The Australian pianist talks whiskey, cheese toasties, and why he’d like to be stuck on a desert island with Alfred Brendel.

1. Three pieces of music you couldn’t live without?

Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, Enno Poppe’s Speicher, and Pierre Boulez’s Sur Incises.

Jacob Abela. Photo © Cameron Jamieson Photography

2. Three recordings everyone should own?

Messiaen: Turangalîla-Symphonie – Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Riccardo Chailly, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Takashi Harada. This is such an incredibly faithful yet passionate reading of one of the most ravishing scores of the 20th century.

Enno Poppe: Interzone – Omar Ebrahim, Neue Vocalsolisten, ensemble mosaik, and Jonathan Stockhammer. When I first heard this, I was completely gripped from beginning to end, especially by Omar Ebrahim’s performance as narrator.

Monteverdi: Teatro d’Amore – Christina Pluhar, Philipe Jarousky, L’Arpeggiata. I’d never heard such joyful music making before hearing this album – most notably in the Scherzi Musicali.

3. Top five musical heroes?

Jennifer Walshe, Claire Chase, Steve Schick, Simone Young, and the members of my ensemble, Rubiks.

4. Three really underrated composers?

More people should know about Johannes Kreidler, a composer working in the realm of conceptual music. Jennifer Walshe is an Irish composer whose work is centred around using the bodies of the performers as instruments. Finally, Julia Wolfe’s music is well-known in the US, but isn’t performed so much in Australia – she is a co-founder of Bang on a Can, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for her work Anthracite Fields.

5. Most underrated piece of music of all time?

William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops – although it’s not so much underrated as it is criminally underground. Basinski takes tape loops of ambient music which gradually deteriorate over time, and records the process.

6. Five pieces of music you would happily never hear again?

I don’t really like blacklisting any music… but I don’t think I would miss Pachelbel’s Canon or Für Elise!

7. Your greatest experience on stage?

Performing the ondes Martenot solo in Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the Australian World Orchestra, ANAM, and Simone Young in July this year.

8. Three favourite books?

Peter Carey’s Bliss, Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, and George Orwell’s 1984.

9. Most embarrassing or awkward moment while performing?

I once hit my hand against the frame of the piano while attempting to play a solo, fortissimo low A in Shostakovich’s First Symphony. I ended up with a sore hand and no solo!

10. Best way to unwind after a performance?

A gin and a dance.

11. Favourite pre-performance snack?

A strong flat white.

12. Three guilty pleasures?

Whiskey, burgers, and I also make a mean cheese toastie.

13. Top three pianists (living or dead) you would most like to meet?

Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini, and Art Tatum.

14. Five people, real or imaginary, you would like to have around for dinner?

Enno Poppe, Olivier Messiaen, Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk and Hildegard von Bingen.

15. Famous pianist to be stuck on desert island with?

Pianists are not famous for being resourceful, but I have a feeling Alfred Brendel would be the exception!

16. A film you can watch again and again?

Planet Terror. Rodriguez has such a mastery of the genre, and it has just the right amount of gore!

17. A historical composer you’d like to commission?

György Ligeti

18. Favourite cocktail?


19. Greatest concert experience as an audience member?

It’s hard to say which was the greatest, but one that has made a lasting impact was a production by Chamber Made Opera called Permission to Speak, composed by Kate Neal and conceived/directed by Tamara Saulwick.

20. Most fun you’ve ever had?

It’s a tie between my answer to question 7 and my recent time at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (Canada), working with the International Contemporary Ensemble. We were surrounded by mountains, and witnessed deer and squirrels on a daily basis.

Jacob Abela will perform with Kupka’s Piano at the Dots+Loops Companions Festival in Brisbane September 9.