Stephen Hough answers the Gramilano Questionnaire… Musicians’ Edition


Stephen HoughWhen did you start playing the piano?
When I was about six – a toy piano at first, then a German upright bought at an antique shop for £5.

Why did you start playing?
I was utterly captivated by an aunt’s piano and wanted nothing more than to begin lessons.

Which pianist inspired you most when you were young?
My first LP was by Clive Lythgoe, on Music for Pleasure. but then Keyboard Giants of the Past was bought for me and I fell in love with Rachmaninov’s playing and other pianists from the 1920s.

Which pianist do you most admire?
That LP was the starting point – all my favourites are still (unfortunately) dead. Cortot, Friedman …

What’s your favourite piece to play?
The one I’m playing – sorry that sounds corny but it’s true.

What piece have you never played but would like to?
I must crack open some Bach – never played a (professional) note.

What’s your favourite piece to listen to?
No particular piece but I do like the sound of the crackle of garlic frying in olive oil …

Who is your favourite composer?
Again impossible to say.

Who is your favourite writer?
So many – Willa Cather is a novelist I love and, as she’s not well-enough known, I’ll mention her here.

Who is your favourite theatre or film director?
I do always love Hitchcock.

Who is your favourite actor?
… and he’s a good friend.

Who is your favourite dancer?
Maybe , in the right piece.

What is your favourite book?
Another impossible question – I love modern social history. Dominic Sandbrook’s State of Emergency about the early 1970s was great. Tony Judt’s Post-war too …

What is your favourite film?
I never tire of some old chestnuts: Twelve Angry Men, It’s a Wonderful Life. White Ribbon; and Victim was an important start to gay liberation.

Which is your favourite city?
I suppose London to live in, but let me keep visiting New York, Sydney, Chicago, Paris, New Orleans …

What do you like most about yourself?
That I find that question impossible to answer – and that not answering the next question doesn’t make me feel bad.

What do you dislike about yourself?
See question above.

What was your proudest moment?
I’m too Catholic to tell you – (let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing).

hough10_highWhen and where were you happiest?
There’s nearly always a moment in every day when I feel a burst of joy. Usually with simple things, a wonderful tree in a particular kind of light, a sense of gratitude for life, for just being able to walk down the street wherever I like. A great croissant …

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
The greatest love of my life.

What is your greatest fear?
Being trapped in a cage with a hundred hungry rats – or, more seriously, being totally paralysed.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I hope I’m changing things all the time.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Not to have reached a sense that I have a greatest achievement … yet.

What is your most treasured possession?
My freedom.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Expensive hats, chocolate (sometimes a whole bar in one go).

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Success/prestige – if those are virtues.

On what occasion do you lie?
Sometimes to save someone’s feelings: “Do you like my poems?” Er, yes.

If you hadn’t been a pianist what would you have liked to be?
I wanted to be a priest in the past but now they probably wouldn’t have me. Maybe a painter, but (even if i were good enough) it’s an impossible life.

What is your most marked characteristic?
You’ll have to ask my friends.

What quality do you most value in a friend?
Generosity, kindness, sense of fun.

What quality do you most value in a colleague?

Which historical figure do you most admire?
I wouldn’t like to say having not met them.

Which living person do you most admire?
I can’t single anyone out.

What do you most dislike?
Sanctimonious prejudice.

What talent would you most like to have?
Languages – I’d love to be able to speak half a dozen.

What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
A free day with nothing to do but read followed by a night at the theatre with friends followed by dinner followed by the same the next day.

How would you like to die?
Not suddenly but not a protracted illness. A feeling unwell followed by an hour or two to prepare for the moment and talk to friends then a sliding into sleep.

What is your motto?
Everything matters and nothing matters.


– a biography

Named by The Economist as one of 20 Living Polymaths, British pianist Stephen Hough is a rare renaissance man of our time. Over the course of a long and distinguished career as one of the world’s leading concert pianists, he has also excelled as a writer and composer. Mr Hough combines an exceptional facility and tonal palette with a uniquely inquisitive musical personality, and his musical achievements have resulted in many awards and accolades for his concerts and a discography of more than fifty recordings.

In 2001 Mr Hough became the first classical performing artist to win a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded the 2008 Northwestern University’s Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano and went on to win the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award in 2010. He has appeared with almost all of the major European and American orchestras and plays recitals regularly in halls and concert series around the world. His recent engagements include recitals in Berlin, Chicago, Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Sydney; performances with the Czech, London, Los Angeles, and New York Philharmonics, the Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Toronto symphonies, the Cleveland, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Budapest Festival and Russian National Orchestras; and a performance televised worldwide with the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle. He is also a regular guest at festivals such as Aldeburgh, Aspen, Blossom, Edinburgh, Hollywood Bowl, Mostly Mozart, Ravinia, Salzburg, Tanglewood, and the BBC Proms, where he has made over 20 appearances and performed the complete Tchaikovsky concertos over four programs, a series he later performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall.

In the 2012-13 season Mr Hough gives recitals in Belfast, Berlin, Dublin, Milan, Montreal, Paris, St. Paul, Stockholm, Vancouver, and at Carnegie Hall in March. His orchestral performances in the United States also include appearances with conductor Thomas Dausgaard and the Houston Symphony, Charles Dutoit and the Boston Symphony, Hannu Lintu and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and Pablo Heras-Casado and the San Francisco Symphony. He is the Artist-in-Residence with the BBC Symphony performing three concertos and a recital at the Barbican in London. This season he will premiere his Piano Sonata, No. 2 notturno luminoso, jointly commissioned by the Schubert Club in St. Paul, the Vancouver Recital Society, the Swansea Festival of Music and Arts, and the University of Nottingham Lakeside Arts Centre.

The British classical label Hyperion Records will release two new albums by Mr Hough this season. The first, titled “Stephen Hough’s French Album,” features works for solo piano by Fauré, Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc as well as Mr Hough’s own arrangement of works by Massenet and Delibes. Part of an ongoing exploration of Central European piano concertos, Mr Hough’s second album features Brahms’ Piano Concertos, Nos. 1 and 2 recorded with Mark Wigglesworth and the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra. Throughout the months of October and November London’s Broadbent Gallery will present an exhibition of Mr Hough’s paintings. The exhibit, titled “Appassionato,” will be the first display of Mr Hough’s artwork featuring fifteen abstract paintings in acrylic dating from 2007 to the present day.

In the 2011-2012 season Mr Hough premiered his Piano Sonata No. 1 Broken Branches at London’s Wigmore Hall before performing it at Orchestra Hall in Chicago and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival in New York. He was also the featured soloist at St. Louis Symphony’s two-week Rachmaninoff Festival, and he played the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto, No. 5 with the Pittsburgh Symphony. In 2011 Mr Hough took part in an eight-city, ten-concert tour as part of Australia’s Musica Viva concert series. In the same year he joined Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra at Carnegie Hall for Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, No. 1, and he performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, No. 2 with Vasily Petrenko and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He also gave four concerts as the Artist-in-Residence at Wigmore Hall, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liverpool.

A Hyperion recording artist, many of Mr Hough’s catalogue of over 50 albums have garnered international prizes including the Deutsche Schallplattenpreis, Diapason d’Or, Monde de la Musique, several Grammy nominations, and eight Gramophone Magazine Awards including ‘Record of the Year’ in 1996 and 2003, and the Gramophone ‘Gold Disc’ Award in 2008, which named his complete Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos as the best recording of the past 30 years. His 2005 live recording of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos became the fastest selling recording in Hyperion’s history, while his 1987 recording of the Hummel concertos remains Chandos’ best-selling disc to date. His most recent releases are the piano concertos of Grieg and Liszt with Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (2011), “Broken Branches: Compositions by Stephen Hough” (2011), and “The Prince Consort: Other Love Songs” released in 2011 by Linn Records featuring new compositions by Mr Hough, an album that BBC Music Magazine called “a new song cycle of outstanding achievement.” His recording of the complete Chopin Waltzes was named winner of Diapason d’Or de l’Année 2011.

Mr Hough’s compositions include chamber, choral, symphonic, instrumental and solo piano works. In April 2012 conductor Nicholas McGegan led the Indianapolis Symphony and Chorus in the first performance of the orchestrated version of Mr Hough’s Missa Mirabilis, a work originally written for London’s Westminster Cathedral Choir. His Mass of Innocence and Experience was premiered by the Westminster Abbey Choir at a concert commemorating the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Blake. Mr Hough’s cello concerto The Loneliest Wilderness was premiered by Steven Isserlis and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 2007. His trio, Was mit den Tranen geschieht, commissioned by members of the Berlin Philharmonic, received its world premiere at the Berlin Philharmonie in 2009. A string sextet, Requiem Aeternum: after Victoria, was commissioned by the National Gallery for their major autumn 2009 exhibition, The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600-1700. Mr Hough’s compositions are published by Josef Weinberger Ltd.

In addition Mr Hough is an avid writer. He has written for London’s The Guardian, The Times, and was invited by the Telegraph Media Group in December 2008 to write a cultural blog that receives ten to 15 thousand hits every week. He has written extensively about theology, resulting in The Bible as Prayer, published by Continuum and Paulist Press in 2007. The book is a handbook for Lectio Divina with a compilation of Scripture verses to be used for meditation. Currently a resident of London, Mr Hough is a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London and holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at his alma mater, the Royal Northern College in Manchester.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *