works of music that hold points of interest and study for me. At the moment I am choral writing, and I did spend a bit of downtime in Tallis’ Spem in Alium and Dubras’ Signum Magnum Mass beforehand. Last Autumn’s commission from the Nottingham Chamber Music festival for my Psalmus for Cello and Harp meant spending a lot of time listening to plainchant, because I based the score on an original plainsong. I love writing for cello. Cello works I am inspired by are Gubaidulina’s Seven Words, Bloch’s cello works and Kodaly’s Cello Sonata.
How do you work, as a composer?
I will have the musical idea and overall structural form in my head which I briefly jot down. Then I spend a lot of time notating onto manuscript and the computer. For me this stage can be a repetitive process of shaping and re-shaping. Although I’m a pianist I’m not massively ‘hands on the piano’ when I compose. A little bit here and there, but not much. Instead, I tend to sing, conduct phrases and mostly think about scoring. Mind you when I practice piano repertoire I sing and conduct for myself too.
Does performing influence your composing – and vice versa?
Yes, they do influence one another! I surprised performers in the last composition workshop I did on how much of a clear vision I had for the performance. But if I am writing music for the concert hall, I think about how to connect the musician to the audience and I visualize its performance too. Of course, being a composer is a major help when performing scores by other contemporary composers too. There is a quick willingness from me to grasp their style and understand their musical language.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Playing Rhapsody in Blue at Snape Maltings. That concert hall is so beautiful to play in and the acoustic is fantastic. As you play you almost don’t have to do very much, the acoustic does so much for you.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow and retain classical music audiences?
We need to better use classical music to meet the needs of today’s contemporary culture. In a year of pandemic there has been a huge need for comfort and rest. Classical music easily provides that, but to meet new audiences classical music often needs to be re-packaged in a way the new target audience is already familiar with. This is not always a recital or sit-down concerts. At the moment some of the most popular music videos on YouTube are to help people sleep.
There are many young people who first realized they liked Beethoven when Moonlight sonata was played by the R&B Artist Alicia Keys. Similarly, there are many people who were first introduced to the New World Symphony by the Hovis bread advert.
This is why classical music in mainstream motion pictures, TV, and collaboration with Artists from popular musical genres are important.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
You will have to work hard at your art, and work hard at the business of distributing your art.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Transporting your audience; giving away your trade secrets to the next generation; valuing the people who listened to, purchased and celebrated your music.
Beatrice Nicholas is a captivating British Pianist whose performances are full of imagination, freedom and beauty. She plays repertoire ranging from Bach to the present day and has performed in the UK’s leading venues. Her music engagements take her around the UK, Germany, Poland, Thailand and the Czech Republic. Notable venues have included the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Opera House, London Coliseum, Berlin Konzerthaus, Saddlers Wells Theater, Leeds Town Hall and Snape Maltings.
Beatrice is also a Composer and Arranger. She has received commissions from the Creative Minds Festival, Nottingham Chamber Music Festival and has had works and arrangements performed at Victoria & Bagnall Hall, London Contemporary Dance School, Royal Academy of Music, St Mary’s in the Lace Nottingham, and Otford Church. She is a collaborative musician who has worked in pop, musical theatre, played for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Ballet and for the English National Ballet company. Beatrice believes that music is a powerful tool of communication and enjoys using it to lift and engage the human heart.