Q&A with British pianist Steven Osborne

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We talking to Steven Osborne about all things piano.

Here are his responses to our ever-popular questions: 

If you could play only one piece in the whole repertoire from now on, what would it be?

What a question! But if you forced me to choose, perhaps Beethoven’s op.111 piano sonata, whose last movement somehow goes into the musical stratosphere without losing touch with reality. It’s an utterly extraordinary conception for a piece, the more so for coming out of a rather banal compositional process whereby the notes get shorter and shorter.

 

If you could play only one composer from now on, which would it be?

That’s easier! Beethoven, for the enormous emotional range, the intellectual engagement, the earthiness, the humour, and the genius way of dealing with musical structure.

 

One pianist, dead or alive, you’d travel long and far to hear?

Hmmm, a bit of a theme developing here - Beethoven again. I’d love to have heard him improvise. Among living pianists, I’ve never had the opportunity to hear Sokolov live.

 

One concert hall you’d love to play in?

It’s all about acoustic and size - ideally, resonant and somewhat intimate. I played a scholarship audition at the Wigmore Hall when I was 10 and ever since I’ve had an extremely soft spot for it; happily, I go there quite often.

 

What would be your advice to an amateur pianist about how to improve?

Firstly, notice any tension in your arms - it creates a lot of problems. Secondly, practice as slowly as you need so you can stay loose. It’s hard to solve physical problems at the keyboard without fundamentally slowing down.

 

If you weren’t a pianist, what would you be?

Maybe a scientist? I’ve got rather a strong impulse to analyse the structure of things.

 

One person you’d love to play for (dead or alive)?

Maria João Pires. There’s such a purity in her playing and I’d love to have time to talk about how she approaches music. We’ve actually tried to arrange such a meeting but it has never quite worked out.

 

One composer you’re not quite ready to tackle?

Chopin, although I feel I might be getting closer. 

 

What other types of music do you like listening to?

For example: Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, John McLaughlin, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Radiohead

 

Steven was issue No 74's cover artist. The issue is still available as a digital back issue.

 

Photo: © Benjamin Ealovega