What are your earliest memories of a piano and what did you make of the instrument?
My earliest memories of a piano must be the sounds of my dad working late at night, after my brothers and I were tucked into bed. Definitely a lot of Bach solo works. I also used to sit for hours under the piano, so I developed a close relationship to that sound from a very early age.
Trio Vitruvi. All photos © Tom McKenzie
You were born in Copenhagen into a family of musicians and soon moved to Australia. How did that impact your musical childhood?
Having a piano, vibraphone, violin and cello in my parents’ small house in Sydney – and all of them being played (dad, mum and my brothers), must have opened my ears to the language of music early on. My mum and dad sent me to Sydney Children’s Choir, where Lyn Williams (the conductor and boss) taught me to sing. Lyn has a rare and miraculous gift of opening children to music, and I was very lucky to have many deep musical experiences with the choir.
My dad was born in Western Australia, and has a strong connection to the land and country, which my brothers and I really got to know, growing up on the beaches and bushwalks of Sydney as well. I was at North Sydney Demonstration School, then Neutral Bay Public School, and finally Sydney Grammar School in the city. Mum and Dad still live in Sydney (Dad runs Alegria Dance Studios and Mum works at Sydney Grammar School).
Where, when and what constituted your first public concerts and what works were your first performances pieces?
I studied at the Australian Institute of Music next to my school studies. Every Saturday, my brothers and I had hours of lectures in music theory, history, aural training and, of course, our instruments. There were often concerts in the hall there as well. I remember playing a lot of Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin.
Were you a confident performer when you were young or did that grow as you got older?
I certainly remember some terrifying moments with memory slips, but I count myself lucky to have parents who were both tough and relaxed at the same time. I still get hit by a big rush of adrenalin and excitement every time I go on stage, which I think is a good sign!
What are your fondest memories of music making in Australia?
I loved to play jazz as a teenager, and had a very inspiring mentor, Vlad Khusid, who taught me to improvise. For me, music must have an element of improvisation. Although language is often bound and dictated by rules, the essence behind the words, or in our case notes, is a very mysterious dimension, which shouldn’t be too controlled. It doesn’t really count as music making, but I also remember wildly playing clapping sticks and dancing around to Aboriginal music as a very young boy.
Was there a reason you didn’t stay in Australia but moved back to Denmark to study in 2007?
I took the entrance exam to the Royal Danish Academy of Music, and met Amalie Malling there (who became my Danish mentor). She offered me a solo concert with a professional orchestra – Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto – if I began my studies in Copenhagen. That was impossible to turn down!
Do you see yourself as primarily a soloist, a chamber musician or a concert pianist and what kind of balance do you try to strike?
I think a balance between performing alone and with others is important. The reward of working alone for months on a work can be a very intense personal connection to the music, but music making in its essence is something I often prefer to share on stage with others. Playing chamber music is like having a wonderfully crazy, abstract conversation with notes and melodies. Furthermore, chamber music pushes me away from a controlled way of playing and toward a more ecstatic, unpredictable experience.
How did Trio Vitruvi come about?
Niklas Walentin, Jacob la Cour and I were introduced to one another in Copenhagen in the summer of 2013. Shortly afterwards, the organisers of the Festspiele Mecklenburg Vorpommern (Germany) invited us to play a concert during their festival. That was a big job, very early on so we had very intense work to do together from the beginning!
What kind of stepping stone did winning both Danish Radio’s Chamber Music Competition in and first prize at Latvia’s Jurmala International Chamber Music Competition in 2014 give you?
The Danish Radio’s Chamber Music Competition immediately kicked off a busy year of concerts in Denmark. We see every concert, no matter how small, as a very important and exciting moment, and we’ve been lucky to have been invited back to play again and again in many concert halls around Denmark and Europe. The competition in Latvia was a really crazy trip, with mainly brought us much closer together as friends.
Does the trio have signature pieces and do you gravitate towards particular periods or composers?
Both the music of Schubert and Shostakovich has followed us very closely since we started making music together, but we are careful to constantly work on new repertoire, so that the music does not lose its freshness. Our recent work during the last two years with Hatto Beyerle, one of the founders of the Alban Berg Quartet, has pushed us to discover the philosophy behind music as a language. A study of musical rhetoric has been a great part of this – and for this, we have worked especially with Viennese music – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.
How does it feel to be making your Carnegie Hall debut? Does it seem like a professional pinnacle?
Very exciting! In some ways my path as a musician feels a lot like hiking in the mountains. Whenever I reach a particularly exciting pass, or cross a fast river, or reach the top of some craggy peak, I almost immediately see the next pass or peak looming up ahead like some colossus or hear the boom of some new river. Carnegie Hall is a very important concert, but the next one should seem just as exceptional, dangerous and fresh.
You are playing the rarely performed Bärenreiter Urtext edition of Schubert’s Second Piano Trio. What are the differences and why is it rarely performed?
The main difference is a few hundred extra bars in the final movement, which were cut out in the first edition. This cut is a very strange and unfortunate one, as the excluded bars present several of the thematic motifs layered in a way they are not presented anywhere else in the movement. We are very happy that the Bärenreiter edition exists!
You also play Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 1 and Dvořák’s Dumky Trio. What made you choose these two works and how do they compare or contrast with each other and with the Schubert?
Shostakovich’s first piano trio is the work of a young man, extremely intense and full of romantic energy. We are recording both the Shostakovich trios later this year and are looking forward to performing them many times before the microphones are switched on. Dvořák’s Dumky Trio is very fun to play, and we hope that the folk music elements of Dvořák’s music might pair well with the folk music elements in Schubert.
You’ve recently founded Kammerballetten, a festival of chamber music and ballet with dancers from The Royal Danish Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. What inspired you to do that and what kind of work are you creating there?
In August we’ll be presenting seven world premieres of choreographies created specifically for works of chamber music in the first edition of Kammerballetten (The Chamber Ballet). Dance as a language teaches me invaluable lessons about music making, especially in regard to pulse and tempo, and I am very lucky to have some very exciting choreographers and dancers as colleagues for this project. Working with dancers is very educational, humbling and exciting.
If a young pianist asked you the dreaded question, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall”, what would be your advice?
I would say that saying yes to any concert opportunity, no matter how small or large it might seem, is a most valuable way of learning (music is meant to live and to be experienced live!) – and of meeting people who might be able to help in any way. I’m very certain that I wouldn’t be able to ‘get to Carnegie Hall’ without many of the key people I’ve been so lucky to get to know – often seemingly by chance – through many years of performing.
Trio Vitruvi play Schubert, Shostakovich and Dvořák at Carnegie Hall, New York on April 17. Their debut CD of Schubert is released on Bridge Records this month.