Japanese violin player Mayuko Katumura will perform later this month in the Purcell Room alongside Noriko Kawai on the piano. We caught up with Mayuko ahead of the concert:

You grew up in Japan, but studied in London and have since gone on to perform all over the world. Can you tell us a bit more about your musical background?

My grandfather (my mother’s side) was a great classical music lover and every weekend at the family-get-together since I was a baby, I used to listen to LPs of all the major violin concertos. From this very early introduction to classical music,  I have never thought of any other profession than as a violinist.

When I studied at the music high school in Tokyo, I was lucky to have a wonderful violin teacher who studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He recommended I study with Professor Yfrah Neaman at the Guildhall, who was his teacher.  So I came to London when I was 19 and studied with Yfrah for 6 years. It must have been difficult for him to talk with me at first as I did not speak English at all then. However, I was surrounded by kind, generous English friends at the Guildhall and I soon got used to all the aspect of living in London

What’s your earliest musical memory?
At my grandparents at the weekends, when my mother was trying to make me have an afternoon nap, she always play the LP of Schubert’s string quartet “ Death and Maiden “. When she let me listen to this, I always knew I was going to be left on my own while everybody else was together in the other room. I was only 2 years old. However, this memory stays very clear in my mind, and I still feel the same loneliness whenever I listen to this quartet!

What are you particularly looking forward to about your forthcoming concert at Southbank Centre? 
It is first time for me to perform at the Purcell Room, and I am very excited about it, as ever since I came to England and attended concerts at the Southbank Centre, I was saying to myself that I want to perform in this small and intimate hall in the future.

Is there a piece of music you would pick out as one of the ‘best’ works ever written? 
I would say Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita no. 2

What other talent or skill would you like to possess? 
I always imagine what would happen if I could speak French and German when I woke up next morning! It took 14 years for me to learn English, so I really wish I had a talent for languages!

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
Henryk Szeryng (I am a big fan) presented by Mr. Bean

What is the most played piece of music on your mp3 player or in your CD collection?
Currently it is Henryk Szeryng playing Handel’s Sonata in D. His playing is really heavenly.

Do you have any strange rituals you carry out before or after you perform? 
I always stretch out my legs like a Sumo wrestler before wearing my concert dress. This action is called “Matawari “in the Sumo world, and is very important in preparation for the fight!

We are a very limited number of tickets available at 50% discount. Simply quote the word ‘MAYUKO’ over the phone or online into the promo-code box on the event page before choosing your seats.

For more information about the concert and to book your tickets  click here


On 26th September, we welcome two extremely talented Japanese musicians, Mayuko Katsumura and Noriko Kawai, to Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room. Violinist Mayuko, a major prize winner in national music competitions in Japan, will be performing alongside Noriko Kawai on the piano.

For a sneak preview of what’s in store, you can listen to this audio clip of Mayuko performing a 2nd movement of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto no.1 with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in March earlier this year.

Listen to Mayuko Katsumura – live at Abbey Road studio.

Click here for more info and to book tickets

Interview with Alda Dizdari, star of Movements & Expressions

In her forthcoming performance at Southbank Centre, Alda Dizdari will explore some of the most important works written for the violin at the beginning of the 20th century. We catch up with her in advance of her concert ‘Movements & Expressions’ on 3rd April.

What are you particularly looking forward to about your forthcoming performance at Southbank Centre?
There was a lot of thinking going into creating a balanced programme that explores some of the most important musical languages and movements in the beginning of the 20th Century. Being such a rich century in every possible way, from the historical background to the impact it had on arts and music, it was an interesting process. I look very much forward to moving from one powerful musical language or from one musical world, to another because in themselves all these works are so unique, well defined, complete universes and the contrast in expression is vast. I love the idea of having such incredible variety of expressions in a short period of time. All the works were written between 1910-1947, some of them only a year apart from each other, and yet they belong to different worlds and aesthetics. I think the title evokes what I am seeking in “exploring movements and expressions”. My inspiration came not only from music but also from what was happening in the European culture at that time. I find it one of the most interesting eras, from art, music to fashion and architecture, it was an era of great style, artistic inspiration and individuality.

Is there a piece of music you would pick out as one of the ‘best’ works ever written?
They are all fantastic pieces requiring such a detailed work. I think they are all favourites of mine for very particular reasons. I love Debussy for the Sound colours he creates, a magical treat for the senses. I am fascinated by the world of Schoenberg, whom I find such a romantic, if one learns to hear his music with fresh ears and allows oneself to delve in that wonderful Viennese valse on which the fantasy stands, one sees so many mixed feelings of nostalgia, of rejection, of tenderness and a few regrets. A wonderful discovery for me has been the three short pieces by Sibelius. They stand in such contrast with the advanced musical languages of Debussy and Schoenberg, but they share that strong connection with the 19th century tradition. I adore the little harmonic tricks Sibelius is always using to make the simplest ideas into distinguishable jewels.

Bartok brings his unique emotional power which grips you from the very first note, which can be an open string, his musical language is so close to my heart, the music speaks to you, every rhythm is communicating a word, the folk element creates a very earthy feeling to his music, all the dances relate directly to our body language, it is the most natural music. I cannot get enough of Webern’s world, this condensed existence that says so much with so little. The four pieces a little like Sibelius’ create a complete universe. If in Sibelius’ case they evoked the 19th century tradition, in Webern’s case they evoke the future, predicting the world to come. Although written in 1910, the earliest written piece in the programme, Webern’s pieces are the most puzzling ones.
Ravel’s sonata is such a great piece to perform. It has everything in it, wonderful sound and feelings, you feel almost ancient one minute playing plain chant and the next minute you are in a blues bar in the deep south, playing jazz and blues. The transformation is incredible. It is great fun.

And is there a work that is for you, emotionally, especially important?
I think performers are like actors. We completely emerge in the music we perform and we find a deep emotional attachment to these pieces. I almost feel we live with the ghosts of the composers for a while, feeling their energy and their strength running through our veins. I am sure it is true to some extent, because their spirit is in their music. The reason why I became a violinist was because of Sibelius’ violin concerto which I heard for the first time when I was 5 years old. I have a deep emotional connection with that work, so strong that I was reluctant to performing the concerto until my late 20s because I didn’t trust my emotions and felt very vulnerable. I feel similar connection with Brahms and Bartok.

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
I wish I could draw and paint. I think I would have been obsessed with nature and colours and I would have loved working with materials. I wish I could have more time to be an explorer of ancient civilisations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. I wish I had the talent to write short stories, especially in the style of Chekhov or Gogol.

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre show, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
My ideal conductor would be Jurowsky. I admire him so much, he has great energy, great technique. From the past I think I would definitely have Brahms on the piano giving me all the time in the world to breath and creating that warm sound filling me up with love. My dream musical companion on chamber music would be George Enescu. He would play everything from heart and would know every little detail on the score. Enescu, Cassals and Yssaye would be my dream partners.

What is the most played piece of music on your mp3 player or in your CD collection?
At the moment silence is the most precious thing to me. There is just too much music around. I play music all the time so the counterpoint would be silence. I love the sound of a black bird that sings in my garden. It relaxes me more than anything else. I often think of Messian and I start listening to the Quartet for the End of Time. There was a time when I started my day with Schubert Lieders and other times for weeks I loved to start with Mendelssohn’s chamber music. I never get tired of Brahms, anything he wrote was golden, I love his music. And I can never get tired of Mozart’s piano concertos and Bach’s music for strings, I can listen to them endlessly and feel fresh. I even find myself doing a little court dance around the house and regret being born in this century.

Do you have any strange rituals you carry out before or after you perform?
I like to eat a banana and some chocolate before I perform. I also have to hear the voice of my parents wishing me good luck. I feel their energy and I know it will be a good evening.

Click here for more info and to book tickets.

Violinist Pekka Kuusisto talks to Britten Sinfonia about his blowtorch skills and cephalopod ambitions.

Britten Sinfonia welcomes back the violinist Pekka Kuusisto as rehearsals begin for the Concentric Paths tour with composer, pianist and conductor Thomas Adès.  Pekka has worked with Britten Sinfonia a number of times before but ahead of this tour they asked him a few questions to help us all get to know him better! 

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Playing in the forest surrounding Sibelius’ home, dressed up as a spruce.
When are you happiest?
At about 3 p.m. on most days.
What is your greatest fear?
The end of the world, I guess.
What is your earliest musical memory?
Listening to Rasputin by Boney M.
Which living person do you most admire, and why?
Barack Obama. He is facing a giant political machine that gets a lot of its fuel from ignorance – and still manages to send a message that it’s useful to actually know stuff.
If you were an animal what would you be?
A squid. A giant one. Imagine the ease of playing Paganini things with all those tentacles.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Singing Coldplay tunes while accompanying myself with arpeggiator synths.
How do you relax away from the concert platform?
For instance by singing Coldplay tunes while accompanying myself with arpeggiator synths.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Caramelising the top of Crème Brûlée with a blowtorch and getting it right the first time.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Don’t eat yellow snow. 
Pekka performs Thomas Adès Concerto for Violin (Concentric Paths) with Britten Sinfonia at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 27 February. Click here for more details and to book tickets.

Anneke Scott & Kathryn Cok come to Southbank Centre

Horn soloist Anneke Scott talks about the program of her forthcoming concert with Kathryn Cok at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room.

Anneke Scott & Kathryn Cok will perform at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on Monday 5 March.

For full concert info and to book click here

‘Please join us and help Japan’: Sapporo Symphony Orchestra concert in aid of Japan earthquake and tsunami victims

Sapporo Symphony Orchestra have announced that their Royal Festival Hall concert on Monday 23 May will be in aid of victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The orchestra’s players and tour management will not take any payment for the performance, and all ticket proceeds will be shared between the Japanese Red Cross Society and Japan Society Tohoku Earthquake Relief Fund.

They perform a beautiful programme: Takmitsu’s How slow the wind, Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5, under conductor Tadaaki Otaka.

‘It was an unforeseen and terrible disaster, from which all Japanese people are working extremely hard to recover. We, the musicians, wish to turn our London appearance into a benefit concert to support the vital relief efforts in our country. Please join us and help Japan! Thank you.’ (Tadaaki Otaka)

Click here to book.

Violinist Julia Fischer talks total Schumann

Julia Fischer, photo by Julia Wesely

Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen previously recorded and toured the complete violin and piano works of Schubert. This time they’re tackling Schumann on a three-date tour, including Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 29 November.


What is the appeal of single composer programmes, and why Schumann? ‘When I play a traditional recital it tends to be more about me than the pianist; for example, in a mixed repertoire programme there is often a solo piece,’ explains Julia Fischer. ‘When I have an artist like Martin playing in concert with me, I want to have a full project to present.’


That the duo this time plumped for a composer from the same period and country is unsurprising. ‘Martin is really the best pianist of his generation for the German classical and romantic repertory, meaning Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms,’ she says – a compliment that could equally apply to herself as a violinist. ‘So for me it was obvious that our next project had to be about one of those composers.’


Of the five composers Fischer mentions however, Schumann is the least renowned as a composer of violin music. She acknowledges that his three violin sonatas are relative rarities: ‘The Schumann violin sonatas are underestimated and not often enough performed in concert.’ This is not, she says, because Schumann is a difficult composer, as is so often suggested. ‘It is not true that musicians and audiences find Schumann’s music awkward, because in his output you find some of the canon’s most popular works – the piano concerto, cello concerto and lieder,’ she says.


Rather, Fischer subtly observes that, as a pianist, Schumann ‘couldn’t reward the violinist in the way he might have otherwise’. It is a gentle way of saying that Schumann’s violin writing wasn’t always fluent, even if, as a melodist, he was unrivalled. ‘If you take the violin part of his violin concerto, for example, and simply play it on the piano, it sounds absolutely marvellous,’ she says. ‘But if you have to play it on the violin, you really have to figure out how to make it sound right. Schumann tends to stay in a low register, which is rarely rewarding for a soloist. It is dangerous technically too, because although the notes themselves can appear simple, you have to be really smart in terms of fingerings and bowings.’


This is a challenge that Fischer relishes, but it is not an intellectual exercise. She places great importance on balancing the intellectual and emotional aspects of performing – something she appreciates in Helmchen too. ‘He is a very intelligent musician; he really thinks very deeply about what he is doing and how he performs,’ she says. ‘But he doesn’t forget that in the end it is about emotions and feelings. He can close his intellectual door and just enjoy playing music. This combination is really important.’


Both artists clearly enjoy the total immersion approach to preparing recitals. ‘When we did the Schubert project, we tried to learn everything about him,’ remembers Fischer. ‘And with Schumann it will be the same way.’ Ultimately, she believes that the musical complexity and intensity of expression that is inherent in all Schumann’s music is better explored in isolation. ‘If you have an entire evening of Schumann, rather than slotting one piece into a programme, audiences really get to know his musical language and get a feeling for how he wrote for these instruments,’ she says. ‘That is only possible if you have the courage to dedicate the whole evening to him.’


Will Fischer and Helmchen dedicate a whole disc to Schumann too? ‘We will work on that,’ is all she will give away.


Interview by Tim Woodall


Click here to book for Julia Fischer and Martin Helmchen’s 29 November recital.