Julian Clef piano

Julian Clef, 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?

Growing up in India listening to Western classical music was quite a revelation. Maybe it was just the fact that it was different that attracted me to it initially. But getting to know more about it and also the rich and vast piano repertoire out there only made it easier for me to make the decision to pursue a career in music.

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

My career is quite different from what I imagined it will be ten years ago. I was focused just on solo performance during my studies. So it was a challenge rethinking that trajectory. Now I enjoy my time as a performer both as a soloist and collaborative pianist but also have been concentrating on composing and arranging in the last few years.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

There are many performances that come to mind but one of the standout ones would be performing Beethoven triple concerto with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall which was an amazing experience. I am also proud of my EP ‘Childhood’ which I’ve been working on over the last year. Composing is a little out of my comfort zone – it was daunting at first but I’m pleased with the results in the end. So I’m looking forward to the release very much.

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

I enjoy playing a wide variety of music. But the best response I’ve had was for twentieth century composers such as Bartok and Kapustin. With the latter I’m making up for not being able to play jazz but enjoying playing his works. Maybe the reason those comes across better is that as performers you don’t feel the baggage that comes with the more mainstream masters which gives a certain freedom.

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

The most obvious answer is being on top of the score and making sure everything is secure under the fingers so that the focus when performing can fully be on expressing yourself freely. But I find many other things inspirational as well having as a great piano, great audience or fellow musicians I’m performing with. That is why every performance is different and I try to be open to the moment to provide that extra energy.

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

There are many factors that effect the selection of repertoire. Sometimes it has been decided well in advance. But generally it is influenced by the type of audience, and what I enjoy and feel I can do the most justice to. I usually do an eclectic mix of things which may not always be successful but keeps things interesting.

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

I prefer smaller more intimate venues. I have many fond memories playing at the concert hall at my alma mater Royal Northern College of Music; it’s still one of the best venues I’ve played in.

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

Giving people more opportunities to listen to classical music outside of the traditional concert hall could be one way to appeal to new and different listeners. I come from India where western classical music is growing but very much a minority interest. I came to love it only because of the opportunity to grow up listening to it.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

One of my most memorable concert experiences was performing in Prague Infernational Music Festival. It was one of the best performances I’ve given but what made it more memorable was being in the city for the first time, and falling in love with the place.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being able to really get into the spirit of the music and giving a performance that captures your and the audience no matter the setting, that is what I aspire to and consider a success.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Try and listen/learn/perform other genres of music. I’ve always found that those skills help me in my classical playing.

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

The lack of practical skills or lack of training, to be more specific, in educational institutions to be able to promote ourselves. I found it a difficult transition after leaving college so had to learn many things on the job.

What is your present state of mind?

Nervous excitement because of the release of the new EP. It’s my first time putting out original compositions so nervous but also very much looking forward to how it all goes.

Julian Clef’s EP ‘Childhood’ is released on April 7th on the Blue Cloud Music label. More information


Born in the state of Kerala, India, Julian Clef had no formal piano training until he was 16 years old, when he was spotted playing in his hometown of Trivandrum and invited to study at one of the UK’s most prestigious music schools. It wasn’t long until he found himself playing at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Festival Hall, for Indian royalty, and in many of the great concert halls of the world while being mentored by the legendary Andras Schiff.

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