Samson Tsoy, pianist

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 started playing piano at the age of 8 as an addition to the primary school and karate which I was doing on a serious level from the age of 4. I fell in love with classical music immediately and often played music cassettes of Bach while trying to fall asleep. Music itself has inspired me to do what I do right now. And whenever I was facing challenges, it was music itself that was giving me strength.

I believe in a connection between artistic growth and people and places. I find myself very lucky to have moved to London 11 years ago, the city with the most fascinating art scene in the world. And still, after having travelled to many other places and cities, I cannot imagine any better location for an artist to be.

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

Constant discipline. At times it comes more naturally, sometimes it is very difficult. But it always requires a conscious effort and a choice.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

In 2019, together with Pavel Kolesnikov we founded the Ragged Music Festival at the Ragged School Museum in Mile End, London. The success of this venture was somewhat of a surprise: we thought of it as a “musicians’ festival”. It is particularly spontaneous – there is no fixed date and we choose a period depending on the artists’ availability, and programme depending on what we feel excited about at the time. That makes things exciting in the world where musicians often have to commit to particular programmes 2 or 3 years in advance, without truly knowing where they might be by that time, on a personal level. We started with three concerts and then expanded it to six over one weekend, all shared between the participating musicians. That makes it a concentrated, intense experience. It is very special to make programmes that combine into a longer journey, to take this journey together with the colleagues we love and admire, and to see the audience joining us on that adventure. We have many patrons who come to all the concerts!

When most of the concerts got cancelled in 2020 and 2021, we have managed to go ahead with two editions of our festival. We got very lucky with timings, but also put massive effort in making that happen. That felt very special.

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

The ones I struggle with the most while learning them.

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

It’s very much about the feeling of a current climate and how I find myself in the world. I also strongly believe that programmes created in relation to the space they are performed in, and even a time of the day, hugely enhance both listener’s and performer’s experience.

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

I am very open to both historical and contemporary spaces. Whenever possible I try to familiarise myself with the space before committing to a performance. There are magical old halls with rich musical history and there are unusual, powerful spaces like the multi-storey car park in Peckham (Bold Tendencies). They require very different approach and I find it equally enjoyable to find different ways to connect with audiences – and the spaces themselves.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing both Brahms’ piano concerti in one evening with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Maxim Emelyanychev at the multi-storey car park in Peckham last summer.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Achieving complete freedom with the piece.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Talking to people, observing nature, staying open to experience art in its different guises.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

To stay honest to music as an art form. Honesty, devotion, and passion attract people. At least this is what attracts me to any new experiences in life.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

To experience life fully and to be passionate about what you do.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

I think there is a problem with conservatism that causes lack of imagination and often even feels like lack of passion. We should always remember that listeners come to concerts in their free time – and time is such a luxury in today’s world. We should not take that for granted – that is a lot of trust and commitment. Some people come for the first time and some are regular music aficionados, and we should find ways of balancing our performances in such ways that capture attention and stir emotions of both groups equally.

Samson Tsoy plays in three concerts (30 June-2 July) with Pavel Kolesnikov at the East Neuk Festival 2022 in repertoire including Schubert, Poulenc, Beethoven and Stravinsky’s thrilling Rite of Spring. Find out more

Lauded for the originality and intense drama of his interpretations, pianist Samson Tsoy has already been invited to perform with renowned conductors including Valery Gergiev with the Mariinsky Orchestra, Alexander Vedernikov with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Diego Masson as part of Philharmonia Orchestra’s “Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals” series, Junajo Mena with the Real Filharmonía de Galicia and Roberto Minczuk with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Both as a soloist and chamber musician Samson has appeared in prestigious venues and festivals around the world including the Barbican, Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, Theatre de la Ville and Salle Gaveau (Paris), Aldeburgh festival, Berlin’s Konzerthaus, Kilkenny Arts Festival, Verbier Festival, Sala Verdi, Montreaux September Musical Festival, Plush Festival, Honens Festival and the Rostropovich Festival. In September 2019, together with his partner Pavel Kolesnikov he launched a “seriously edgy, admirable and a must-see” (Classical music magazine) festival in East London ‘the Ragged Music Festival’ which received a 5-star review in The Independent.

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Photo credit Joss McKinley