Snow and Granite: An Interview with Steven Osborne

As part of the preparations for this year’s St. Magnus Festival, I interviewed the Scottish-born pianist Steven Osborne. His connection to the place is deep: he loves its “few trees” and “barrenness,” he told me. Recently, we met up in his Edinburgh home to discuss performance anxiety, his own unlovely piano, and the struggle of making Chopin sound organic.

Read the full interview on Van.

Selling Mahler’s Second Symphony

On November 29th, the auction house Sotheby’s will be offering the complete manuscript of Gustav Mahler’s Second Symphony (the “Resurrection”) at auction from their London saleroom. Sotheby’s predict it will sell in excess of £3.5 million, the highest ever estimation for a musical manuscript offered at auction.



Late in August, I met Simon Maguire, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist in Books and Manuscripts, at the New Bond Street auction house in London’s fancy Mayfair district. The building is suited to its fancy clientele, but even those (such as myself) who are obviously not prospective buyers feel welcome to look around the art on display. Though we met at 10 a.m., there was no sign of early morning sluggishness about Maguire. Read the full article on Van.


Stories in abstraction: an interview with Mary Heilmann

When Mary Heilmann moved from California to New York in 1968 she promptly took up painting. The decision was an unusual one: not only had Heilmann trained in sculpture and ceramics, she was also entering the New York art scene at a time when painting itself was being challenged by minimalism. ‘Everybody hated painting,’ Heilmann claims in the exhibition catalogue for her current retrospective ‘Looking at Pictures’ at the Whitechapel Gallery (her first major UK survey), ‘especially me’.

Read the full interview on Apollo Magazine.

Interview with Gabriel Prokofiev

It would be easy to assume that the London-based composer, producer and DJ Gabriel Prokofiev is something of a classical music rebel. His Concerto for Turntable and Orchestra (2006) wowed BBC Prom audiences in putting an object associated with club music at the centre of an orchestra. He is also the man behind the contemporary classical music label Nonclassical, which takes classical music out of the concert hall and puts it in clubs and bars. But when I met him on a bright Saturday morning in January, it quickly became clear that Prokofiev’s relationship with classical music is far more nuanced than one might expect.

“I’m a big fan of classical music,” he tells me enthusiastically. This is perhaps not that surprising, given he’s the grandson of the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. Yet Gabriel is keen to emphasise that he was never pushed into classical music. His father was a sculptor and painter, meaning Gabriel did not grow up in a musical household. Gabriel nevertheless admits he has been inspired by his grandfather: “having someone that successful in your family, it’s set a really high bar, so he’s made me very ambitious and overly self-critical”.

But other than being intimidating figure from the past, the impact of Sergei on his grandson’s music is actually rather limited. Indeed, during his teens and 20s, he was more interested in playing in bands and producing Dance, Electro and Hip-hop music than in following in the classical footsteps of his ancestor. He’s also grateful reviewers recognise that he’s doing his own thing, without constantly comparing him to his grandfather.

More important for Gabriel’s music, then, is his comfortable relationship with non-classical genres. He is a firm believer in putting classical music in dialogue with other kinds of music as a way to reinvigorate it. “I’m really interested in bringing in rhythms that I hear coming our of people’s cars or in nightclubs. And that’s what classical music used to have: a lot of engagement with the dance forms of its time”. He goes on to explain how popular and dance music evolved in very natural and instinctive ways. “It’s not like somebody sat down and thought, how are we going to do something new, or I’m a bit tired of current style, let me think of a new beat. It doesn’t happen like that, it just gradually evolves out of another style.” This is what makes non-classical genres so important. They “represent an era. People find a real connection with it. For classical music to connect with music that evolves so naturally is really important. And we ignore it at our peril.”

Gabriel’s ease with both classical and non-classical music is also an important factor for his record label Nonclassical, whose monthly club nights present classical music as if it were Rock or Electronic music. But the real motivator behind him setting up the label in 2003 was Gabriel’s desire to reach an audience of his peers. He recounts how when he composed his First String Quartet he wanted his friends, including those without a classical music background, to hear it. But the work was premiered at Blackheath Halls at a Sunday lunchtime concert. “I invited people to come, and just no one came. No one is going to come to Blackheath Halls on a Sunday afternoon, or anywhere like that. It’s just not in anyone’s lifestyle, especially when you’re in your 20s. So I thought, I just got to put it on like a normal gig, and that’s what I did.”

Gabriel’s rational clearly worked. The first Nonclassical event was a success: between 150 and 200 people, mostly in their 20s, attended this new classical music club night. A bigger sign of Nonclassical’s achievements however, is that fact that it’s still going over 10 years on, despite London being a very competitive city. “It really proves that contemporary classical isn’t some kind of elevated, old-fashioned music for people who’ve studied it”.

Nowadays, Gabriel is surely one of contemporary classical music’s greatest advocates. “What drives me,” he tells me, “is that this music is a really relevant part of people and I feel strongly that a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to hear the range of exciting music that’s out there.” Even his label ­– ­contrary to what its name may suggest – is eager to support rather than defy the long traditions of classical music: “in no way is it [Nonclassical] an attack on or trying to diminish the existing classical music scene. It’s just augmenting it. It’s another experience.”

Published on The Cusp.




The Mongol Rally: Embracing The Unexpected

If you’re hoping to raise money for a good cause, you might think about organizing a bake sale, undertaking a sponsored silence, or even signing up for a marathon. How about driving 10,0000 miles across Europe and Asia, over mountains and through deserts, in a tiny car and without any kind of backup or a preplanned route? If you’re looking for an adventure, then the Mongol Rally certainly promises that.

There are three basic rules: 1) The teams must drive a small car, with an engine of one liter or less; 2) Each team is completely on their own: there is no backup if you get lost or your car breaks down; 3) Each team must raise £1,000 for charity, half of which should go to Cool Earth, and the other to a charity of their choice. The Rally starts in the UK and finishes in the Russian city of Ulan Ude, but where the teams go in between is entirely up to them. The event organizers, the Adventurists, recommend that teams avoid spending too much time planning but instead embrace the unexpected. Previously, teams have gone as far south as Iran and Pakistan, while others have passed through the Arctic Circle.

James Cockshull and Aaron Lewis undertook this great motoring challenge over the summer of 2015. Read the full interview here.

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